Confidence and consistency; the words that Geoff Donnelly uses throughout his first interview as chairman of the board of the University of Cumbria.
From his work in industry to time on the board with high flying Oxford Brookes University, Geoff has seen the industrial and teaching landscape change massively.
Beginning in management and industrial relations in the 1970s after a degree in management science and maths, he moved via a management consultant post to join Marks and Spencer’s. As well as time at the prestigious Baker Street headquarters he worked as office manager at the company’s Burnley store and recalls experiencing the early days of computerisation when six desktops were purchased (three for training) to see if they new technology would catch on.
‘We were on the cusp of monumental things’ Geoff recalls and this desire to learn more convinced him to undertake a challenging MA in accounting and finance. Three years spending two nights a week studying part-time has given him an insight into life for today’s mature learners.
Twelve years as finance director and company secretary with French electrical giant Legrand saw him oversee a series of acquisitions and manage the physical as well as personal side of mergers.
A desire to make use of his financial and management skills saw him register his interest to go into public service and resulted in an offer to join the board of Oxford Brookes University in 2003. And it was a link here that saw him come to Cumbria.
In 2010 Graham Upton was acting interim Vice Chancellor of the University of Cumbria having retired from being Vice Chancellor at Oxford Brookes. Aware that Geoff now lived near Settle in North Yorkshire he asked if he would be willing to join the team working in Carlisle to develop the fledgling university.
“Our first challenge was to stabilise the university and build confidence within the organisation and throughout Cumbria,” Geoff recalls.
Eight years on he takes over from Euan Cartwright as chairman of the university board and is looking forward to a three year term of office in which he is well aware but confident in the university’s ability to offer a high quality consistent experience for students and build on the impact it has already made within the region.
“There have been radical sector changes in teacher training and the NHS not to mention the demographic challenges all universities now face,” he said. “The Vice Chancellor Prof Julie Mennell has worked hard to set a clear direction and strategy for the university and identified the understandable challenges still faced."
“A clear role, impact and ambition as a university has been set with a firm emphasis on meeting our regions’ skills needs, raising aspiration and education attainment and retaining and attracting more talent into the region; all with a firm emphasis on partnership working. My task is to ensure we continue to have the leadership and strategy necessary to achieve our goals."
He added: "We’re still a new organisation but recent achievements such as 35th in the WhatUni sector rankings, graduate employment results which place us in the top half of the sector, coupled with contracts with Rolls Royce and the growing reputation of our Project Academy demonstrate both our progress and our ambition."
With two daughters who have also progressed through higher education he’s passionate too about the need to offer wellbeing support; something he believes is crucial to Cumbria’s success in gaining a reputation for care as well as academic success.