Interview with Jane Turner

The Teesside pro vice-chancellor discusses promoting gender balance and being diagnosed with ovarian cancer

September 20, 2018

Jane Turner is pro vice-chancellor (enterprise and business engagement) at Teesside University. Last year, she was awarded an OBE for services to business engagement and she is an ambassador of the This Northern Girl Can campaign, which launched in March to celebrate the achievements of women across Teesside.

Where were you born?
In a beautiful part of the UK, Hexham in Northumberland, and I grew up in an equally stunning location, Guisborough in North Yorkshire.

How has this shaped who you are?
Growing up in what is now known as the Tees Valley was a wonderful experience. The surrounding countryside and stunning coastline was a fundamental part of my childhood and at every opportunity we were immersed in outdoor experiences. My parents ran their own manufacturing business, which gave me invaluable insights into the responsibilities and challenges of leading a small business. The local people have an inherent resilience and great sense of humour, and growing up in a region that has faced significant challenges has made me very aware of others’ needs and instilled a set of values around fairness, ambition, determination and resilience.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
I left college without any understanding of what I wanted to become and at the time this caused me great concern. This was exaggerated by an elder brother who had absolute clarity from a very young age of what he wanted to be. My advice would be to worry less and go with the flow more, as eventually clarity comes as you look through the rear-view mirror.

You were diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year. Why did you decide to continue working?
The diagnosis came as a complete shock as I had always been extremely fit and healthy. It may sound like a cliché but I absolutely love my job, it provides me with energy and purpose every single day. My colleague has beautifully described it as my “oxygen”. I felt compelled to make what was a binary decision for me at the time, to keep breathing that oxygen or be defined by cancer. I chose the former and the vice-chancellor and all my colleagues at Teesside made that decision very workable.

Has your cancer diagnosis changed your approach to work?
When I received the diagnosis, I felt like I had fallen off a cliff and what mattered in life came into very sharp focus. I now live with huge uncertainty in terms of what the future holds as for the majority of women ovarian cancer returns. I am therefore trying to balance being in an even greater hurry to get things done and making every day count, with a conscious awareness to identify and let go of the things that don’t really matter. So, in essence, I am trying to keep perspective.

You have been active in promoting gender balance in industry and academia and helped launched the This Northern Girl Can initiative in Teesside earlier this year. What do you hope it will achieve?
The aim of the movement is to raise the profile of women in the Tees Valley. I attend many business lunches where I am often the only woman at the table and that has to change. We have some amazing women in the region doing brilliant work but they are largely hidden. I want to ensure that we create a platform for women to have a voice around the priorities of the region, to demonstrate their impact and to be part of the changes in the Tees Valley, not on the periphery. We want to have a much stronger network and presence of women driving greater engagement in regional matters, acting as female role models and supporting younger women in their life and career choices.

Academics are often portrayed as sceptical when it comes to working with business. Do you think that is accurate? And if there is a reluctance to collaborate, how can this be addressed?
I don’t think sceptical is the right word. Academics are normally very occupied with teaching and learning, ensuring a great experience for students and therefore the benefits of engaging with business are not always obvious. However, at Teesside, engagement with business is absolutely vital. It is a golden thread that runs through the student experience in terms of employability and relevance to the overarching learning experience. Development experiences and career pathways need to be in place to build the interface with academics and business.

You have been an advocate of the UK government’s planned knowledge exchange framework. Why do you think it is needed?
The KEF is a positive step that will provide a framework to promote and raise the profile of knowledge exchange work and its diversity in both the higher education sector and business. It will evaluate and demonstrate the return on investment and drive continuous improvement, and that is a very positive intent.

What do you do for fun?
An eclectic mix of things. We have a 42-year-old Triumph Spitfire that I love driving on the country roads. We spend a lot of time at the coast walking Bella, our dog.

Tell us about someone you’ve always admired.
My dad. As he ran his own business, I used to work there in the school holidays so I had the privilege of seeing him as a dad but also as a leader. He was an authentic man, who displayed humility and wisdom, and he respected others. His staff held him in the highest regard. He wasn’t driven by ego or status. I loved him for that.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com


Appointments

Eric Labaye is the new president of École Polytechnique. A senior partner at McKinsey & Company based in Paris, Mr Labaye has worked extensively for clients in the telecoms and technology sectors, as well as for governments and public institutions. He was previously managing partner of McKinsey’s office in France from 2002 to 2010 and chaired the McKinsey Global Institute, the economics research arm of the firm, from 2010 to 2016. Mr Labaye, who succeeds Jacques Biot at the prestigious Parisian grande école, has also been involved in several national commissions on economic reform and sat on the advisory boards of several Parisian higher education institutions.

Amanda Broderick has started her role as the vice-chancellor and president of the University of East London. She was previously chief executive officer at Newcastle University London and pro-vice-chancellor (international priorities) at the University of Salford, and has held chairs in international business and marketing at several UK institutions including Durham. Professor Broderick said that she was “extremely proud to be called to serve an institution whose education and research focuses on developing the ability of individuals, industries and communities to make a positive difference in life”.

Leanne Harvey, the Australian Research Council’s executive general manager, is to become vice-president (administration) and registrar at Queensland University of Technology in December.

Mark Kerrigan, a former director of learning and teaching at Anglia Ruskin University’s Faculty of Medical Science, has been appointed director of learning, teaching and enhancement at Plymouth College of Art.

Tyrone Carlin has been named deputy vice-chancellor (academic) at Southern Cross University. He joins from the University of Sydney, where he was professor of financial regulation and reporting, having been dean of law at Macquarie University.

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