Professor Gurpreet Singh Jagpal’s career has been a story of back-to-back promotions and an ever-growing portfolio of accomplishments - which have all centred around his drive to build bridges between academia and business.
Now heading a team of more than 50 staff and a key member of the University of Suffolk’s Executive team, he reflects with 'some incredulity' on the path that has brought him to this point.
It’s a journey which he began as the child of immigrant parents who arrived in the UK from India in the ‘70s with limited English. It has seen him go on to be, with his brothers, the first in the family to go to university. Subsequently it has seen him build a career in which he has created ground-breaking skills programmes for PhD students and worked with big-name tech companies to distribute multi-million pound development funds. Since taking on his current role in 2020, he has grown Suffolk’s knowledge exchange income by over 500 per cent.
Impact of the Top Management Programme
Taking part on Advance HE’s Top Management Programme (TMP) helped Professor Jagpal make sense of his story and to understand its influence on him as a leader in higher education.
“Before TMP, like a lot of people, I suffered with imposter syndrome,” he said.
“But TMP forced me to reflect on my experiences and understand how they made me who I am. Now I see where those moments of self-doubt come from and appreciate them as something that’s actually quite helpful. They keep me grounded and mean I’m always questioning what I’m doing and how I’m going about things.
“TMP helped me get comfortable with being uncomfortable in certain situations and that in itself has given me confidence.”
Professor Jagpal took part in the 50th cohort of the programme, which now has more than 60 current and former UK Vice-Chancellors and Principals as alumni and others occupying senior executive roles across higher education globally. “When I signed up to TMP, there were three broad things I wanted to achieve,” he said.
“I wanted to get a better understanding of the challenges facing the sector and how they might affect my role within the university. I wanted to understand my leadership style and how I can best deploy my leadership skill set to deal with the challenges. And finally I wanted to build my confidence as a leader who is capable of leading a university. TMP has enabled me to grow in all three of those areas.”
TMP is a unique opportunity for senior leaders to reflect on their practice, build networks and immerse themselves in the challenges and problems facing the sector. It is split over the three residential weeks with an impact day between each.
“It’s an intense experience,” said Professor Jagpal.
“Obviously it has amazing content and amazing speakers throughout but its real impact is in the way it prompts you to challenge yourself, your perceptions, your views, based what you're hearing from experienced leaders and your peers.”
Professor Jagpal’s residential weeks were in London, Edinburgh and Australia and they were interspersed with impact group sessions involving six participants each, one-to-one coaching, feedback from your peers and also a 360 degree feedback exercise from colleagues at your institution.
“TMP is really personal. It urges you to open the bonnet, look under the engine and see how the different parts all come together to make you who you are as a leader,” he said.
“Yes, we talked about the sector challenges - what's going on, international student recruitment, regulatory challenges etc. But how you deal with those challenges is absolutely based on you and the internal DNA of your leadership approach. And that's what TMP encourages you to understand. “
Crucially, TMP has also made the top leadership positions in the sector now seem more attainable.
“When I first started out in higher education, I used to look at the vice chancellor and executive team and was never able to see myself there,” he said.
“But now I can. It’s taken 20 years but yes, contributing as part of that team and being a future vice chancellor absolutely does feel achievable.”