Academic Challenges

Professor Ann Holmes joined the University as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) in September. The move marked a welcome return to Wolverhampton for Ann, who studied a BA (Hons) in Law in 1975 and went on to complete a MPhil in Competition Law in 1979.

In addition to her degrees from Wolverhampton, Professor Holmes also has a Postgraduate Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety from Aston University. Prior to pursuing a career in higher education, she spent five years working for the Health and Safety Executive in the West Midlands as an HM Inspector of Factories. Her role will involve driving forward the academic development of the University.

1. How did it feel to return as Deputy Vice-Chancellor to the University you had studied at, and how has the institution changed?

It has been such a long time since I was here as a student that it actually felt as though I was coming to somewhere new. The staff have changed and so have the buildings. The bit that was familiar was Wolverhampton itself, and the ‘Marble’ entrance to the University. Higher education has changed drastically in the last 10 years and is continuing to change. The University is not the same place as when I was a student and neither is higher education.

2. What does your role involve?

The role of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) is broad. It involves overseeing quality assurance and enhancement, learning and teaching, curriculum development and line managing the Deans of the eight Academic Schools. It is a very broad portfolio and within that there are areas that I need to focus on as a matter of priority. The key essential for me is that as an Executive we work together to determine and deliver the strategic direction of the University to meet the challenges facing higher education.

3. What are your plans for the academic development of the University?

One of the major components of our new Strategic Plan is to develop what we are calling ‘the Wolverhampton Offer’, which is about enhancing the student experience. I have set up a task and finish group and we have delivered the overarching principles. This encompasses a series of key commitments to underpin and enhance the student experience at each stage of the student life cycle. The next thing is to really push on with the development of online and distance learning at undergraduate and postgraduate level. We know that students want to study in a more flexible way, both on and off campus, and at our overseas partners, so we need to make sure our programmes can be offered in a flexible way.

4. What do you think are the key aspects of Wolverhampton courses that make them stand out to students?

Employability and how we embed this in the curriculum is something that will make us stand out. We are committed to ensuring that employment opportunities are a recognised part of the curriculum, and ensuring all students have the skills that employers want. The reason that our work on this will make us stand out is that employability will become an even bigger part of student expectations. More than ever before, they will be asking what it is about their programme or course that will help improve their career or employment prospects.

5. What do you enjoy most or find most rewarding about your role?

It is early days but I am very impressed by the commitment of both the academic and support staff. The staff I am working with have been extremely supportive and committed to making a difference, for example developing the Wolverhampton Offer. The staff fully appreciate the challenges we face post 2012. The Students’ Union here is excellent and so are the SU officers. I’ve been impressed by their engagement and the fact that they are committed to working in partnership with the University. The rewarding bit has been getting to know the people I will be working closely with and the fact everybody has been very supportive and friendly. Although I appreciate there are still lots of staff I have yet to meet.

6. Higher education is going through the biggest changes for a generation – what advice would you offer to potential students and their families when considering university?

I don’t think they should be put off by the financial changes. There are no fees payable upfront. It is, in reality, a graduate tax that many graduates will defer paying as they need to reach a certain salary first. I would encourage students and their families to enquire about bursaries and scholarships – there is financial help available from the University. If they don’t look into the support available they may think that University is not for them but the evidence is that being a graduate increases your employability and that graduates generally earn more than non-graduates. I

7. f you were at University today, what would you like to study?

I am a law graduate and I would still study law. I continue to write on particular areas of employment law which is my area of expertise. I’m currently working on the ninth edition of my employment law book which I write for the Oxford University Press. My particular interest is equality law and I still keep up-to-date with this.

8. Who do you admire?

Sir David Attenborough. I have adored him since I was six years old. I admire his intellect, his knowledge, his passion for the natural world and the way he can convey complex issues in a way everyone can understand. He has said that the best educators are those that can enthuse and motivate and he is a great example of that.