How the AUA PGCert saved me from a life of ‘can’t’
Leanne Hunt MAUA | College Education Manager, Brunel University
As a parent of a typically complex pre-teen, we are constantly being reminded by the school the importance of instilling in our child a ‘growth mindset’ as opposed to a ‘fixed mindset’. Telling our daughter, when she says “I can’t do this,” that she actually needs to say “I can’t do this, YET”. Or, instead of “this is too hard”, she should say “I just need a bit more practice”.
Back in the pre-PC era of teacher feedback to parents, my own mother was advised to manage her expectations, as academically their pride and joy would likely not amount to much. However, pure good humour and a pleasant demeanour will see her well in life, in whatever she ends up doing….. The weight of the pointlessness of academic study then followed me throughout my school years and early career, allowing me to fall comfortably into the role of the class/office clown. Until, ironically, starting work as a junior administrator in an HE institution and being surrounded by the educated and those aspiring to be so.
That was twenty years ago and I now find myself in a very different environment and a very different role to where I was back then. So what has changed in the meantime? Well of course the sector has seen dramatic changes throughout my time. Since the late nineties we have seen the scrapping of maintenance grants, the introduction of tuition fees, the lift of the cap on student numbers and the focus on widening participation, all leading to competition and marketization within the HE sector. To counter this, my own institution, as with most others, has enacted many changes that have varied in scale. The most recent being a major transformational change in 2013, of which the shock waves are still being felt today. However, this was such a defining moment for both the institution and myself, leading me to having to rethink my purpose, status and “career” goals.
This was not something that I had ever had to consider before, having been safely nurtured in a department for sixteen years, why would I need to think about the future? Why would I need to safeguard myself against any changes? Surely I was in the safest business there is! Right?
My manager at the time kept advising me on the importance of understanding the wider context and advised that I joined the AUA, which would give me the opportunities to network with those outside of my institution and would help me broaden my knowledge of the sector. Having joined I was soon made aware of the PG Certificate in HE Administration, Management & Leadership and was convinced by a good friend in Staff Development that I was more than capable of doing a degree and should apply. Having supported many hundreds of students to their own graduation, I began to think, how hard can this be? So, with my two GCSE’s and totally unrelated GNVQ, I applied for the
course, safe in the knowledge that I would certainly be rejected. To my horror I was accepted, and in September 2014 I embarked on my first module ‘The Higher Education Sector’, which focused on developing a systematic understanding and critical awareness of current issues in the sector. Very quickly I fell in to the role of a true student. I left assignments to the last minute, I sat up until all hours desperately prevaricating over what font to use and phoned my mentor in sheer panic that I had totally misunderstood the assignment brief.
Module one certainly helped me to understand the historical and political influences on the HE sector and allowed me to understand and be more accepting of the changes that were happening to me within my own institution. However, it was module two, ‘Reflective Practice in Work-Based Learning’ that was a true eye-opening experience. This was the first opportunity I had had to spend time thinking about me; how I worked with and for others; what my strengths were and how I could learn from my experiences to help achieve results. All of this giving me the confidence that I could actually achieve anything I wanted, if I was reflective and acted on what was needed.
My registration on the AUA PGCert could not have come at a better time in my career, both in terms of managing myself through major organisational change and in considering my future in HE. Personally it was an extremely difficult two years of juggling a full time job, looking after a family, running a scout group and, unfortunately, having to undergo major surgery. But the support I received from the AUA team, my course mentor and fellow students meant I managed to complete my studies. Immediately upon graduating from the course (with commendation) I was successful in applying for a senior management role within my institution and am now using my experience and understanding of the AUA Professional Behaviours to support the development of a large administrative team to deliver the strategic goals of the College.
Having learnt that continuous development is key to getting the most from your role, I have now also registered to undertake the PG Diploma in HE Education Administration, Management & Leadership at Nottingham Trent University in 2019. Obviously I have learnt from previous experience and intend to be the model student (although I did say I was a slow learner!)
I know my story is not an exceptional one, but I do hope it to be an inspirational one. I have been very privileged to have had the support of people around me to say ‘yes you can’ after being told for so long ‘no you can’t’. And if even one person reads this and decides that they too ‘can’, then my work here is done.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the PgCert, click here.