Chair’s Final Column
Deputy Executive Director | Aberdeen Institute of Energy
University of Aberdeen
In her final Newslink column as AUA Chair, Kathyrn reflects on her time in HE and as Chair of the AUA, and offers advice to a newcomer to the AUA, Laura Harper, our new Communications and Marketing Officer.
Laura Harper: Can you tell me how your career has led to becoming Chair of the AUA?
Kathryn Fowler: I have been in HE for more than 25 years. Prior to that I worked in the private sector (building and tourist industries), went to university as a mature student, worked for a community work charity, then fell into HE admin work. I have been a generalist administrator for my entire career. At first, I moved from post to post quite quickly (about every two or three years) continually testing myself, finding out what I could do. One of the very early pieces of advice I was given was to join the AUA; it was the best advice I could get. I joined, became a conference junkie, and started on a long journey. I learned from others, made friends, shared networks and again tested my knowledge and expertise. Later I began to present sessions building from what I had enjoyed and sharing the small learning I had gained. Presenting is humbling and exciting; I always prefer to co present and over the years I have worked with some excellent people.
I was fortunate that I got opportunities to work in lots of different aspects of HE: faculty support gave me experience of committee work, planning, strategy; I worked on the teaching/ research interface in Medicine and got a chance to work in recruitment; managerial experience came through leading a widening access team; project management, building projects, international partnerships, continuity planning; a rich mix of experiences which I wanted to share.
So after a gap of a few years I came back to the AUA, got involved with the Change Management Network, presented at Conference, attended the AGMs and began to be interested in governance; joining the Board of Trustees was about giving back and helping an organisation which had helped me so much along the way. I was encouraged by people on the Board at the time, and that gave me courage; I really didn’t think I had what they wanted, but I stood and was elected.
LH: What has being Chair meant to you?
KF: I was hesitant about taking the Chair, but again I was strongly supported by people I respected. It may sound corny but being Chair is a truly humbling experience. I admire everyone who I have served with on the Board and have learned from them all. I have served under three excellent role models (Chris Hallas, Mathew Andrews, Tessa Harrison) and I have tried to live up to their examples. Being Chair is a tremendous honour and I am conscious that I represent each member. I am proud that the AUA is in good shape, with a great team in the Office, a good financial position and able to invest in the member experience. I can also state that being Chair has been a learning experience; building knowledge, confidence and, I hope, good judgement. You have to listen more than talk, make sure everyone contributes and facilitate shared decision making. Having just been at Conference, I was so impressed at the levels of dedication, commitment and enthusiasm I saw. The future is in good hands.
LH: Can you tell me more about the Board of Trustees?
KF: The Board is made up of eight Trustees who are selected by a panel which is led by the Vice Chair, with the Head of Office, a member of the Board and two members. Each Trustee serves for a three year term and can stand for a second term. The Officers of the Board are the Chair and Vice Chair, drawn from the Board members, and the Treasurer, who is a qualified accountant. The Head of the AUA Office acts as Secretary to the Board, and we have a minute secretary. There are two Lay Trustee places which we can offer to fill skill gaps. The rhythm for the Chair is one year as Vice Chair/Chair Elect, two years as Chair, and one year as Vice Chair, which ensures continuity. Members are at varying stages of careers and responsibility in their home institutions. We recruit to ensure a good mix, against a skills matrix, so I’d say to anyone thinking about applying should do so! It really is a great experience.
The Board is responsible for executing the overall vision and direction adopted by the Association at its general meetings; for managing the business of the Association. The Board looks at the strategy and direction of all aspects of the business, including Conference, professional development, the publications, and, most importantly, our financial soundness. We work closely in partnership with the superb professionals in the AUA Office. I am constantly struck by the level of commitment, enthusiasm and knowledge at the service of the Association.
LH: What should I be doing to get the most from the AUA?
KF: Think about what you need at this moment. At an early stage of a career you are probably looking for knowledge and shared experience; use your local geographical network, join themed networks, attend events and Conference. Don’t be afraid to push to attend events, just make sure you share what you have learned. Think about engaging with the PGCert. Ask questions, seek people working in the same area as you. You will be amazed at how keen folk are to share their experiences and knowledge. Don’t forget our publications: each offers a different perspective, up to the minute news, reflective articles, good practice guides stuffed with shared knowledge.
At a more mature stage, networks will stand you in good stead. Networks will offer more advanced experience. Mentoring will support. Presenting solidifies learning, builds confidence, and demonstrates ability.
Whatever you need, ask, look, share. You really get so much more than you put in.
LH: What do you see in your future now?
KF: After a long career, I am in the later phase of my working life, still up for a challenge and working at the academic-industry interface. I still have a year to serve as Vice Chair, supporting Chris Ince, who will be a superb chair. After that I will cycle off the Board, really sad to be leaving, missing my friends on the Board, but happy that the Association is well set for its next phase: a new brand, new website, lots of ideas for the future. Exciting times for the AUA, interesting opportunities for the sector, masses of challenges for our members. In many ways I envy those coming up the system – it will be hard but rewarding.