Pooling talent of the first water

Raft of arts-world recruits highlights Bath Spa v-c's unusual excellence strategy. John Elmes writes

October 4, 2012

Credit: Getty
Down among the scholars: Fay Weldon will teach creative writing at Bath Spa

Fay Weldon is among a raft of high-profile appointments made by a post-1992 university whose vice-chancellor believes the move will "shine a light" on its existing teaching and research.

The feminist author and playwright is one of 16 new professors, including visual artist Gavin Turk, composer Joe Duddell and novelist Tessa Hadley, set to join Bath Spa University between now and early 2013.

Professor Weldon, who previously held a creative writing post at Brunel University, said she hoped to help young writers at Bath Spa "cut to the chase".

"If you're teaching students to write fiction - which follows no rules - the more you've done it yourself, the more knowledge you can usefully impart," she said.

The appointments are part of a wider programme of growth led by new vice-chancellor Christina Slade, who took up her position in January.

She said the new chairs would help in "shining a light on the excellence that already exists" at the institution. "When I was appointed, it was clear we had some excellent people teaching, particularly in some areas of creative writing, music and art," Professor Slade said.

"I'm trying to send a message to people interested in the teaching of these areas that we're a player.

"We have a long tradition of real excellence in the arts and we had been rather modest about our achievements."

Mr Duddell, a composer of classical and alternative music who has previously taught at the universities of Exeter and Salford, said Bath Spa's investment in the arts was a major draw.

"When some of the other universities are making cuts, to appoint so many professors in one go showed real ambition to change what the university's about," he said.

John Strachan, appointed to the post of professor of English, who joins from Northumbria University, said that Bath Spa was "unusual in the UK in so far as it is a humanities-led institution, something like an American liberal arts college".

Professor Slade accepted that the appointments were "not entirely divorced" from the research excellence framework, but said she was taking a different approach from that of other university leaders.

"Most of my [vice-chancellor] colleagues employing for the REF are working with people in much more familiar academic areas," she said.

Bath Spa's new appointments, she said "are practitioners committed to teaching but who are internationally excellent in their practices. It's a different activity from the sort of thing other people are doing to improve their REF".


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