Sue Rigby


Sue Rigby


Personal statement

Professor Rigby commenced her role as Vice-Chancellor of Bath Spa University on 22 January 2018.

Previously she was Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Student Development at the University of Lincoln where she was responsible for the student journey from application to alumni activities, and had oversight of the Colleges of Science and Arts.

Sue is a palaeontologist by background. After being an academic at Cambridge, Leicester and Edinburgh she moved into senior management, first as Assistant Principal and then Vice-Principal at the University of Edinburgh.

She is an HEA Principal Fellow. She is Chair of the HEFCE Learning Gain project and a member of the Scottish Funding Council QA review group. She is chairing work on the design of a postgraduate national survey and is a member of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) Panel.

Internationally, she has contributed to the development of reward and recognition processes for staff in learning and teaching through U21 - the leading global network of research universities for the 21st century - and developed the first MOOC (massive open online course) to be shared by students in the U21 universities.

Sue has set up a variety of large-scale and multi-university projects, including the Times Higher Education prize-winning "Making the Most of Masters". She is an honorary professor at the University of Edinburgh and works in their Institute of Academic Development. 

Sue was elected co-convenor of the Higher Education Academy's PVC Network in 2016.

Experience and expertise

Academic qualifications

  • MA
  • PhD.

Professional memberships

  • Principal Fellow, Higher Education Academy (PFHEA).

Other external roles


  • Board Member of HECSU (Higher Education Career Service Unit)
  • Higher Education Public Information Strategy Group
  • Scottish Quality Framework Review Group Alliance Universities Learning and Teaching Group
  • QAA Postgraduate Benchmarking Project Network for Enhancing Teaching and Learning (international group of senior leaders in learning and teaching)
  • Curriculum Development Group (international group of research intensive Universities involved in curriculum design)
  • U21 (leading on MOOCS and Virtual Mobility) Coimbra Group task group on employability and the student experience.


  • 2016: Strategic planning support, Erasmus University of Brussels and York St John University
  • 2015: External review of learning and teaching support, University College Dublin
  • Pre-2012: External examiner in Southampton, Durham and Oxford Universities.

Areas of expertise

Sue’s areas of expertise are around the development and interrogation of learning contexts. These can be at undergraduate or postgraduate level, but are the physical or conceptual domains where formal or informal learning happens: the frameworks by which we permit and audit these environments and the tools and methods by which we undertake leadership to enhance and develop these domains.

Main interests:

  • Leadership in learning and teaching (e.g. joint project with Dai Hounsell for Leadership Foundation in Higher Education). We address a perceived deficit in leadership training in learning and teaching, and identify means by which colleagues can address their teaching challenges using appropriate management and leadership techniques. I am leading work with that group around a new type of project management for uncertain projects, which I have developed in collaboration with an external consultant, Valuta. This is a commercial proposition for them which they have already sold on, for example to the Northern Irish Government. For us it is a means of leading and managing projects across the academic/professional divide.
  • The value and power of the co-curriculum in defining student learning. I explore the potential of learning outside credit-frameworks, for example through the development of the HEAR and the Edinburgh Award. I explore the development of communities within the student body, through formal interactions such as School Councils, through informal, in-subject activities like PALS groups, and through ephemeral curricular and co-curricular activities such as Innovative Learning Week and outreach opportunities.
  • The development of taught postgraduate programmes. My research interests here centre around the evolution of the Master's degree from a "research project, plus some teaching" model in the 1980s, to its current diverse, flourishing but poorly understood set of patterns. I have developed a typology for Master's programmes that should facilitate their appropriate support, development and marketing. This typology is now being examined by HEFCE as a means of assessing postgraduate funding bids from England and Wales. I bring this expertise to bear on the QAA Benchmarking group on postgraduate programmes of which I am a member.
  • Regulatory frameworks for learning and teaching. Regulations are frequently seen, in the literature and in academic discourse, as in impediment to progress or to autonomous teaching. This research strand explores the reasons for this, and is directed towards increasing our understanding of the inherent tensions under which such regulations develop, which oblige them to exist in a permanent state of compromise. Future work will concentrate on means by which academics can engage effectively with the academic regulatory framework within which they operate, and with its development to a state that is best fit-for-purpose.
  • The accommodations that universities may make to the increasing amount of open education material available online. My particular interests centre around how, and under what circumstances, a university might adapt its regulatory framework to accommodate learning or assessment completed through this means of study. I led the U21 group work on MOOCs and Virtual Mobility, working particularly closely with colleagues in Australia, Canada and Singapore. This was a 26 partner consortium working to deliver a shared online course in 2014.
  • The use of data, especially surveys, in HE enhancement.
  • Inclusive learning and the introduction of ubiquitous enhancements to learning as an outcome of facilitating the learning of students with extra needs.
  • Learning gain and the issues around measuring that which we struggle to define.


Sue has taught many aspects of geology, in labs, lectures and in fieldwork. At various times she has contributed to, or led, the following courses: History of Life, Oceanography, Sedimentology and Stratigraphy, Dinosaur Palaeobiology, Arran, Spain and Cyprus fieldtrips, Geoscience Outreach. Sue’s teaching is innovative and excellent. A Geoscience Outreach course which she was involved with was shortlisted for the Tam Dalyell Prize in 2008, and History of Life was nominated every year it ran for a EUSA teaching award. In 2012-3, Sue’s teaching was rated excellent by 91% of students responding to the end of course questionnaire.

Sue’s textbook, written in support of paleontology teaching, is now in its second edition. It is the standard textbook for introductory palaeontology and has informed the design of the A-level curriculum. It has been translated into four languages. Sue redesigned the geology degree programme, and designed the MEarthSci degree. She has also been an external examiner in Southampton, Durham and Oxford.


  • Geology
  • History of Life
  • Oceanography
  • Sedimentology and Stragraphy
  • Dinosaur Palaeobiology.

Papers/internal publications

  • Rigby, S. "Why not just ask: alumni views of teaching excellence". Submitted April 2016, but also submitted as "grey literature" by HEFCE to HESA review.
  • Rigby, S and Milsom, C. V. "Why everyone hates University Academic Regulations" (to Higher Education Quarterly).

External presentation contributions

  • 2017: Keynotes at University of Kent, Leeds Beckett, University of Bedfordshire, Learning Gain Conference, Annual Meeting of Heads of Disability Services, WonkHE conference, UK Graduate Employability and Skills Conference, SEDA Annual Conference.
  • 2016: Eight keynote lectures.
  • 2015: 12 keynote lectures, all in UK.
  • 2014: Five keynotes in UK universities, lead presenter at U21 Education meeting, Sydney, invited keynote University of Pretoria, invited keynote Dutch Higher Education Summit, Amsterdam.
  • 2013: Guardian Round Table participant: Future of Master's Provision in UK, May.
  • 2013: Invited speaker, Westminster Briefing on HEAR, May.
  • 2013: Invited speaker, NETL meeting, Edinburgh, May.
  • 2013: Keynote address, Liverpool John Moores learning and teaching conference, June.
  • 2013: Invited speaker, Panopto conference, Newcastle, August.
  • 2013: Keynote ICLT Malaysia, September.
  • 2013: Invited speaker, Glasgow Caledonian University Court Retreat, October.
  • 2013: Invited speaker, Blackboard Conference, London, November.
  • 2012: Subject lead on curriculum design, U21 meeting Singapore.
  • 2012: Invited expert, University of Strathclyde regulations development.
  • 2011: Invited speaker, "Feedback and curriculum design", University of Bergen, Norway.
  • 2011: Invited expert, "University regulations and OER", Lisbon.
  • 2011: Universitas 21 meeting, Vancouver, November.
  • 2011: Invitation to present a paper and participate in a round-table discussion on Industry-University links at the International Learning and Teaching Conference, Penang, November.

Principal research grants

  • 2016: NCOP grant for extending the efficacy of widening participation initiatives in Lincolnshire, HEFCE, £4.1 million, co-I.
  • 2014: Extension of MMM to four further Universities in Scottish sector, £68,000.
  • 2011: HEA Departmental Grant with Sandy Tudhope - £24,000 - "Improving the employability of students in a practical, field based discipline, through the introduction of a personal tutor system".
  • 2011: Leadership Foundation in Higher Education: £8,500 joint grant with Dai Hounsell, Leading in Learning and Teaching.
  • 2010: Scottish Funding Council - £804,000, Making the Most of Masters, a project to research into and encourage postgraduate students to undertake work with employers in lieu of a standard dissertation.
  • 2009: High Commission of Pakistan - £8,000 for fieldwork in the Kohat Basin.
  • 2009: University Collections Committee - £2,000 for work on cabinets in the Cockburn Museum.
  • 2009: Museums Galleries Scotland - £2000 for updating displays in the School of Geoscience.
  • 2008: Principal’s Learning Fund - £13,000 towards improving feedback in the School.
  • 2007: Museums Council - £10,000 to provide half funding for a curator for the Cockburn Museum.
  • 2006: University Museums fund - £1,500 to inventory Cockburn Museum.
  • 2006: Carnegie Trust - £1,860 for start-up investigation into using X-ray microtomography in graptolite phylogenetic research.
  • 2005: University of Edinburgh Principal’s e-learning fund - £103,000 with Professor Colin Graham for development of an outreach e-learning module in earth science.

Research and academic outputs

Go to ResearchSPAce

Edit profile | Website feedback to web@bathspa.ac.uk