Five week focus on Education: The inspirational career of Professor Elizabeth Treasure
An interview with Professor Elizabeth Treasure, Vice Chancellor of Aberystwyth University
Professor Elizabeth Treasure has been Vice-Chancellor at Aberystwyth University since April 2017, having moved from the Cardiff University where she was Deputy Vice-Chancellor. In week two of our ‘Five week focus on Education’, Elizabeth speaks about her career to date, what has driven her, and the reality of life as a Vice-Chancellor.
Having initially trained as a dentist, Elizabeth soon realised that General Practice was not for her but, rather, that she was drawn to teaching and having followed her interests, she soon found herself embarking upon a PhD. This then, in turn, took her into the NHS after senior colleagues had recognised her management potential. Despite working full-time in the NHS, she undertook additional lecturing duties in order to create a career pathway as an academic dentist.
In 1990, a family move to New Zealand saw her move into academia where she progressed in lectureships for five years, before deciding to move back to the UK with her children after sadly losing her husband. She took up a post at the University of Wales College of Medicine, where she progressed rapidly, effectively establishing academic dental public health in Wales.
Elizabeth mused that many of her career opportunities have been internal promotions, as was the case with her first Chair role which she achieved at Cardiff five years after her return and, indeed, her subsequent positions as a Dean and then Deputy Vice-Chancellor. She noted that she has had good mentors and, equally, colleagues have spotted when she is growing bored in any given role. This meant that she steadily accrued responsibilities, including some exceptionally high-profile projects such as capital development and leading on Research Excellence submissions.
There are, of course, positives and negatives to moving internally, but Elizabeth’s drive to stretch herself, thereby growing her skills and networks, has paid dividends by providing opportunities that are beyond those which a ‘traditional’ academic career path might yield. These include a one-day-a-week secondment into the Department of Health in London that enabled her to navigate the complex infrastructure of Whitehall.
Elizabeth’s tenure at Aberystwyth University has provided many challenges that she has risen to without hesitation. One of her first jobs was to reduce the University’s cost base by 10% in a way that caused as little disruption as possible. The University is a close community, which is mirrored in the culture of the town and, as an outsider in a highly visible role, Elizabeth had to quickly build relationships with her staff, local politicians, the press and the public at large.
She believes that much of her success has been on account of her ability to tell the truth. She does not spin information, and when she is not in a position to provide details, she explains that this is the case rather than leaving a gap for rumour or conjecture. Equally, she is an advocate of good governance, and the extent to which her Chair and Board support her endeavours is critical. That is not to say that they ‘rubber-stamp’ her work; rather that there is a healthy level of discussion which leads to good decision-making.
Being a Vice-Chancellor can be a lonely job and Elizabeth has to remind herself to make time for friends and family, which can be made more difficult on account of Aberystwyth’s location. It is all very well to work hard, but as a leader you cannot burn out; you are leading from the front and taking people with you. Despite the challenges, Elizabeth loves her job and was clear that she knew she had the potential and drive to be a Vice-Chancellor, so much so that she would have regretted not taking the step up into such a critical leadership role.
For more information please contact Elizabeth James, Partner and head of the Education Practice at Berwick Partners, specialising in recruiting academic and professional services leadership appointments across the Higher Education sector.