Studying the PgCert: Our alumni share their experience

We asked our graduates to share their experience of studying our PgCert in HE administration, management and leadership. They tell us about the challenges of juggling study and work, how they developed as HE professionals and the impact the programme had on them and their professional practice.

Kelli Wolfe | Academic Services Manager | The University of Roehampton

Kelli started the PgCert programme in October 2019. She shares her experience of distance learning; the challenges, the highlights, some advice, and how she kept going through a pandemic!

Don’t just chase the marks… really use the opportunity to learn and to grow.

Kelli shares her experience of studying over the last 12 months

Robyn Skelton

Robyn has worked for The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, a brand new provider, for the past three years. Prior to that she worked for an engineering education charity – involved in the fringes of higher education through projects like donations to universities, bursary programmes and competitions, as well as engaging in policy developments. Robyn completed the PgCert in October 2020 and shares some useful advice on how she kept her studies on track during a challenging year!

Why did you choose the PgCert?

I decided to enrol in the AUA’s PgCert in Higher Education Administration, Management and Leadership for a few reasons. Firstly, I was aware that I had developed my institutional knowledge within a very unique provider and felt that improving my understanding of different models would enable me to contribute to sector debates with increased awareness and confidence. Secondly, I wanted to increase my networks within other HE institutions. Thirdly, I wanted to strengthen my professional practice so that I could better support my team and enable their professional development.

What elements of the programme did you benefit from the most?

I must confess that at the outset of the programme, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the Professional Practice module. I already had a Masters in Public Administration, so I felt well set up for the academic research and writing required by the Higher Education in Context module, but the description of the Professional Practice module left me quite nervous! I didn’t have much experience with tools like professional development plans and reflective writing, and to be honest, I couldn’t envisage how those tools were going to be useful.

In fact, the Professional Practice module ended up being the element of the programme that most enthused me, and that will have the most lasting impact on my career. The tools that I started using in order to ‘go through the motions’ – like reflective writing – have ended up being an integral part of my approach to work. Pausing to reflect, evaluate and ensure that I take forward learnings from different situations now feels quite natural. There’s been a clear benefit to my wellbeing, and I also feel like I have more practical tools to offer my team, so I can support them more effectively on their own professional development journeys.

Any advice for future PgCert students?

In terms of study tips for the programme, I would recommend spending time right at the start of the programme working out how you’re going to engage with your studies in a way that works for you. I work most effectively under pressure, so I tended to consider assignment briefs, undertake relevant reading and note down thoughts in my phone over the course of a couple of months, but wouldn’t actually start writing in earnest until within a week of the deadline. That approach won’t work for everyone!

How did you keep yourself motivated during your studies?

Covid-19 did present a significant challenge to my learning – I was significantly more time poor than I expected to be, and sometimes it was tough to stay motivated. Helpfully, during the programme I kept an online learning journal, and in my first journal entry I wrote down a summary of why I had enrolled on the programme and what I hoped to achieve. That way, if ever I was lacking in motivation, I could remind myself what I was working towards. By the same token, I could also step back and consider whether I was putting too much pressure on myself to deliver perfection when that wasn’t something towards which I needed to strive.

Would you recommend the PgCert to others?

I would definitely recommend the PgCert to anyone who feels very passionately about higher education, but isn’t certain of their next steps – regardless of the reason. Whether you’re looking to develop sector knowledge, self-confidence or career visualisation, if you engage meaningfully with the programme’s content then you will emerge from it a stronger professional.

Whether you’re looking to develop sector knowledge, self-confidence or career visualisation, if you engage meaningfully with the programme’s content then you will emerge from it a stronger professional.

Robyn Skelton | Senior External Affairs and Development Manager | The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology

I kept an online learning journal, and in my first journal entry I wrote down a summary of why I had enrolled on the programme and what I hoped to achieve. That way, if ever I was lacking in motivation, I could remind myself what I was working towards.

Danielle Russo

Danielle Russo, Head of Student Partnerships and Student Success at Brunel University London, completed her studies in October 2020. Danielle has worked in higher education for over a decade and held a range of positions in outreach and widening participation prior to her current role. 

How has completing the PgCert impacted your day-to-day work?

The PgCert has complemented my role by developing my skills, experience and ideas and providing in-depth knowledge of the higher education sector. Though the course has put pressures on my time, I have really enjoyed studying again and have learnt a lot (both about myself and higher education!). My line manager confirmed my knowledge and confidence has expanded and my writing style had become increasingly academic. My understanding of the wider university context has broadened through attending study days and engaging with higher education professionals, who have become a reassuring support network. 

Has the PgCert changed the way you approach professional development?

I have thoroughly enjoyed the PgCert, and since starting the course I have taken control of my own professional development, through reflecting on previous activities, journaling my experiences and taking action to develop or adapt my behaviour. I am now more aware of the range of mechanisms for learning, developing, and improving professional practice, and look forward to using this knowledge to support the team I manage. 

How did you manage your time?

My mentor helped me to stay motivated with my studies and by dedicating set hours as study time and breaking tasks down into smaller actions I was able to stay on track. I would absolutely recommend the programme to anyone working in higher education.

What next?

I intend to continue to progress my career within the higher education sector and I believe that the knowledge and skills I have developed will support my preparedness for entering senior leadership positions. I am looking forward to progressing onto the Postgraduate Diploma and continuing my learning journey. 

My understanding of the wider university context has broadened through attending study days and engaging with higher education professionals, who have become a reassuring support network

I found the PgCert to be a really thought-provoking programme that allowed me to not only learn about the foundations and changes within HE, but to also take the time to focus on my personal development. It’s pushed me to get out there and network, join new working groups, and explore activity outside my immediate team. It’s definitely changed me for the better!

Michelle Palmer, PgCert graduate 2019/20

It has given me the confidence to lead discussions, challenge opinions, be more inclusive and have a wider appreciation of the challenges facing the HE community. I actively use self-reflection in my professional and personal life and I am much more appreciative of working collaboratively and how to support and develop myself and others.

Lorraine Ball, PgCert graduate, 2019/20

David Duell

Research Projects Facilitator (Post-Award) | University of Birmingham   

As I do not have an undergraduate degree, I was attracted by the opportunity to undertake a postgraduate qualification on the basis of my experience working in the HE sector. The programme built a real interest in policy and the professional climate, as well as a much better understanding of reflective theory. In providing both of these modules, I found the programme well rounded, and it has definitely given me a lot that I use in my day to day working life. As my last academic qualifications were A levels (and these over ten years ago), I was concerned that I might struggle with the assignment format and requirements, but I found the course team hugely helpful and the requirements were very well explained. There is some sensible (but not arduous) pre reading recommended by the programme, which also really helped acclimatise me to the demands of the course.

I met some great people from across the sector and this course has definitely built my confidence both in my day to day role and as a professional within the sector. I feel well ‘networked’ and my understanding of the context in which I’m working is substantially better. The course also reinforced my approach to planning work over time; in planning reading and assignment work at the beginning of the course I was able to ensure that I worked consistently and that my work/life/study balance was effective. I’m motivated to continue my journey and am looking forward to registering on the PGDip in 2020!

Bushra Shaikha

Assistant Registrar | Aga Khan University | Pakistan

I started working in higher education as a Programme Administrator at an international university in London. As I progressed in my role and got promoted to Assistant Registrar, I realised to have a real impact I’d have to further improve my knowledge of the HE sector in the UK, but also build on my management and leadership skills. So, I decided to pursue the AUA PgCert in April 2018.

I expected to grow professionally, but the programme also helped me build a lot of self awareness in terms of my strengths and weaknesses. This gave me a lot more confidence and helped me land a new management role.

For those thinking about the AUA PgCert, I would leverage the action plan provided by the course conveners, and keep in touch with your mentors, as they can be a real asset throughout.

Bradley Shadwell

Senior Education Administrator (Undergraduate) | University of Bristol 

I began to study for the PgCert exactly one year after embarking on my first role within HE. I was initially concerned that I didn’t have the experience of the sector to succeed, however support from my mentor and the staff present at the study days meant this was not the case. 

Since enrolling in the PgCert, I have been able to apply knowledge to my practice and progress through two grade boundaries in the space of 12 months. I have found that analysis of the changing sector in module one  and developing my critical reflection skills in module two has enabled me to identify my strengths and weaknesses and then use these to my advantage when completing my duties and standing out from my competitors during recruitment processes. 

I found the juggle of studying and working full time particularly challenging. However, this has been a fantastic way to improve my time management abilities. I now feel confident to tackle a heavy workload, complete duties to a high standard and still maintain a healthy work/life balance. 

As an Accredited member of the AUA I feel this course is an interesting and challenging tool to improve professional practice. By embarking on the PgCert you are highlighting your commitment to your career in HE. I would recommend this course to anyone who wishes to push their career a step further. I have developed a great network of colleagues, all of which face similar challenges as I do in their roles – you are not alone!

For more information on the PgCert and how to apply please visit our PgCert webpage