Full steam ahead

The University of Derby’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Kathryn Mitchell tells us why there is no time for complacency

The University of Derby saw its student satisfaction and graduate employability rates rise in 2015. Here, its newly appointed, and first female Vice-Chancellor, Professor Kathryn Mitchell, tells us why there is no time for complacency 

➡ The University has recently seen a string of successes, how does it feel to be at the helm of such a prosperous institution?

I am extremely proud to have joined an institution that can demonstrate high levels of student satisfaction, graduate employability and, very importantly, excellence in teaching quality. I think these are some of the key components for assuring the success of our students.

The most recent study conducted by the National Student Survey (NSS) revealed that 88% of students at the University of Derby are satisfied with their course. Whilst the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) found that 96.9% of our graduates are employed or in further study six months after graduating. More recently the University was ranked within the top 10 for teaching quality in The Times and Sunday Times University League Table.

“But we can’t stop striving for future successes; there is no time for complacency. These successes mean that we have to continue to build upon them for students in the future.”

ABOVE: The Kedleston Road site at the University of Derby

➡ Do you have an action plan for the next few months?

The key agenda that I’m working towards is the Higher Education Review (HER) in April 2016, which is conducted by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). This is a significant task for the organisation because we need to demonstrate that we deliver high-quality courses and that we have adopted consistent approaches across the institution, (which are already implemented), to assure quality. This information needs to have been articulated through rigorous audits.

➡ You’re the University’s first female Vice-Chancellor, do you think the higher education sector is doing enough to promote gender equality? And why do you think there are few female Vice-Chancellors?

The higher education sector has looked closely at the gender issue and tried to address it. A key example of this is the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) which works to further support equality and diversity for staff and students in higher education institutions. The Athena SWAN Charter which was established in 2005, which recognises work undertaken to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.

There are a high proportion of women working in higher education but what we can’t see is their progression into the higher management levels of institutions. There are sometimes reasons for this. If I look at myself, I don’t particularly feel that I wasn’t encouraged to apply for senior posts, but more that I didn’t want to apply at certain stages of my career. 

There are a high proportion of women working in higher education but what we can’t see is their progression into the higher management levels of institutions.

However, it is important to look at gender balance within your own institution. I think it is very important to have a balanced senior team in terms of gender as it creates a positive dynamic.

I think we also need to look at reasons why people don’t apply for senior posts. It’s good to have a balance of gender but as importantly, we need the diversity of experience. One of the things I would say about why we don’t have a significant number of females employed in the most senior positons in higher education is that sometimes there is a lack of confidence in making the application rather than a lack of capability.

➡ What will be the biggest challenge for the University over the next 12 months?

There are three key priorities but the biggest achievement for me would be getting a ‘satisfactory’ outcome with commendations for good practice in teaching and learning in our HER.

Secondly, it will be to ensure that we are fully engaged within our region and beyond such that we can take advantage of enhancing the knowledge and research base linked to our academic disciplines.

And finally, it will be to continue to increase our graduate employability rate so that we can see more of our students are getting what is classified as graduate employment or progression to further study.

Read another article from the University Business Equality in HE series here.

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