Most people say, “Newman, where’s that?” This is one of the things that we are working on! Newman University is a small and specialist Catholic University, based in Birmingham.
It was founded in 1968 in order to train teachers for Catholic schools. In less than fifty years it has grown into a multi-disciplinary university, offering a broad range of UG, PG and research qualifications, serving a diverse student body. We are committed to a Mission of Service, integral to which is ‘making higher education accessible to the poor or members of minority groups who customarily have been deprived of it’.
All our activities are guided by the values of respect for others, social justice and equity. The University has a stated ambition to be a learning community in which ‘we strongly encourage the full participation of our students in our community; working in partnership with academics and professional staff in a spirit of mutual trust and respect’. We achieved University status in 2013 and are part of the Cathedrals Group of universities.
I have spent my entire professional career in higher education, which now amounts to 20 years working in 5 diverse institutions.
There are three aspects to my current role: management of the operational teams of the University; membership of the University leadership team that steers the University in the achievement of its aims and objectives (including some specific ULT responsibilities that I lead on as part of my portfolio); and Clerk to the University Council, fulfilling the Company Secretary function including understanding the law and procedures that apply to public bodies and ensuring good governance so that the governing body operates effectively.
There is no typical day. But that is what can be both enjoyable and challenging about the role. However, I endeavour to start the day early, and try to fit in a 6:30am run (although, admittedly, this doesn’t happen every day).
Most days I have a conversation with the Vice-Chancellor about a range of issues and with other members of ULT about more specific matters where our portfolios overlap. Helpfully, we are co-located, which is one of the advantages of a small institution. There are usually meetings to chair on a range of subjects, for example working through process improvements for the year ahead, working on a particular innovative project with colleagues with varied skill sets or analysing data towards strategic decision-making.
Every day I am asked a query or two, often related to legal unprecedented situations, complex student issues or governance matters. While it presents a challenge when you are new in post at this most senior level and people turn to you for advice and support, this learning is also one of the most interesting aspects of the job. Thankfully the support of colleagues across the sector and particularly in AHUA has been unbelievably helpful. I am extremely grateful for their openness and insight.
I should also add that most days also involve such activities (usually while on the move) as a quick look at Pinterest for ideas on birthday cakes or a child’s fancy dress outfit, an amazon purchase for a birthday present (a child’s party at the weekend is almost a given at the moment) and likewise on my Tesco app to meet the deadline of my on-line shopping list as I remember another couple of things that I need for family meal-planning a couple of days ahead!
The thing that I find most fulfilling is being able to be resourceful and having the opportunity to ‘think outside the box’. I consider this a gift, as there are so many people in life who feel that their job is humdrum and functionary. The variety of exposure I have to different business disciplines, as well as working with different professionals, in my view, can’t be rivalled.
As a university, being small and specialist can be both an attribute and a challenge. At Newman we are working hard on our image and increasing our profile, as well as using our budgets wisely to make as much impact as possible.
The challenges ahead for Higher Education are significant. For example, the outcome of the TEF – where comparator indicators for UK HEIs will be highly visible, yet they will not apply to global competitors and the weakness of the pound and the mobility implications of Brexit that are already being felt. Together these could contribute to the beginnings of a ‘perfect storm’. And let’s not forget the issue of experts and the current acceptance of ‘alternative facts’ that undermine our very essence of purpose.
Early on in my career I was inspired by some amazing senior academic managers, who were also practicing medical clinicians. I was able to observe some very thoughtful and effective managerial approaches, with expert people management that I only have seen a few times since. However, my husband is my biggest inspiration and has always made what I have achieved possible. Whenever I have wavered and thought that a mother with very young children couldn’t possibly do this type of role, he has always reassured me by supportive team-work and inherent equality.