People will change the world: an interview with Vice-Chancellor Professor Sue Rigby, by Writer in Residence at The Studio, Gemma Wynton
"It’s wonderful to be able to look at a University and try to find its character, and then make decisions based on that character."
This week I spoke with our very own Professor Sue Rigby, Vice-Chancellor here at Bath Spa University. Sue was generous enough to offer me a small amount of her time which, at the moment, is predominantly spent navigating the current Covid-19 situation and its effects on the University. This interview was a welcome break, I’m sure.
Sue built up an impressive career history before landing here in Bath. Initially, her ambition was to be an academic Palaeontologist, and she achieved this, working in Cambridge, Leicester, and Edinburgh Universities. She’d done it, she’d gotten to where she wanted to be, but, as her life progressed, circumstances meant that fieldwork became a lot harder to fit into her busy schedule. Enter her interest in leadership!
Sue became Head of Geology and Geophysics at Edinburgh University, progressing to overseeing all the Master's programmes that the University had to offer. Vice-Principal for Learning and Teaching wasn’t too far around the corner, and soon after that, Sue was promoted to Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Lincoln University. Clearly, she doesn’t just have a knack for fossils – she’s a pretty good leader too!
A crash-course in how to run a university
"How is this not on the curriculum?" you ask. Well, that’s because a degree in University Management doesn’t really exist – it’s something you have to learn on the job.
Sue learned from her esteemed colleague, Mary Stewart, who was Lincoln University’s Vice-Chancellor at the time. During her time in post, Sue was in charge of the Colleges of both Science and Art, and whilst she was there she was involved in a whole host of improvements, from putting up buildings (maybe not with her own two hands, but you get the picture) to developing promotion pathways.
"I did things I had no previous expertise in at all, and that was just brilliant fun!"
Coming to Bath Spa
Admittedly a little out of her depth, as any scientist would feel in a Liberal Arts University, Sue came to Bath Spa in 2018 and rest assured it was a perfect match! Since then, Sue has worked with the Bath Spa community to put together a ten-year strategy for the University. A strategy that acknowledges that people will change the world!
"If we create the conditions for people to thrive, then the people we have – both staff and students – are brilliant, and they’ll do amazing things. We shouldn’t tell them what to do, we should just nurture them."
I couldn’t have said it better myself!
One of the main benefits we experience as students at Bath Spa is a sense of freedom: to express ourselves and to walk our own path. This is crucial to the success of creativity (many creative jobs are self-led – writers, musicians, artists – to name a few) and Sue seems to really understand that. Our newest Art and Design campus at Locksbrook has already opened up a range of creative opportunities for Bath Spa.
Research, research, research
One of Sue’s greatest joys in her job as Vice-Chancellor is observing the research that the University engages in. John Strachan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise and Dean of the Graduate College, made a great decision when he brought in Kate Pullinger – our Director here at the Studio.
"With Kate and The Studio, we just stand back and watch it be brilliant."
How many times will we all tell Kate that she’s brilliant? Well, keep counting because we’re not about to stop.
Building Links: Sue and the Studio
"Universities have to be useful, there’s no use to them otherwise."
As projects like the Studio have shown, Bath Spa is incredibly involved in the work of the South West region and is invested in having a positive impact on the community in which it is located. The Creative Industries in particular are very loud here, but they don’t always have the most reach; and that’s why projects like The Studio are massively influential. They give creatives the time and space to be able to actually engage in their creative projects rather than watching their great ideas gather dust.
Going forward, Sue has plans for The Studio to extend its reach to our Sion Hill campus, so that graduates can access working spaces to continue their creative journey whilst the job market improves. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that anything creative is hard to get into!
It’s easy for a regulated institution like a university to have rules and boundaries for its research. But what Sue has done with The Studio is give Kate free-rein to simply ‘make stuff’. Now, there was obviously more thought put into it than that, but the Studio doesn’t have the restrictions that other projects might in other universities. We have to give this project time to find out how radical The Studio becomes in the South West.
"We’ve set it up so that it [the Studio] challenges and touches boundaries... it asks us to re-think ourselves, and the Creative Industries in the region, too."
Finding character and value
Both staff and students feel a particular way when they step onto campus every morning, although no one can really put their finger on it. Well, Sue has, and it’s character. Now, I’m sure every university has character, but, at least in my experience, there's none other like Bath Spa. What Sue means by "character" is that we have a set of values and we use them to make decisions. When Sue arrived, she knew Bath Spa was different, more than a university. With her leading the charge, we're all learning to celebrate this fact.
"Nobody can run a university by telling people what to do; you have to listen to people really hard, and that’s the skill that I work on all the time."
One of Sue’s big ambitions for Bath Spa is to make our degrees more valuable. Yes, content is important, but we also want our graduates to know how to work with a team of experts, how to make their own mark, and how to grow in confidence.
"No one gets good at something they hate."
With that being said, it was a real pleasure to sit down with Sue and get more into the nuts and bolts of Bath Spa, on a management level. It’s always fun to step outside the box.
Until next time,
Disclaimer: The Bath Spa blog is a platform for individual voices and views from the University's community. Any views or opinions represented in individual posts are personal, belonging solely to the author of that post, and do not represent the views of other Bath Spa staff, or Bath Spa University as an institution.
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