Q&A with Rebecca Hughes

We speak to the director of international higher education at the British Council. Plus the latest higher education appointments

December 5, 2013

Rebecca Hughes, who was previously pro vice-chancellor for international and chair in applied linguistics at the University of Sheffield, this week takes up the post of director of international higher education at the British Council.

Where and when were you born?
Mid-Wales in February 1962.

How has this shaped you?
It was one of the coldest winters in living memory, and I think my dislike of snow and ice may stem from this! Also, my mother was offered the morning sickness drug, Thalidomide, when she was pregnant with me and refused it because of a bad reaction to some other drugs she had taken during her first pregnancy. I am always very moved and become quietly reflective when I meet people exactly my age living with the effects of this drug on their lives.

Describe your new job in 140 characters.
Linking people and projects across borders and cultures to make a positive difference through higher education.

Have you had a eureka moment?
Unfortunately I have a tendency to have a lot of these and need to dampen down my dangerous enthusiasm at times.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
People will tell you about work-life balance, but fundamentally there is only life. Make sure you enjoy your work, find it meaningful and stimulating, and give it your all – or think again.

In the past decade, what has changed most in higher education?
We are focusing a lot on Moocs, but a less trumpeted and far bigger revolution is the massive growth in the use of English as a medium for instruction in non-anglophone countries – it’s happening from Paris to Beijing at a rapid pace.

What are the best and worst things about your job?
It’s too early for me to say. I think there will be pros and cons to working with an energetic, experienced, creative, highly articulate, slightly competitive, multicultural team of higher education professionals in 110 countries.

What keeps you awake at night?
Conference calls, and jet lag.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Be a poet and novelist. (And/or drive a bus.)

What do you miss about the UK when on holiday?
Often I yearn for things that I don’t normally eat – such as pork pies.

Tell us about a book, show, film or play that you love.
On the lighter side, I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan – the proper stuff on paper. On the serious side, a play that seems different each time I read it or see it is The Tempest. I think this is because of the particularly rich poetry of the language and the elemental themes, combined with something of the fairy tale about it.

What do you do for fun?
Currently I am addicted to the language learning apps Duolingo and MindSnacks. I am probably in danger of missing a meeting or getting off at the wrong stop through them one day.

If you were to move overseas for work, where would you go?
Probably a European capital, for the culture, shops, quirky/elegant design woven into daily life, pavement cafes, and closeness to home.

What’s your biggest regret?
Not being a better language learner – very embarrassing for an applied linguist. Hence the apps!

Moocs or books?
Um, that’s not the dichotomy. It’s Moocs or Mauts (massive anonymous unsupported teaching). Online courseware, textbooks and other teaching resources are all secondary to whether you have the support to succeed on the course, whatever format it’s delivered in. Avoiding creating Maut environments, whether online or face to face, is the real challenge.



Steve Howard, superintendent pharmacist at Lloyds Pharmacy, has been appointed visiting professor at the University of Huddersfield.

The Leadership Foundation has announced that Meriel Box has become its regional coordinator for the North West of England. This is a 20-day-a-year secondment from her role as head of staff development at Liverpool John Moores University.

The University of South Wales has named Helen Langton its deputy vice-chancellor (academic development). She is currently pro vice-chancellor and executive dean at the University of the West of England.

Stan Erraught has been appointed senior lecturer in music and live event management at Bucks New University. Dr Erraught has previously worked as stage manager, crew chief and production manager at numerous festivals in the Republic of Ireland.

York St John University has awarded honorary degrees to Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, Camila Batmanghelidjh, charity leader and businesswoman, Baroness Haleh Afshar, who teaches politics and women’s studies at the University of York, and Martine Wright, Paralympic athlete and survivor of the London bombings in July 2005.

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