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So it's over a fortnight since Neil Withnell challenged me to write a post with this title as my contribution to #OpenBlog19. At that point I didn't even have a blog (or at least it wasn't live) but I knew I'd get round to it eventually. Which is ironic, or at least it might be ironic in a minute when I've explained.

The title feels a bit like a TED Talk topic if I'm honest but here goes. The most valuable lesson I ever learned... is you need to spend time on the right stuff. In higher education, as in life, time is a precious resource and all too often I think we don't care enough about how we spend it. If you have a minute (ahem), let me give some examples:

  1. How much time do we spend writing email every week? I bet you don't even know but I bet you'd be horrified if you added it up. Multiply that by working weeks and working years and... I don't even want to imagine what the total would be. But what value do we get from all that email? And, in some cases, wouldn't it be better just to give someone, even someone working in the same building, a quick call or a quick skype. Who knows, you might get the answer you were looking for a bit quicker and you might actually get to know the other person a bit better too. Almost certainly, if you hear their voice or see their facial reaction, you'll get their tone. Who gets tone on email?
  2. As a manager, dare I say leader, do you spend enough time listening to people? Listen to students - they'll tell you really profound things about their experience of education that you won't find in NSS data. Listen to staff who work with students day in, day out - they'll tell you the things that really matter to students because they've listened and heard what students have to say. Martin Weller wrote a nice post about valuing support colleagues the other day and one of the best ways we can value them is by spending time with them and listening. Let's all take the time to show we're on #TeamVelma (Twitter search probably required).
  3. We all seem to be under such pressure these days, to recruit more students, to 'deliver', to 'enhance', to improve NSS scores. So rarely do you find proper time being given to address really fundamental questions about the nature of the work we are doing. That's why I've been so impressed by the deep enquiry led by Sian Bayne at Edinburgh under the banner of Near Future Teaching. The wide and detailed engagement of staff and students at the University as well as many outwith the walls of the institution has produced a genuinely special framework to guide the development of digital education, a 'preferred future' which is not based on the wild claims of those who would seek to disrupt. I don't have much time at all for disruption. I can say with some confidence that, if you take the time to explore the methodology documented on the NFT website or you just read the final report, it will definitely be time well spent.

Maybe it's just a sign of getting older but I'm more conscious, now more than ever, that we need to spend time on the right stuff. When we moved to Edinburgh last year, one of the main drivers was to spend more time together as a family and also spend time really making the most of our new surroundings. I also wanted to spend more time reading non-work stuff and all this came together rather nicely on one of our first visits to The Edinburgh Bookshop. I came away with the snappily titled 111 Places in Edinburgh That You Shouldn't Miss. One of the first ones we ticked off was The Meadows Sundial which bears some rather lovely inscriptions. I'll leave you with this one in the hope that you felt your time reading my #OpenBlog19 entry was well spent:

CC-BY-NC Simon Horrocks


Hello Alison,

A week ago today I wrote to you on Twitter but I didn't get a reply. The reason I was writing was that Advance HE had run an event earlier that day about the preparedness of higher education for the fourth industrial revolution with the title and associated hashtag #BraveNewWorld. I wasn't at the event myself but I was following the Twitter back-channel with interest when I picked up on a suggestion that there was something rather unbalanced about the programme: it was suggested that there were twelve men speaking at the event but no women. Twelve men, no women.

I was surprised to hear this so first wanted to check my facts:

I did get a response, but not quite in the way I expected. Someone I know quite well at Advance HE contacted me privately to explain. Without going into details here, I fully appreciate that there were personal circumstances that affected the organisation of the event and the Twitter thread I wrote later that afternoon was in no way inferring criticism of that individual or the person who messaged me on LinkedIn. In fact I made that quite explicit:

What ultimately prompted me to write the thread was the dissonance between what I knew about Advance HE, or what I thought I knew, and a speaker roster at a high profile event that was so out of step with the drive to promote gender equality in higher education. Put simply, how could an organisation responsible for Athena Swan and the Aurora programme get things so horribly wrong?

At The University of Edinburgh, the Principal, Peter Mathieson, has recently been leading a refresh of our institutional strategic plan. Peter has been keen to stress that the University's strategy should be 'value-led'. I am completely on board with this because fundamentally I think higher education as an enterprise should be based on core values, some of the most important of which are equality, diversity and inclusion. And I am very conscious that these are the precise terms used to describe one key area of focus for the work of Advance HE. Your organisation does some fantastic work in this context but, on this occasion, something went very awry. Twelve men, no women.

As individuals, but particularly as institutions, we have to stay true to our values or our credibility begins to wane. From your tweets, I sense you feel as much despair as I do about what is currently happening in Westminster and the way in which the behaviour of many politicians and some parties has seemingly abandoned the values which they purport to stand for. I'm not for one second comparing what happened last Friday to the catastrophe that has blighted UK politics for the last three years, but I am convinced, now more than ever, that values are the vital underpinning of any institution in the public sector, in public view. If we want to build a better future, a brave new world, our institutional behaviours need to fully align with our institutional values.

In the thread I suggested, literally off the top of my head, a list of women experts who I think could have made a really valuable contribution and broadened perspectives at the #BraveNewWorld event. One of them, Sarah Davies, replied:

In response to Sarah I suggested that Advance HE might like to run a further event, Brave New World 2.0, with a women-only roster of speakers (I suggested yet more possible names in a further tweet). At that stage I was only semi-serious but Sarah's reply has stuck with me and, the more I think about it, the more I want to see that event happen. It would be fantastic in itself, but it might also restore a bit of balance after last Friday.

So I want to conclude with an offer, a very genuine offer that I have discussed with senior colleagues. The University of Edinburgh would like to work in partnership with you to curate, host and promote Brave New World 2.0. How about it?

I really would appreciate a reply this time. It might be nice to do this openly on Twitter but if you would prefer you can email me ( As all good letters finish, I look forward to hearing from you!

All best,




This blog (and this post) has been a long time in coming. Not sure why it has taken me quite so long but I've finally taken the leap and pressed 'publish'.

Maybe now is just the right time. Last year we relocated from our beloved Wales to Edinburgh. Relocation is naturally a cause for reflection: reflection about the people, the memories you are leaving behind but also the new relationships, the opportunities and adventures that lie ahead.

Maybe it's because the University of Edinburgh makes blogging so easy. One of the bloggers I've followed and respected for a long time, Lorna Campbell, has recently led the launch of the University's Academic Blogging Service. Not only does the service offer some great resources to get you going, I was lucky to get an hour of invaluable CPD from Lorna to walk me through the steps from having no blog at all to the birth of follow the dot.

Maybe it's because I've rediscovered my love of writing. I’ve recently written more than at any time since I was a student. I’ve just filed my first book review for the Times Higher and I’ve also written a fairly substantial report for my review of online provision in Edinburgh’s College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine. Some of you may have noticed that I've also been tweeting more than ever (don't worry, that's what the mute button is for).

I'm guessing people who know me, and maybe especially those that just follow me on Twitter, would say that I’ve never been short of an opinion. Partly this comes with the territory when you are born in the Year of the Rooster! But unlike many of the bloggers I admire, I don’t really have a thing, a focus, a particular cause or mission to hang my hat on. I’m interested in too many aspects of higher education and find myself ‘following the dot’ down any number of random wormholes. Incidentally, this is also why writing about music has always seemed quite challenging; I like so many genres, so many artists, so many eras, it’s hard to know where to begin.

But I have begun now and, a bit like running, perhaps the hardest part is getting out the door. Let's see. I'm actually slightly worried that I might get a wee bit addicted to this so who knows where it will end. I do have an unfinished novel and two partially written film scripts that will probably never see the light of day but, now I’m on a roll, anything is possible.

For now, though, it's one step, one post at a time. One of my favourite things since relocating to Edinburgh has been the weekly movie and pizza night we have with the kids. Last week we (re)watched Monsters University and, like Mike and Sully, I realise that you have to start somewhere. They started in the mail room and worked their way up to the scare floor. I don’t expect ever to be in the A Team of Bloggers Inc. but, thanks to Bryan Mathers, at least I have the badge.


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