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Day in the Life – Tim Thornton

Tim Thornton

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Name: Tim Thornton


Job title:  Deputy Vice-Chancellor


Tell us about your career journey:

I did my undergrad and postgrad at Oxford, the latter supervised by Chris Haigh, on early Tudor Cheshire. That led me into college lectureships in Oxford, then a post at Reading, before I came to Huddersfield as a lecturer in History in 1994. I’ve been fortunate to do a range of roles here, including Head of History, Head of Department for the humanities, Head of the new university campus at Barnsley, Dean of School, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, and for the past 5 years Deputy Vice-Chancellor. That’s given me a great range of insights into the way higher education works. I am also a 3M BIC Board member.


Describe a typical day at work:

As Deputy Vice-Chancellor I have a range of responsibilities, so it is hard to describe a typical day. But as the title implies, I may be deputising for the Vice-Chancellor, chairing a senior-level meeting or dealing with stakeholders from many different backgrounds. I work with the Directors of the main resource areas of the University, in Finance, HR, Estates & Facilities, Marketing, Communications & Student Recruitment, and with colleagues in Planning. I have a range of external involvements that might involve me on any particular day, for example as a member of the Board at Northern College, or of the Employment & Skills Committee for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.


What keeps you motivated at work?

I still teach and research, and it’s that engagement with students and with the cutting edge of my discipline which is the greatest motivation for me.


The most exciting thing about your job?

Seeing the dramatic change and progress that the University has achieved over the past fifteen years, and continues to achieve.


The most challenging?

In the best possible way, the job’s challenge arises from the fact that I get to work with outstanding professionals who really are at the top of their game, and that offers interesting and stimulating challenges all the time.


Time of the day you most creative or inspired?

Any time of day suits me.


Proudest career moment?

There have been lots of proud moments, so it’s hard to pick one, but it was great to be part of the team at the THE Awards in 2013 when we won University of the Year at the end of the VC’s first strategy map period, and again there in 2018 when we won both Outstanding Strategic Leadership and Management Team and Outstanding Strategic Planning Team at the same ceremony.


Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

To continue with my studies as a historian when I was at school – although I suspect my natural inclination would have taken me that way in any case. History is both a fascinating study in its own right and one that provides an excellent preparation for the world as we find it: a world of ‘wicked’ problems, to be addressed based on incomplete and problematic evidence, and amidst contested interpretations.


What innovations should we look out for in your industry?

The pressure on resources in higher education will become acute in the next 2-3 years, as UK student fees are capped and other pressures potentially restrict international student fee income. That will drive consolidation, within and between institutions, and also heighten the pressure for efficiencies. At the same time, the increasing number of 18-year-olds and their increasing propensity to try to enter higher education will push standards and expectations higher – so it will be an exciting time.


Out of the office…?

I’m lucky enough to spend part of my time in West Yorkshire and part in North Wales with my brilliant wife Sue, and so I get the chance to enjoy plenty of time in the hills and mountains and on the coast.

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