Meet Heather Banks MAUA, Quality and Teaching Excellence Coordinator | Northumbria University | Career Stories

Heather Banks MAUA
Quality and Teaching Excellence Coordinator
Northumbria University

How long have you worked in HE and what was your first position?

I have worked in HE for 7 years. I started off as a temp at Northumbria University in the summer of 2011; just back from working in New Zealand it was time for me to a find a ‘proper job’. After an initial two week temping placement archiving and shuffling around in a dusty store cupboard I secured a longer-term position in the accreditations team in the Faculty of Business and Law. Those who work in Business Schools will no doubt be familiar with the internationally renowned AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) accreditation.  Supporting the AACSB accreditation journey became my main focus for a few years before I progressed into a role in approvals and review in Northumbria’s centralised Quality and Teaching Excellence team.

How has the AUA helped your career/development?

Since becoming an Advocate for the AUA I have developed more of an awareness of the HE environment outside of my own University. At Northumbria University we have well-structured people development programmes and a set of Leadership Attributes which inform the way we aspire to lead and manage teams and collaborate internally. Joining the AUA has made me more reflective on my professional practice as a whole, such as building adaptability and resilience to cope with changes in the external environment.  Reading the AUA Blog, Newslink publications and Good Practice Guides encourage us to reflect on the work we do within the wider HE context. They help us to understand why sector changes are happening and what we need to do to survive and adapt to them.  It can be easy to forget there are other administrators out there facing the same challenges as us and the AUA encourages us to share best practice to increase how efficient we are as individuals, as well as a sector. Now I have more of an insight into how Universities are reacting to change and diversifying their corporate strategies to be ready for what the future brings. I have recently been promoted to an Academic Support Manager and my involvement with the AUA has been a contributing factor in that success.

The best part of my role…

The highlights of my HE career so far have been the opportunities to collaborate externally with partners, employers and other HE administrators.  Last year I acted as secretary at a partnership approval event in Doha, Qatar. The opportunity to travel is always exciting but the chance to contribute to the start of a new partnership and build working relationships with new staff is equally as rewarding. I take pride in any opportunity to represent the University and I have also been lucky enough to do this at accreditation conferences in New Orleans and France, networking with professional bodies and other Universities. Closer to home, we have hosted employers forums to gain feedback for periodic reviews and I always enjoy seeing the strong relationship between our academic departments and industry, giving our students excellent employability opportunities and ‘real-world’ learning experiences.

What advice do you have for prospective AUA members?

  • Step out of the silo: the best source of information, problem solving and learning lies within your University (and wider) network so use it and collaborate with colleagues outside of your team as much as you can. Joining the AUA can help with this so see what your local advocates can offer in terms of internal and external networking opportunities.
  • See the bigger picture: understand how your role contributes to your University’s strategy. It might not always be obvious but every task will align to a business outcome or strategic objective.  Understanding your fit inside the bigger picture helps to motivate us and give us direction with a sense of ownership.  Reading AUA publications can help keep up to date with current issues within the HE sector.
  • Challenge the Status Quo: Increasing efficiency is a part of most University strategic plans. If you think something can be improved or done more efficiently then share your ideas; don’t keep them to yourself and be frustrated by out of date working practices.  AUA membership encourages us to share best practice so if a task isn’t fit for purpose, challenge it and find a better way.

What do you think is the most overused phrase in HE?

“Restructure” [everyone shudders] I wish we could call it something else because it carries such negative connotations. I appreciate that going through a restructure is a stressful time for personal job security, however, it creates so much professional opportunity as well and we should focus more on those positives. My first restructure created a promotional opportunity for me and the second one increased my internal network greatly by moving to a new, centralised department. The chance to start something from new can be a real breath of fresh air and highly rewarding. It is an opportunity to improve the way we work so have your say, contribute and make the most of it. Every cloud has a silver lining!

What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?

A colleague and good friend of mine, who actually selected me for my first temping job at Northumbria, admitted that I was recruited because of how unusual my CV was. Apparently, they said ‘we have to choose this one just for the entertainment factor!’ I am told they were disappointed when I turned out to be professional and corporate like everyone else. I think it was the chalet hostess, salmon farmer, ‘bud-rubbing’ vineyard worker and bagpiper in my employment history that really caught their attention!

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