January 20, 2017 at 12:57AM

Jeremy Irons never went to university but he rather wishes he had. As one of the UK’s most distinguished actors, he’s forever associated with academia – a legacy of his breakthrough role as the Oxford student Charles Ryder in the acclaimed 1981 ITV series Brideshead Revisited.

Now he’s donned academic robes once again, this time as Bath Spa University’s first ever chancellor. It’s a largely ceremonial post but he’s planning to get stuck in, maybe even teach the odd masterclass when his schedule allows. “I’m learning,” he says. “I will get a feel for the place, attend as many ceremonies and talk to as many students as I can, and then I hope it will become clear how I can help. Creativity is important to the UK – it’s at the core of who we are.”

Born in the Isle of Wight and educated in Dorset, he feels fondly towards the south of England, and one of the best things about Bath Spa, he says, is that it isn’t London. “It’s a wonderful city, it has a great atmosphere and it’s on a more human scale. In Britain we have these beautiful cities, great environments for study. London is a great party town but that’s something you can do later.”

On leaving Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, he was hungry for the kind of experience he says you can now get at a postgraduate level within a creative university – mingling with students from different disciplines, learning where your interests lie. “I think this cross-fertilisation is a jolly good thing,” he says. During his career, and on the set of Brideshead, he peered over shoulders of film crew, learning how shots were framed, and how scenes were lit. “I got some tremendous breaks. But that’s the kind of experience you can fast-track at a creative university. You can experiment.”

As an Oscar winner he’s a great pragmatist too, with a canny eye, he says, for picking the right parts. From his award-winning role in Reversal of Fortune, from Disney through to Kafka, he’s picked each role for a reason. “I want to talk to students about the realities of the arts and entertainment business. It’s no good being a great painter if you can’t sell your work. I hope at Bath Spa I can disabuse students about the value of celebrity too.”

Today’s postgraduates need to keep on their toes, he says. Careers aren’t what they used to be – that is “a lumbering thing that stretches ahead of you unchanged for life”. They require agility, breadth of knowledge, changes of direction. “It’s healthier to have many arrows in your quiver.”

He hopes universities that nurture creative talent could help shake up British acting, which has been dominated by privately educated pupils. Just 7% of British Oscar winners were state educated, the Sutton Trust says; Irons himself went to private school. “I think there’s been an Etonian bubble, but any university that concentrates on the arts must be addressing that; it’s incredibly valuable to have culture at its centre.” University fees are tough, he admits, especially for postgraduates, and he’s been known to donate towards some students’ education. “But I do say, how much better to get out there, work a little and earn it first, rather than request it from some rich git.”

from Education | The Guardian http://ift.tt/2j2FyPI