Former SU President who campaigned for a better student experience

As an SU President during the late 1970s, Dorset Institute alumnus Bruce Selby Bennett campaigned to deliver changes that would pave the way for the student experience we know today.

When Bruce enrolled to study Law, Politics and Economics at what was Bournemouth College of Technology in 1976, the institution was still controlled and funded by the local authority.

He recalls: “The education landscape was going through a period of change. Having enrolled to study at a college of technology in 1976, I graduated from an institute of higher education some five years later. While the quality of teaching and the content of the course was excellent throughout, the student experience and facilities still had some catching up to do. Having quickly involved myself in student politics, I went on to become the President of the Student Union and set about campaigning for change. We staged sit-ins to campaign for the library to be open at in the evenings and at weekends and to get a better deal when it came to student accommodation, which then comprised of local guest houses and holiday lets. I remember the first time the library remained open into the evenings and the university received calls from a local councillor to complain that the lights were left on. There was also lots of fun to be had along the way, and among the highlights we were proud to host Debbie Harry’s first gig in England.”

Having sat his A-level exams during the long hot summer of 1976 – and confessing to spending more time enjoying the weather than revising – Bruce did not expect to get the grades required for university. He was however pleasantly surprised when his results came through and set about applying through UCCA – the clearing house for university applications – eventually deciding on Bournemouth. He said: “The vocational focus of Bournemouth appealed. It was a great training ground for a career in business and the mix of students, many of whom were setting out on careers in hospitality, catering, tourism and law, also sparked an entrepreneurial streak in me which would become more evident as my own career developed.”

After graduating, Bruce got his first break in the insurance industry by becoming the first graduate trainee with City-based Fenchurch International. He went on to help Harris & Dixon develop the insurance and reinsurance markets in post-communist Czechoslovakia and Hungary, before joining Benfield in 2001 and helping them to become the biggest reinsurance broker in Central and Eastern Europe. After Aon purchased Benfield, Bruce was promoted to Head of their Global Reinsurance Clients business, where again he drew on the skills developed at Bournemouth to help the business grow considerably. Today he is Chairman of Global Reinsurance Clients at Aon.

When asked for his advice to new graduates entering the market, Bruce says: “As more people become qualified to degree level it is undoubtedly harder to stand out. Ironically, despite my position in the business, I probably wouldn’t get through the first round of recruitment today on my qualifications alone. That said, my advice to others is to think laterally, and to draw on their wider experiences to differentiate themselves to employers. Your qualifications help you to make the next step, but they don’t have to define what you go on to achieve.

“My early experiences at Dorset Institute inspired me to continue an involvement in education, including becoming a governor at City Polytechnic soon after taking up my first job in London. I have very fond memories of my time at university, and I am proud to have played a small part in the development of the institution it is today.”