Q&A with David Maguire

We speak to the Greenwich v-c and newly appointed head of Jisc

May 21, 2015

The key task is to help higher and further education understand the enormous value that Jisc provides

David Maguire is vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich, a position he has held since 2011. Before entering higher education he worked in the software industry, notably for the California-based firm Environmental Systems Research Institute, where he was chief scientist and director of products and international. Last month he was appointed chair of Jisc, the charity championing the use of digital technology in UK education and research.

Where and when were you born?
Lancaster, England, 1958.

How has this shaped you?
Father taught me t’value of a pound and an ’ard day’s graft.

Your academic background suggests you were tailor-made for this position. How did you react when you became chair?
Twenty years in the software industry probably taught me more of relevance than my time in academia, so a mixture of pleasure, as it is an area I am very interested in, and trepidation, as it is a big job with significant challenges.

What do you hope to achieve in the role?
The key task is to help higher and further education understand the enormous value that Jisc provides so that a sustainable funding model can be firmly established.

How receptive is the UK sector to the use of digital technologies?
As with all sectors there is a spectrum of digital literacy and interest, but in broad terms, people in UK HE/FE are early and deep adopters: age is probably more of a discriminator than geography.

What advice would you give to those who are resistant to technological evolution?
Ask your kids or grandkids what it means to them and how it works.

How do we compare with our global rivals on adopting technology?
The Janet network, work on open access publishing and some areas of research are world-leading, but we are behind in online learning, broadband access, cloud services and smartphone adoption (and we need more software developers).

The advent of Moocs has altered the HE landscape, but what are the next technological advances the sector will face, for good or ill?
Moocs have not really changed mainstream HE/FE very much, nor will they any time soon. Cloud computing and smartphones will ultimately have a much more profound impact.

Criticism of vice-chancellors is commonplace. How justified is the flak they receive?
We do our best in testing circumstances.

What is the single biggest concern facing the sector today?
Funding sustainability.

What needs to be done to alleviate that concern?
The government should commit to a long-term plan covering the next Parliament to allow universities to plan strategically.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t worry, it will turn out OK.

What are/were the best and worst things about your job?
Best thing: working with like-minded, interesting colleagues to change people’s lives for the better. Worst: overbearing regulation and bureaucracy.

Tell us about someone you admire
My former boss at Esri, Jack Dangermond, who built a $1 billion (£630 million) software business and an industry from nothing.

If you were a prospective student facing £9,000 fees, would you go again or get a job?
I’d go to university, but I understand why some would be tempted to go to work. For most Greenwich students, this is not a choice they can afford: they must work part-time to fund their education.

What keeps you awake at night?
Not much: busy days are tiring.

What’s your biggest regret?
When I was 12, I was given the chance to change to a higher-performing school, but I didn’t take it because I didn’t think I would fit in.

If you were the universities minister for a day, what policy would you immediately introduce?
One that replaces university aristocracies with meritocracies.

Moocs or books?
E-books, not the current static digital representations, but the new generation of fully interactive and animated books.

Removing your Jisc and v-c hat, what’s your favourite technology?
My special effects processor that makes me sound half-decent on my Telecaster guitar.


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