Gunn bids goodbye to HE

Staffordshire University Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Gunn, who will retire by 2016, recounts his career highs

âž¡ You’ve worked in higher education for almost 40 years, why have you decided now is the time to leave?

I have had in my mind for some time that I would retire when I was 60, and I am 60 in December. In addition, I think now is the right time for someone else to take over leadership of Staffordshire University. They will take this great institution to the next level, building on the work that we have done and which is beginning to have real positive impact.

âž¡ You’ve witnessed four decades in HE, and the sector has undergone rapid and significant change in recent years, what, in your experience, has been the most notable change?

There have been many notable changes, not least in funding, in raising the standards of teaching, in how programmes are organised and delivered, in improving the student experience, in assessing the quality of research, and in the leadership and management of universities. But the greatest change has been the broader range of people now able to take advantage of study at university and the opportunities that then provides for themselves and their families.

âž¡ You’ve worked for a number of universities across the UK, and undoubtedly had many career highs, but could you sum up what you’ve enjoyed the most about working in HE?

People. I have had the pleasure of teaching some great students who have gone on to wonderful achievements. I have worked with some wonderful colleagues at each of my six universities, who are focused on student achievement, and research and enterprise that makes a difference.

âž¡ And what will you miss the most?

Friends that I have made in all the universities in which I have worked, though I’ll probably still see them, so it is also the many exciting, innovative and positive acquaintances that I have made. 

âž¡ You’ve had a very positive impact on Staffordshire University, since becoming V-C, are you confident the University will continue to thrive in the future?

Thank you for the compliment because we have travelled an important but often difficult journey. I believe the foundations are firmly in place for a very successful future. We have raised the profile of the University through the activities of many teams and individuals; we are doing much better at recruiting students, who can take advantage of our excellent programmes, in a very competitive and difficult policy environment; we are improving facilities for staff and students, with the campus transformation programme in place that will affect all the buildings that we use in a positive way; and, most importantly, we are delivering on the academic agenda, through learning and teaching, research, and enterprise, consultancy and knowledge transfer.

I have worked with some wonderful colleagues, at each of my six universities, who are focused on student achievement, and research and enterprise that makes a difference.

âž¡ Do you think the service HE offers students today is the best it’s ever been?  

I think overall, yes it is. Of course, there was excellent practice in the past. We are now listening more effectively to students. We are endeavouring to ensure that students have a challenging and stimulating learning experience, that they fulfil their potential and that they enjoy their time at university.

 âž¡ If you could give one piece of advice for our aspiring future HE leaders, what would it be?

There are lots of bits of advice that I might proffer, such as make sure you are resilient, enjoy working with people, can work at pace, understand the sector and your institution thoroughly, remain committed to the academic endeavour and enjoy the job and engender that joy in others. But most of all, make sure you actively listen and, in particular, have someone who can ask you the tough questions and hold a mirror up to the way you are working and what you are doing and trying to achieve.

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