Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Award for professor who couldn't read or write until he was 15

Photo / Greg Bowker
Photo / Greg Bowker

He was kicked out of secondary school and doesn't believe students should receive marks.

Welby Ings has had an unusual progression from the King Country back blocks to being awarded his university's highest academic honour.

The Professor of Design at Auckland University of Technology was the son of a shearing contractor, and could not read or write until he was 15.

After being expelled from secondary school, he would go on to get suspended from teachers college.

"It doesn't look like a CV that you want to deal with," he concedes.

"But I learned the value of questioning things. It took longer to learn the value of strategically questioning things."

Before joining AUT in 1995, Professor Ings, 57, spent time working as a primary and secondary school teacher, and says a common realisation is that each intellect is different.

"Often we are trained to think in words. But some people don't. Some people think in the most elegant and sophisticated level in images, or in space," he says.

That realisation and a desire to challenge convention informs both his research and teaching now, for which he was last night awarded AUT's inaugural University Medal, at the Vice-Chancellor's Academic Excellence Awards.

Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce presented the award to Professor Ings, which recognises an outstanding contribution to AUT's academic community.

Now working mostly with PhD and masters students, Professor Ings supervises projects ranging from designing new way-finding systems through airports to a new documentary form of film-making based on poetry.

Professor Ings helped establish an alternative secondary school and says assigning marks is deeply destructive and based on "a very deeply embedded ritual".

"A B+ is not feedback. The reason I got thrown out of teachers college, and the reason I've been before boards of governors and things, is because I've questioned it all the way through."

After failing to complete university the first time around, Professor Ings worked as a graphic designer and then studied at AUT when they offered the first graphic design degree.

Later, Boy, a short film produced during his PhD, was shortlisted for the 2006 Academy Awards.

His short films have been shown at over 70 international festivals including those of Berlin and Cannes.

AUT Vice-Chancellor Derek McCormack said Professor Ings, a previous recipient of the inaugural Prime Minister's Award for Tertiary Teaching Excellence, was worthy of recognition.

"He has a remarkable blend of teaching and research expertise ... a teacher who students talk about."

- NZ Herald

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