Mission possible

Proving the power of potential

Professor Gerald Bennett is Pro Vice-Chancellor Research and External Development at the University of Wolverhampton. After working at a number of universities and in industry, Professor Bennett took up a role as Head of the School of Business and Management, now the University of Wolverhampton Business School. Professor Bennett recently saw the University through the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), which resulted in a significant increase in funding for research activities at the institution. He has worked at the University for 23 years and retires this summer.

1 What does your work at the University of Wolverhampton involve?

I am responsible for all our research, knowledge transfer activities and external activities related to these areas. I was involved in the recent Research Assessment Exercise, and in our work with local businesses and organisations applying the University’s intellectual strengths in the community at large.


2 What do you enjoy most about the role and find most rewarding?

I think seeing young researchers and people working in knowledge transfer develop. Also seeing the impact the University’s knowledge and research has on the community. This could be in the form of a start-up company or an organisation that has substantially improved because of the application of the University’s knowledge base. I think seeing people reach their potential has been rewarding throughout my career, and I still hear from former students who have gone on to great things in industry, commerce and academia.


3 What do you think were the key factors that led to our success in the RAE 2008?

In one word – people. Higher education is a people business. But I would also say our focus and organisation. We decided what we wanted to do, set out to do it and achieved our aims.


4 How do you see the significant increase in research funding changing the face of the University?

People are now beginning to realise that we have real potential, strengths and opportunities in the area of research. We always knew that there were good things happening here, but we needed to get some external assessment credibility and the RAE gives us that external credibility. Now we can go forward, evolve and develop. We have world class research at Wolverhampton, and now we have the evidence. But I think it is important that we do not rest on our laurels and we move forward and think of the next steps. There is no reason why Wolverhampton should not be known as a centre of research excellence in many areas.


5 What do you think has been the University’s greatest achievement or development during your time as Pro Vice-Chancellor?

The recognition that our knowledge transfer work is second to none in the West Midlands. We are also one of the best in the country for working with small and medium-sized enterprises. Externally and internally we are good at doing the difficult things. That is our real strength and our key role. I think if we work within challenging circumstances and produce results, then that is real achievement.


The University and people within it can be really proud of its successes in working with organisations and individuals who are not the traditional recipients of higher education.


6 If you were at University today, what subject would you like to study or research?

All of them! I would probably do exactly what I did all over again. I started with engineering, and there is nothing better in my opinion as the basis for a career. I then went on to a Masters and Doctorate in Business and Management. But in terms of interest, I would like to do something in History or English.


7 What are your other interests?

I am heavily involved with our local church and I have a real interest in history, music and art. I also love wild places like the Scottish Highlands and Islands. The further north the better!


I have interests in a wide range of things and I think that is the great joy of a university education – whole new fields are opened up to you.


8 What are you looking forward to about your retirement?

The difficulty with working life is managing to fit everything in around work commitments so I am looking forward to being able to spend time with my many interests. I have loved my work here, and it is a place that offered me all I wanted in terms of challenge and local relevance. It has been fun and work should be fun. The RAE outcome was the icing on the cake for me and I am ending on a real high, so I am really grateful for that.


9 What do you feel has been your greatest personal achievement?

I don’t really think in those terms. Life is full of achievements and setbacks! In general terms my greatest achievement has been to pass on to those who come afterwards the joys and challenges of education. All you can do is passon the knowledge gained from your mistakes and successes to the next generation, and it is important to do so in both your family and work lives.


In the immediate past my greatest achievement has been to instigate the new ‘Consultant’ academic posts in the institution – permanent, knowledge transfer posts as part of the wider academic community – something that is important for the future growth of University knowledge transfer.


10 Who do you admire and why?

I admire Martin Luther King. He had a vision and he also had the ability to motivate people to achieve that vision. I admire people who can see what needs to be done and are able through the force of their ideas, to lead, motivate and challenge people to do it, and that is the combination that I really respect.