We had the pleasure of featuring Professor Nigel Healey in our first edition of “Hello, Professor!”, which will focus on the interesting life experiences of academics from all over the world.
Name: Professor Nigel Healey
Year of birth: 1957
Nationality: New Zealand
Current designation: Vice Chancellor
Institution: Fiji National University
City and country: Suva, Fiji
Alma mater: Nottingham Trent University (PhD)
Research interests: Internationalisation of higher education, transnational education
1. What are the qualities of a good academic leader?
A good academic leader builds a compelling vision for the University, based on listening to the University’s stakeholders (students, alumni, staff, employers) and understanding its opportunities and challenges in the context of its relative strengths and weaknesses. This requires the ability to hear and respect conflicting views, to analyse data and construct an evidence-based plan and to communicate this plan back to the stakeholders in a way which is clear, engaging and inspiring. A good academic leader needs to be consistent and ensure that everything – policies and procedures, the use of resources, the corporate messaging – aligns with the plan, so that everyone in the University understands and is committed to fulfilling the vision. It also helps if the academic leader has a good sense of humour and does not take him- or herself too seriously. Humility is greatly undervalued. At the end of the day, the Vice Chancellor or President is just an academic who has been made boss for a period of time. S/he is no smarter or better than the other academics who make up the University.
2. We all make mistakes. Which career mistake has taught you the most?
At the start of my career, universities generally were terrible in providing guidance and mentorship for young academics. Rather than making one significant career mistake, I made the same mistake over and over. I wanted to do everything – research every random topic that caught my curiosity, develop and teach new courses, speak at conferences all other the world, become a visiting professor at every foreign university that replied to my pleading emails. I was a bundle of unfocused energy, racing from one thing to another. Only later in my career did I realise that I needed to concentrate on establishing myself as an authority in a recognised field, which meant saying “No” to opportunities I would have previously jumped at. For the last decade or so, I have concentrated on researching and teaching in the area about which I am passionate – the internationalisation of higher education and, specifically, transnational education – and this is the area for which I am now best known.
3. We all have weaknesses. What is your strategy for overcoming yours?
My strategy for overcoming my weaknesses is to first work out what these are, and then surround myself with a team of colleagues who have strengths where I have weaknesses. Managing a university is a team business. I know that my strength is to develop innovative solutions and approaches, but my weakness is that I quickly get bored with details. If I tried to do everything myself, I would fail, so I work closely with “completer-finishers” and empower them to get on with implementing the vision. It seems to work pretty well as a strategy.
4. How do you balance your leadership responsibilities with teaching, research and your personal life? How do you prioritize?
I take my leadership responsibilities very seriously. In senior leadership roles, we are entrusted with the power to affect the lives of our staff and students positively if we do our jobs to the best of our abilities – or negatively, if we make bad choices. But I never want to drift too far away from the core business of teaching and research, so I make sure that I continue to give lectures and write research papers. My family is very supportive and put up with my long absences, but I am sure they would say my work-life balance is not ideal. I prioritize regular conversations with my wife and children and getting enough exercise.
5. Who is your professional role model and why?
I have been fortunate to have had several important mentors. Professor Peter Jackson, who is one of the longest serving professors at the University of Leicester, was hugely influential in my early career and a great role model. He was an accomplished researcher, an excellent teacher and a relentless academic innovator who really cared about his students and colleagues. Dame Alexandra Burslem, who hired me as a novice Dean while she was Vice Chancellor at Manchester Metropolitan University, was also inspirational, showing me the importance of hiring good people and then empowering them to get on with the job. She trusted me with the Deanship of the largest business school in the UK, and backed me to carry out a radical restructuring of the organisation and the entire undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum.
6. Who would you like to nominate for the next Hello, Professor interview and why?
I would like to nominate Professor John Spinks from Hong Kong University. John will be retiring this year after a long and glittering academic career and it would be fascinating to hear his thoughts about the changes that have taken place in higher education over the last four decades in East Asia.