1. Recruited by Antipodeans

In September 2007 I left the University of St Andrews, as Director of Learning and Teaching Development in SALTIRE, where I had worked since 1996-7 first as a staff development officer, then Head of Staff Development. I was head-hunted for the post of Dean (Vice President) of Teaching and Learning at Unitec NZ, based in Auckland, New Zealand. I’d like to share a few of the key issues involved in deciding to work abroad after a career that had been totally UK-based in the University of Bradford, Bradford, West Yorkshire (1976 – 1996) and then St Andrews (as above).  My recruitment commenced with a phone interview with the Vice President (Research) for Unitec, which was successful. 

I was then interviewed by a small panel comprising the Deputy President (Academic), The Vice President (Research) again, as well as the Professor and Head of School of Education via Videoconference, late evening my time, early morning their time!  Once again I was successful and this culminated in my being invited for a one week interview and selection process in Auckland at Unitec. This was my first successful recruitment by Antipodeans (the second was Australians).  Having done sufficient research on the institution prior to my interviews I appreciated that I needed to have a much deeper knowledge of their history, current situation and future ambitions, so, I requested electronic copies of their strategic plan, operational plans for Teaching and Research as well as information about Unitec and New Zealand itself, especially living and working in the country, including details about cost of living, housing and salaries.  This was invaluable information, and I can now confirm impressed the Deputy President (Academic) that I was serious about taking the position if eventually offered it.

This stage was easy compared with what was to come.  I had a completely full programme of meetings with The CEO and President of Unitec as well as all Heads of School, other Deans (of Vocational and Education and Training, VET), Undergraduate Programmes and Postgraduate Programmes. Further, I also met Heads and Directors as well as small teams from the Library, IT services and spent a full day with the Acting Director of the Centre for Learning and Teaching Innovation (CTLI) and its team, as my main support group and what would eventually turn out to be ‘home‘ for me for approximately the first 4 months of the role.  I later transferred to the Head Office for the Senior Management team of Unitec, and maintained my Director role of CTLI by appointing a Manager who ran day-to-day business, and with whom I built a strong relationship.

The Deans eventually became new colleagues too.  Their positional roles represented a vertical structure framework the instituion had adopted, rather than the typical Dean and Faculty structure based upon disciplines eg Arts, Science, Engineering and so on.  This was a surprise but illustrates that you need to expect the unexpected when dealing with countries abroad, regardless of what you might believe about similaries of the higher (and in this case also further) education provision.  They (Unitec) were a dual-sector institution and did things differently, including having separate student support systems for Maori, Pacific Island and ‘European’ (Pakea) learners.  I would have responsibility for these Student Support Centres as well as the Centre for Learning and Teaching Innovation (CTLI), as well as providing the leading role for developing teaching programmes and co-ordinating as well as leading the development of a new academic strategy for Unitec.

So, as you guessed, I was offered the position and eventually accepted it after negotiating better terms and conditions (and salary) than in the initial offer.  This included not only full removal expenses for me and my partner but also for my daugher who was a graduate but still living at home.  What lessons can I pass on?  Some I have mentioned already, but if there is one major cluster then it is to be bold, positive and ambitious in all you say and do when an institution has particularly sought out you to recruit – even, if like me, you were bewildered about how they even knew you existed – so far away from your own cosy existence in St Andrews!  Ask lots of questions when the opportunities arise, and have lots of examples of your achievments to share with what might turn out to many individuals involved in selection.  Don’t be afraid to repeat and re-use some of the material.  Develop your memory for names -you’ll need it, and expect to get quizzed on your personal interests (eg type of music, film, hobbies etc.).  I learned later someone was very impressed that I had spent time sharing my interests in Blues, Jazz and Rock music in particular, and had been fascinated that I was fascinated by left handed musicians such as Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney.  You just never know what will resonate, so don’t be afraid to be true to your self!

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About Colin Mason

I am Dr Colin Mason, formerly Dean (Vice President) of Teaching and Learning at Unitec NZ, Auckland, New Zealand; Director and Professor of the Institute of Teaching and Learning (ITL) at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia; Director of Learning and Teaching Development, at the University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife, UK; and previously a Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences (Haematology) at Bradford University, Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK. Currently, I am a semi-retired academic consultant in higher education and most poignantly, a recovering cancer patient who has just discovered blogs. I have been documenting my progress from diagnosis of my poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma of the stomach through to nearly the end of my third cycle of chemotherapy with Epirubicin, Oxaliplatin and Xeloda (EOX), a well-established Chemo Combo cocktail for treating non-HER2 positive people such as me. The trials and tribulations of my experiences in the last 3-4 months have kept many both amused and empathetic to my cause of championing NHS reform to become more proactive in a health-promoting rather than an illness-treating service for growing numbers of patients, especially the elderly, that will, if not planned for, lead to rationing and even greater ethical dilemmas for society, but particularly consultants and other senior health and social care workers who will be forced to make what could be key life or death decisions for patients in their care.

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