A day in the life: Vice-chancellor

Professor Eunice Simmons, vice-chancellor of the University of Chester, began her career as a school teacher

How long have you been in your job?

Since January 1st, 2020 – so whilst it was a very tricky time to start a new role, it has been a great opportunity to get to know staff right across the organisation.


What is it about your job that gets you out of bed in the morning?

A keenness to progress some very interesting initiatives and projects – as well as a need to know that our university community is OK. The University of Chester teaches on six sites in the city of Chester and six locations across the north-west so, as we develop our new strategic plan, there are plenty of questions to answer: what curriculum should be where, which students are we seeking to attract and support, how do employers influence our thinking and how can we achieve financial and environmental sustainability?


What’s the first thing you do when you get into work?

Ideally, wherever I am working, I spend a quarter of an hour getting my head into the role with a cup of tea and a skim through the diary, email, MS Teams, WhatsApp, text and social media.


Who are the two or three people you talk to on a daily basis?

Definitely my PA, and also corporate communications – an essential team when there is so much going on within the university and across the sector. For example, we are relocating our Warrington teaching from a campus on the outskirts into the town centre. This is very exciting, with multiple benefits but operationally quite complex in terms of new property acquisitions, new solutions for student accommodation, new curriculum offer and managing a high-quality experience during the teach-out on the original site. Elsewhere we are seeking investment partners in our 25-hectare Thornton Science Park; with the focus on renewable energy, it is a hugely topical proposition as a research and knowledge exchange location but it will take some navigating to bring the right partners together. Key colleagues are members of my strategic executive team, particularly Adrian Lee, who as our head of legal and governance holds the key to ensuring the success of such large projects.


What’s the best thing about your job?

Working with and for students to increase their opportunities and address inequalities.


And the worst?

Not being able to spend a lot of time on each matter in hand. I just get in deep and have to move on to a new meeting or issue.


“We don’t shy away from wicked problems.”


Your number one most vital prop/tool/piece of equipment?

My iPad – it makes it easier to keep an eye on several things at once.


How did you get into your job?

After a couple of years as a school teacher, my family encouraged me to return to studying and I took an MSc taught jointly by the Universities of Kent and London. My first opening as an academic came following this when I deputised for my MSc tutor at two weeks’ notice. I also learned a lot about students living in as residential warden, and after taking a PhD I have never looked back.


What is it about your personality that makes you suitable for the role?

In my job I have to keep multiple initiatives going so it’s helpful that I am optimistic by nature and expect success to be the reward for hard thinking and hard work!
I also hugely enjoy working with colleagues to take on challenges – we don’t shy away from wicked problems.


Which five words sum up your typical day?

Discussion, decisions, policy, practice and working at pace.


If you weren’t in this role, what would you be?

I would hope to be leading in a different sector – or a politician perhaps!


Professor Eunice Simmons is the University of Chester’s vice-chancellor. An environmentalist by academic background, she is also on the board of EAUC (www.eauc.org.uk) and chairs the national ‘What Works’ centre called Transform Access and Student Outcomes (TASO) (www.taso.org.uk).

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