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Talking Teaching: Why I became a HEA Fellow, by Professor Julius Weinberg

11 Apr 2016 | Professor Julius Weinberg Professor Julius Weinberg, Vice-Chancellor, Kingston University.

This blog was originally posted on the former Higher Education Academy website.

“The prime reason for my becoming a Principal Fellow was because if I was going to ask my academic colleagues to go through HEA accreditation, then as an act of leadership I should be willing to do it myself.”
– Professor Julius Weinberg, Vice-Chancellor, Kingston University

Professor Julius Weinberg, Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University, hails from a medical background. As a specialist in infectious diseases he worked in the UK for the NHS and abroad for various bodies including the World Health Organization, roles that took him as far afield as Zimbabwe and Bosnia, the latter at a time when the former Yugoslavia was in the midst of a civil war. “If you can deal with bombs and rockets, then you can handle the shift into higher education”, he says of his transition from medicine to HE which began in the late 1990s.

My switch from medicine to higher education came after I was invited to meet the then Vice-Chancellor at City University, David Rhind, who asked me if I was interested in going there to run research for him across the university. So I went to City as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, not really knowing what universities were about. I thought it was something that I might do for a couple of years. I ended up staying 10 years, becoming Deputy-Vice-Chancellor, and then Vice-Chancellor at Kingston University in April 2011. With my background I was used to moving across different working environments. There are elements of academia that I didn’t understand and, if I’m honest, I still don’t. You never stop learning! However, there are occasions when I think not having spent my entire life in a university environment is a great advantage because I bring perspective from elsewhere.

As Deputy-Vice-Chancellor at City we were involved to some extent in the development of the Institute for Learning and Teaching (a forerunner of the Higher Education Academy), trying to professionalise higher education. But I only really became involved with the Higher Education Academy after I came to Kingston, partly because my Deputy-Vice-Chancellor here, Lesley-Jane Eales-Reynolds, has always been very pro the Academy and its philosophy. Several years ago I did an M.Ed because I thought if I was going to become an educationalist rather than a medic then I needed to take it seriously, so I already had that interest in education from an academic point of view.

At Kingston we took a strategic decision that we would fully engage with the HEA and embed the various HEA levels into our promotion practice. One of the things we did when I came here was to completely reformulate our promotion and progression system, so all of our Principal Lecturers had to apply to become Associate Professors. We are moving to a traditional university structure, based around academic activities, and as part of that we have tied our various levels (Lecturer, SL, Associate Professor, Professor) to the HEA descriptors. The prime reason for my becoming a Principal Fellow was because if I was going to ask my academic colleagues to go through HEA accreditation, then as an act of leadership I should be willing to do it myself. As Vice-Chancellor, if people came to me and said ‘I don’t have the time to do it’ or ‘It’s too difficult’, then I could say ‘Well I’ve done it, it can’t be that hard!’ It sent out a message – we (Kingston University) believed that professionalising higher education was really important.

The key thing for me is that at institutional level Kingston University is absolutely committed to the value of the Higher Education Academy and the various levels of HEA achievement. I, we, wanted to support our staff to do it. From a personal view, becoming a Principal Fellow wasn’t actually of massive importance. As a Vice-Chancellor, I don’t need it for personal progression, although it did make me think a little bit about what I was doing. But institutionally it was of real significance. It says to my staff ‘Look, I’m committed to this, so I’ve done it myself’. If you are developing as an academic, then I think that Fellowship is of real value.

Find out more about Fellowship.

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