It was my first day of university when someone mentioned that just about everyone in the room we were sitting in got over a 99 in their ATAR. 99? Yikes. I got a 87.6 and was in that room because of an Indigenous leadership scholarship. I felt dumb.

More accurately, in a way I was made to feel dumb. We were studying media and communications, yet it only took me a few months to realise that I saw something that others didn’t see.

Students in the class followed the rules, they learned about the fourth estate as if it had a series of rigid rules. “This looks like this because it always has,” the professors would say as people nodded and took notes.

I didn’t want to learn how everybody else was doing it. I didn’t want someone to speak to me a certain way because of a test score. Sixteen years ago I started dreaming of a university that would set my mind free. A university that wouldn’t judge based on test scores, a university that didn’t need scholarships because it was free for all.

Now I have founded a university at age 35. The origins of the word are from the Latin ‘universitas’ which means “the whole, total, the universe, the world”. With less than five per cent of the population in some of the world’s developing nations getting to go to university, millions locked out in the USA because of financial barriers and millions in Australia simply thinking they are not ‘smart enough’ because they didn’t fit the rules of the production line schooling system we have — the original promise of the university of providing access to the ‘whole’ is falling short for many humans worldwide.

It’s hard to see how for so many people the current exploration of higher order thinking that universities seek to provide is meeting the need that according to scholars Carl Frey and Michael Osborne will see 47 per cent of jobs in the US gone in the next 10-20 years via automation.

It’s hard to see how this complex infrastructure of the current higher education system, at times elite, will in its current model which is often deeply entrenched in costs and benefits, be able to serve humanity with the ‘wholeness’ that is required from the origins of ‘universities’ and deliver what Einstein is urging us to do from his grave: to know that “we cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking we used when we created them.”

Just over four years ago, on the September 2, 2016, I stood on a stage with Yael Stone, who is now my partner and mother of our child, and we sang ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ to a New York audience of thinkers, artists, business leaders and Australian expats.

I said to that crowd: “I think we can be one of the leading groups to lift millions of young people out of inequality around the world and build a safe space for those with power today to come to the table and design tomorrow’s world with us. If not us then who, and if not now, then when?”

Since then I’ve sat with Nelson Mandela’s family in South Africa, sat with school kids a few hours outside of Kampala. I’ve worked with the major global brands in New York City in Herald Square, I’ve kicked it with the leaders of colour across the USA, spoken with Indigenous leaders in Canada, connected with young people across India, Zimbabwe, Uganda and found one consistent common thread-line. While race and our difference is critical to defining us:

Without imagination we can never be united.

Without imagination we cannot think new thoughts.

Without imagination we cannot birth new ideas.

Without imagination we cannot empathise.

I believe without imagination we are simply not human.

It is our superpower, and unfortunately, we’ve kicked it to the curb and failed to design it into the mainframe of the system of human education, evolution and knowledge gathering.

In parallel, we’ve lost the mentoring connection between generations to share knowledge and exchange from the past as we’ve rushed to protect our precious knowledge and more recently our personal brands.

We have opened a new university — IMAGI-NATION{University} — to organise change and fight for a fairer world, providing the stage for marginalised school students to rise up as entrepreneurs and show they are not the problem to be fixed but the solution, for university students to organise change, for teachers to teach with imagination, for executives to fast-track diverse leaders into senior management to level the organisational playing field and for citizens to use their imaginations to transform their local communities.

We open this university to complement the current offerings in the school system and higher education, to bring light, colour and vibrancy into these oft-tired spaces inhabited by teachers and students who are trying their best to meet each other halfway and yet at the same time following the established order because that’s what it has always been. I think it’s time to reimagine what universities mean, and can be.

We open this university to give space for millions of people worldwide now without jobs, and we’re consciously making it free for all, from 5-year-olds to 105-year-olds, because no one should be locked out of higher order thinking anywhere, anytime.

We open this university to transform the lives of over a million people in the next three years, to spark educational parity shifts across our country and around the world, to create new innovative ideas to meet the complex challenges of our time and to provide a space for a $1bn+ worth of opportunities and wealth to be created for the world’s most marginalised kids.

We’ll do it all with a moral purpose that fights for the good in us, for the hope in us, for the action in us, for the possibility in us and ultimately for the “us” in us so we can bring to life the vision of a learning experience for all that reaches out with every second, with every finger and with every ounce for “the whole, total, the universe, the world”.

It’s 16 years after my first media class at university. The one that told me communicating important ideas had to look a certain way as those who made me feel small nodded, agreed and scribbled down notes.

I’ve met students who have been told they are ‘dumb’ so often they start to believe it. I’ve met students who thought a certain score on a certain test meant they couldn’t do something. In a way, this university is for them. More personal, this university is so my now two-year-old child and every child everywhere can see that they are capable regardless of what society tells them. This university is so my child — and kids I’ve met through AIME, friends, family, staff and everyone — see that it is indeed true that from little things big things grow.

Jack Manning Bancroft is the AIME Founder and Head of Design.

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