David Eustace: Inspiration key to university success

Former student David Eustace is excited about his return to Napier. Picture: Robert Perry
Former student David Eustace is excited about his return to Napier. Picture: Robert Perry
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ACCLAIMED photographer David Eustace, a former prison officer who served with the Royal Naval Reserve, will become chancellor of Edinburgh Napier University on Wednesday

On my very first day in higher education as a mature student, I felt so strange in my new surroundings that I put up my hand to ask to go to the toilet. As a former prison officer who had also served with the Royal Naval Reserve, discipline was ingrained in me and I presumed it was something I should do out of respect for the teacher.

Fast forward nearly 30 years and I am returning to what is now Edinburgh Napier University, this time as chancellor rather than an aspiring photography student.

As titular head of the university, the chancellor confers degrees and other awards, but I am determined to be much more than a ceremonial head.

My job is to be an ambassador for the university, to promote Edinburgh Napier.

However, we have a responsibility to educate young minds in the best way that we can, and I also hope to bring to the table ideas which inspire people.

We can only inspire our students if we have a university that first of all inspires the people who work here.

If people are making sacrifices in their own personal lives to come to university and get an education then I want them to leave saying, ‘Wow, that was incredible!’ because these people are going to be the best ambassadors of all.

I was working as a prison officer at HM Prison Barlinnie in the late eighties when I first began to take an interest in photography. I borrowed a camera and took a series of snapshots while on holiday in Ibiza.

When I returned I went to a local camera club and, after teaching myself the basics, entered a competition where I won first, second and third prize.

It was then that my wife pointed out photography was something I could perhaps do for a living. I was strongly encouraged to try to get on to a course at what was then Napier Polytechnic, and after being interviewed, was told I would be offered a place. That moment still ranks as one of the most memorable in my life.

Quite simply, higher education transformed my life. We lived in a single end in Glasgow’s Partick and my wife and I made some hefty sacrifices to enable me to go back to the classroom. I made a round trip of more than 100 miles a day and made sure I was in my seat at 9am, but the morning and evening drives were made easier because every day I met people who opened up my mind.

On my way to a BA in Photographic Studies, I was constantly made aware of my own worth. I had seeds planted in my mind and I was encouraged to question and to go and explore.

The staff clearly cared about what they were teaching, and their dedication was key. Young people thrive on spending time with people who inspire them.

Now, on returning to Edinburgh Napier, I see my role as one of supporting the principal, Andrea Nolan, and I intend to listen and observe as much as possible. I want to know what the teaching staff would like to see happening, and I hope to try to play a part in making it happen.

I have enjoyed a rich and varied life and I will bring all my experiences to the role – whether it be sailing off the coast of Burma in search of sea gypsies, touring Europe as Sir Paul McCartney’s personal photographer or herding cattle across the deserts of New Mexico – as I try my hardest to make this a place students will recall fondly for the rest of their life.

I want them to remember lecturers, visits and meeting inspiring people, just as I recall my own higher education experiences as vividly as sailing down the Nile or lunching with Tracey Emin.

Going back into higher education after so many years will doubtless be a steep learning curve. I have my concerns about the sector’s famously bureaucratic ways.

However, I am greatly excited about celebrating our university’s international outlook, wonderful state-of-the-art facilities and links with the communities we sit in, as well as the classroom experience itself.

A huge part of the joy of the student experience for me lay in spending time in the classroom with like-minded people who were passionate about ­learning.

For millions in this world, higher education is beyond their wildest dreams and that is perhaps the true value of that well-earned seat in the Usher Hall on graduation day; the knowledge that so many people out there were never given a similar opportunity.