To celebrate Professor Rajani Naidoo’s appearance at the Going Global 2023 conference, throughout November we’re spotlighting the International Centre for Higher Education Management (ICHEM).
DBA in Higher Education Management student Charlie Tennant, Vice Principal at London School of Science & Technology, shares his experience of this unique doctoral programme.
What drove you to choose the Bath DBA?
Firstly, I'd heard from a number of colleagues about the DBA and the impact it's had on their career. Many of them said that the course had been pivotal in their step up in higher education (HE) management.
When I looked at the programme in more detail, I realised it’s very varied and touches on all the points that you want to when you're thinking about HE: you go from internationalisation through to national policy, then down to the detail of an organisation. I think when you're considering leadership in higher education, that's what you need.
How has your experience on the programme been so far?
I’m currently in my second year of the taught phase, and it's gone so quickly! The experience has been brilliant. The stand-out for me are the residentials, where I'm meeting a whole host of HE professionals from across the world and across different parts of the sector – public institutions, private institutions, sector bodies and private organisations that help with recruitment.
You get a real range of individuals, who bring their experiences into the classroom. You get to hear not just from the experts doing the teaching, but also from your peers. It really opens your eyes to what's going on at a global scale. Of course, that feeds back into your own reflections on your career and any problems in your day job that you’re trying to work through.
There's a real sense of camaraderie among the students, especially after day two or three of a residential, and the DBA team do very well to foster that. You develop as colleagues, more so than classmates.
Has the DBA broadened your network?
Absolutely, both with respect to my classmates and through being part of the International Centre for Higher Education Management (ICHEM). On LinkedIn, I'm always seeing updates from people who completed the DBA, who I've then been able to connect with.
By attending the 2023 ICHEM conference, again I was able to connect with people, sharing our experience of where the programme is the same and where it's changed as a result of what's going on in the world.
The networking angle was a big pull for me and the DBA takes full advantage of that. You're sat in a room full of people and are challenged to think: what’s the context that you’re working in? What's the context that others are working in? How are they doing things? You're sharing ideas but also critiquing the approaches of different institutions.
What initially sparked your interest in the topic of HE management?
I left school and went straight into an apprenticeship, and it just so happened that my employer was a private HE provider working with several UK universities to deliver franchised programmes. I did the apprenticeship for one year and then stayed on for a further year.
After that, I managed to break into the public sector and a larger institution, where I was for ten years. Very recently, I've changed jobs and moved back to the private sector as a Vice Principal. It's been a quick journey as I've moved up the ranks, but what's so great about HE is how supportive the sector is.
Have you had any thoughts about what topics you're hoping to cover with your thesis?
It’s still early days; however, I've got a real interest in higher education strategy and how it’s brought together. By that, I mean not necessarily the strategy itself or the content that goes into it, but the process and the different stages that Vice-Chancellor or director of an institution goes through when coming up with a strategy that's got to talk to many different facets. For example, you've got the education side and the research side, then the community as well.
I've been able to explore some of these themes already through my assignments during the taught phase. At each stage, I've refined my ideas a little bit and thought about what I can talk about and bring into my thesis. I've also been able to check in with myself based on what I've written in the assignment and realised it might be more interesting if I look at something through a slightly different lens.
The taught phase has been really helpful not just in terms of the networking, but also starting to develop myself as a researcher.
What advice would you offer to someone who was considering or just starting the DBA?
One of the best decisions I've made in my career has been to take on the challenge of the DBA –because it is a challenge, but it's one that’s made me feel like I'm surrounded by like-minded individuals. I'm also putting myself in a in a place where I do have to feel uncomfortable sometimes, and that's a really great thing in in the development of one's career.
To those who are just about to start out, what I'd say is: embrace the residentials with everything you have, because they will seem long at the beginning but actually go really, really quickly and provide you with your support network. There’s a great amount of support available to you through official channels, but that informal network you're going to build up will be invaluable.