We welcome Dr Jane Harrington, Pro Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean, Faculty of Business and Law, University of the West of England, to a regular series of interviews with leading figures in the south west’s business community.
Hello Jane, tell us about the University of the West of England and the Faculty of Business and Law and your role. What challenges do you personally face over the next 12 months?
The next 12 months will be both exciting and challenging. Higher Education has faced unprecedented changes over the last 12 months due to changes in student fees, the government capping student numbers, and challenges from the UK Border Agency, which continues to treat students as immigrants. However, Business and law remain buoyant in terms of recruitment; we have some really exciting and innovative research taking place in the faculty; a growing portfolio of executive education reaching out to regional employers; as well as a number of strong international partnerships.
The challenge personally will be to continue to adapt and change as the environment changes around us, whilst helping staff to get used to constant change, having been in an environment which was historically stable. I am also working on a business case for new premises which will enhance the offering we have to businesses and enable us to offer a more professional business facing environment. For many years teaching and learning initiatives remained classroom based with some online learning either as an addition to the classroom or for students who were unable to access classroom learning. This is changing radically with the advances in technology and discussions around the future of learning and debates such as the ‘flipped classroom’: where students in effect gain the basics online and then use tutorials for problem solving and case work in small groups.
The challenges for me are to make sure that staff are equipped to cope with the changes and also that we are up to speed and can adapt quickly to them, and of course remain financially stable.
How has the economic recession impacted UWE and any grounds for optimism?
We have seen potential students questioning the value of a university education and for the first time in over 15 year’s student numbers across the sector declining. The other impact is on Post-graduate students where we are seeing companies’ less willing to support students’ fees for further study. The observer last week referred to this as the perfect storm and Will Hutton made the point that as a knowledge economy we need PG students to ensure that we don’t lag behind other economies. The changes that make me more optimistic however are the growth that we are now seeing in executive education which suggests that some firms are starting to reinvest in their human capital – in a way that we haven’t seen over the last couple of years.
Do you have any Non-Executive Directorships? If so, what have you learned from the experience? Yes, I have one with the Association of Business Schools, and also one internationally, supporting a college in India. I have learnt that it is essential to keep asking questions, even if at first you assume everyone else knows the answers, and to make sure that you digest the details and get up to speed with the structures and cultures of the organisations very quickly.
Is the Government doing enough to support higher education?
Certainly in terms of education if the government wishes to remain a country in the top league they need to invest in their future – in terms of high level skills. This means that the government does need to support all students including those undertaking PG study and recognise that education is one of our best exports – remove some of the barriers to students studying in the UK from abroad, and encourage the export of education.
What’s your view on the South West’s business scene?
I think that the South West Business scene is increasingly vibrant with some interesting and diverse organisations located here from a wide range of sectors of which Aerospace, IT, creative industries, Hi tech, financial services, legal services, environmental technologies and public services play a significant role. There are numerous ways in which the sectors and organisations come together to share practice and to work together within the South West. The challenge that I have is to ensure that all staff are connected into the business scene as my ambition is that if an organisation has a training, development or educational need that could be effectively met through higher education that UWE and the Faculty of Business and Law are their first point of contact.
Do you have any advice that you’d pass on to a newly appointed company director?
Surround yourself with the best staff possible for each task, as staff are the most important asset any organisation has. Don’t be afraid to admit when you have got something wrong and actively listen and engage. Enjoy your role; I love my job and always feel that I am lucky to have a job that every day I wake up looking forward too – that’s a luxury and I always try to remember how lucky I am.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Outside of work I like spending time with my teenage son, swimming, playing tennis and running, as well as reading fiction.
Who is your hero / personal inspiration?
There are many people who have inspired me, but one person that I would regard as my hero would be Aung San Suu Kyi – the female Burmese opposition politician and chairperson of the national league for democracy in Burma. For me she captures what I most admire in people, and has been accurately described as having a core of steel with vast moral courage – moral courage that enabled her to survive under house arrest for 22 years separated from her family, and to continue relentlessly to ensure that the world was aware of the plight of Burmese people with an optimism that is tireless.
What is on your I Pod and what are you reading right now?
Currently I am reading ‘Dominion’ by CJ Sansom, and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel. Both fantastic books in their own right but provide lessons in politics and the fragility of history (the question of what if…) that resonates today even though both are written in a historical context. I have a wide range of music on my I Pod, not least because my 15 year old son keeps adding to it! The one that I probably most return to listen to when I want to relax is the Koln Concert – Keith Jarrett.
What's your experience working with Moon Consulting
My experience is that your company take skills very seriously and work with UWE in a variety of ways, often giving up personal time to support us. I think that Moon Consulting stays above the pack by being innovative, constantly seeking ways to challenge current thinking and develop practice.