The Association of University Teachers has unveiled the latest weapon in its campaign to ensure higher education is seen as dynamic and modern - a president-elect who is young, female and media savvy.
In a sector struggling to shake off its image as a crusty, elitist old-boys network, the presence of president-elect Natalie Fenton in the chair at last week's AUT annual summer council delighted union officials and council members alike. At 34, the senior lecturer in communication and media studies at Loughborough University is expected to lead the union through one of its most important phases.
She will take up her post as president this September, in time to lead what are expected - subject to "yes" ballots from all higher education union members - to be the first pay talks in which the AUT will join forces with rival union Natfhe to negotiate with employers on behalf of all academic staff.
The first member of her family to go to university and mother of a one-year-old son, Dr Fenton has more of a personal stake than many in the battle to promote access and equal opportunities.
An AUT member since her first appointment as a researcher at Liverpool University in 1988, Dr Fenton was the AUT delegate to the 1999 Women's Trades Union Congress and the executive representative on the steering committee for research into minority ethnic staff in 1998-99. A prolific author, she has co-written five books and three shorter works, and contributed to four others. In addition to journal articles, official reports and conference papers, she has also written for national newspapers.
Her hobbies include swimming, although she made do with a paddle when some of her more enthusiastic union colleagues went for a dip in the North Sea at two o'clock in the morning last week in Scarborough.