What’s in a Name?

My first ‘proper’ job was in 1998 in a small town in West Yorkshire. It’s a place called Keighley. You might know it. When I first moved to West Yorkshire to study in Bradford (pronounced ‘Bratfud’) I didn’t know about Keighley. In fact, it was probably a while before I had to go there at all and, when I did, I bought myself a ticket at Forster Square Station to Keighley.

“Could I have a adult day return to Keighley {Keeley} please?”

“Er, you mean Keighley {Keithley}?”

“Yeah, that’s the one, thanks”.

It wasn’t hard to spot the first time visitors to Keighley after that.

My second, proper job, was at Leeds Metropolitan University and whilst I was able to avoid Keighley I stumbled upon The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges. It was a bit of a mouthful and the acronym wasn’t any easier but it looked like it was just the thing I needed.

In the early 2000s I found myself as Convenor of the Association and it became, increasingly, known as the ‘Ee-Ay-You-See’ {EAUC} to many. But to some, it was any of the following: ‘You-Ack’; AEUC; The Association of Environmental Universities and Colleges; The Environmental Association OF Universities and Colleges’ and goodness knows what else. At best it was frustrating.

And once people were familiar with it, particularly the members, they would question the vailidity of the name as well. Their challenge was ‘it’s not all about the environment, I am a sustainability officer’ and the name of the Association is no longer relevant because it does so much more than ‘the environment’.

In truth, the Association has evolved significantly since I first got involved in it. 18+ years has seen it grow, employ staff, set up awards, develop measurement tools, training programmes, publications, webinars, international networks, and review its strategy and focus.

I was pleased to be invited to be part of that process and worked with members of the EAUC Board, executive team, Fellows and members of the association. The strategy was launched last year and really set a clear ambition to broaden its scope and increase its impact. All of sudden it felt like we’ve outgrown the name. Members were saying it, the task and finish group working on the strategy were saying it and so it was right to come up with something new that reflected the association’s new mission and priorities. Of course, much of what it has done in the past it will continue to do but it’s a good time to reposition.

I wasn’t involved in the development of the ‘new name’ or brand. I consciously left that to others to come up with and I was impatient when it seemed to take so long to come up with a new name. How hard can it be?

Like complicated maths, sometimes you want to know the answer and not be bothered with the working out. But to understand the answer you perhaps need to understand how it was arrived at, the logic that got you there. If you didn’t work the sum out for yourself you might even question the answer others have given you.

United Futures. When I heard it the first time, I thought ‘hmmm’. Not specific enough. Doesn’t tell me ‘sustainability’ or ‘university’ or ‘college’ and certainly doesn’t say ‘post-16 tertiary education’ to me. Well, good. It doesn’t need to. I don’t know how you reacted to the proposed name. It may have been with disbelief, indifference or excitement. Of course, it matters what the association is called but what’s more important it what it does. After a few minutes of thinking about it, I realised that. I also realised that the flexibility in the new name was a good thing – why box yourself in when you can create flexibility? Further and higher education doesn’t need any more constraints placed on it in such uncertain times. I like the way the new name aligns with the sustainable development goals and is forward looking.

I’ll be at the Annual General Meeting of The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges at the Annual Conference in Keele on June 20th. As representative of the University of Nottingham, I’ll be supporting the adoption of the new name ‘United Futures’ (there, I’ve said it) and then I’ll get a train to Mytholmroyd.

 

 

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Author: Andy Nolan

An experienced director-level professional with expertise in sustainable development, cities, universities, governance, policy and strategy. 15 years of experience working in the field of sustainability in both the private and public sector. Has worked within a local authority, in multi-authority partnerships locally and nationally. Experience in higher education across four universities in the UK plus representative bodies. Particular areas of interest and expertise include; energy; transport; climate change; waste management; air quality; decentralised energy; education for sustainability; smart cities; knowledge transfer; research.

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