The Interview UK
University of Central Lancashire
PVC Students and Teaching

Andrew Ireland

The role of Pro Vice-Chancellor at a university is one that requires a lot of adaptability and flexibility. As someone who started his career in TV, and began his current job just before the coronavirus pandemic, Andrew Ireland – Pro Vice-Chancellor for Students and Teaching at the University of Central Lancashire – has already had to be both agile and innovative in his work engaging students.

Kira Matthews, Community Engagement Lead at GoodCourse, asks Andrew about how he came to be a Pro Vice-Chancellor, and some of the challenges that he has already overcome in his role.

Andrew's journey

Wherever possible though we try to proactively reach out to students before they need to come to us, on top of communicating as regularly as we can, and referring students to specific services and support as needed.
Kira: What has your journey been like, and how did you get to where you are today?

I always wanted to work in TV. That’s what led me to study Media Production at Bournemouth University. After graduating, I spent a short time working in live TV, and also a stint as an editor for ITV, in Southampton.

I began to realise that I would probably need to move to London and work on a freelance basis to really progress my career. The insecurity of freelance work means that it has never appealed to me, so when the opportunity to teach TV production at Bournemouth opened up, it seemed like a perfect fit.

Initially, I split my time between commercial video production and teaching students, but I ended up teaching more and more as time went on. As a result of that, I got the chance to manage a project for HEFCE about group work and assessment in media production.

This involved working closely with three other universities, and travelling to many institutions to lead workshops, which was a lot to take on when I was relatively new to Higher Education, but I learned a lot of valuable lessons in that time. I became a National Teaching Fellow in 2004 in their Rising Stars category, and I frequently drew on what I had learned in my work with HEFCE, and that gave me more confidence and I started climbing the career ladder into academic management.

I really enjoy teaching TV production because of the opportunities to simulate real-world scenarios, including simulating live broadcast failures as a great way for students to learn and think about ‘in the moment’ decision-making. Eventually this became the basis for my practice-based PhD, which considered how an episode of Doctor Who from the 2000s could be produced in the constraining environment of a 1960s-style TV studio.

After completing my PhD at Bournemouth, I felt that the right step for me would be to gain some experience at another institution. I became Head of what was then called the School of Journalism and Digital Communication at UCLan based in Preston, and later Executive Dean of the Faculty of Culture and the Creative Industries. My role now as Pro Vice-Chancellor focuses on student experience, teaching and learning, but I still try to stay connected to my media background.

Kira: The coronavirus pandemic posed major challenges for everyone in Higher Education, but perhaps especially for those who teach practical courses like TV production. What did UCLan learn in that period that you hope to carry forward?

When the pandemic first started, we had to move very quickly in order to put our teaching online and enable students to keep learning. Everyone did their very best and lots of lessons were learned very quickly.

What we’re trying to do now, is to reflect on what worked well remotely and redesign things now that we have more time and information to hand. We’re finding it especially important to consider how students can benefit most from opportunities for blended approaches on a subject-to-subject basis as all courses have different requirements.

Kira: How does that learning apply to welfare provisions and other kinds of student support?

I started in this role as Pro Vice-Chancellor just before the pandemic. At the time, we had been looking to implement an early intervention programme aimed at proactively reaching out to students who were not engaging with their courses.

Because of the shift to remote learning, we had to reconsider our approach to this, as students weren’t attending and engaging in the same ways as before – the return of students to campus has now meant rethinking our approach yet again.

In lots of ways, being able to offer remote counselling and welfare support – even if many students do prefer to access services in person – has meant that students feel more able to access help than before. We want to keep a hybrid service up so that students can feel supported on their own terms.

The pandemic has raised new problems that we’re still attempting to tackle – namely the confidence issues and knowledge gaps caused by so much disruption to the whole education system. We’re still paying attention to how students have been affected, so that we can work out how to provide targeted support.

Wherever possible though we try to proactively reach out to students before they need to come to us, on top of communicating as regularly as we can, and referring students to specific services and support as needed.

Kira: The last few years have been full of change for universities, not just because of the pandemic but because of other events and social movements in 2020 and 2021 too. How is UCLan responding to these changes?

We have a project called Belonging@UCLan, with lots of strands of activity, to help staff and students feel a sense of identity and belonging within our institution. This is really, really important.

Like many Higher Education institutions, we are also thinking carefully not only about how to decolonise our curricula, but to make sure that every student feels represented in our curricula too. This ‘curriculum for all’ approach is currently being developed, working closely with our Students’ Union to find out what students need for that to happen.

Tackling these problems is difficult and challenging but important work – we’re determined to work hard on this and get it right, so that every student is able to achieve their potential. That’s what we’re here for and it is very important to us.

3 Quickfire Questions

Kira: What advice would you give to anyone hoping to come into the Higher Education space now?

Look for opportunities and hold onto them – and always challenge yourself to keep growing. If you’re lacking opportunities, remember that you can make your own!

Kira: Is there someone you admire who has been an inspiration to you in your work?

I have huge admiration for every member of staff that supports students with their confidence and wellbeing. We know that across the sector, students are struggling with their sense of belonging and wellness more than ever, so it’s crucial that people are working in supportive roles so that every student can thrive.

Kira: What is the most important book that you’ve read in your career?

That’s a tough question! I’m going to go with The Dalek Invasion of Earth by Terrance Dicks. It got me into reading, and Doctor Who, and then my love for TV, it all started there.

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