Inspirational Woman: Professor Andrea Nollent | Vice-Chancellor & CEO, The University of Law

Professor Andrea NollentAndrea has held academic and senior leadership positions at Sheffield Hallam University and Nottingham Trent University. She was appointed Vice-Chancellor at the University of Law in 2014, becoming CEO in 2016.  

Her focus at the University of Law is on course innovation, excellence in teaching quality and outstanding student outcomes, working in close liaison with the legal and business professions and client firms, who sponsor many of the University’s students. Andrea has extensive experience of collaborative professional course development and has designed and delivered dual qualifying law degrees and legal professional training with a range of international jurisdictions. She is Visiting Professor in Fundamental Human Rights at the University of Paris Est. She has also taught widely at universities in Italy and Spain to both practitioner and academic audiences.

Andrea’s research interests include Comparative Law and Legal Education, areas in which she has published widely. She has also undertaken significant contract research projects on the internationalisation of education and transnational education. She has extensive experience in the regulatory aspects of Higher Education in public, private and international contexts.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am Vice-Chancellor and CEO of the University of Law – the largest Law School in the UK, delivering undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and professional qualifications to over 13,000 students on law and business courses at 10 UK and 2 overseas campuses. My role is to ensure that our students, and our client firms who sponsor our students, receive the highest quality outcomes in return for their investment in their education with us. This is evidenced through our focus on a range of core metrics which include student satisfaction with teaching quality, student performance and degree outcomes, employability, support and preparation for professional life.  In addition to my role as VC and leader of the academic, teaching and quality functions of the University, as CEO I also lead the commercial, corporate and regulatory functions.

I studied law at University in Scotland in the mid 1980’s and then began my career in legal practice. Having been asked by a friend to step in to teach some evening law classes at a local college when the lecturer was ill, I realised how much I enjoyed sharing my love of the law, and particularly the application of legal knowledge in an applied context. I acted on my instinct, which was to pursue what I found most stimulating and enjoyable, and when a full time position as a law lecturer was advertised at my local university, I applied and was successful. That was 30 years ago – and it was perhaps one of the best decisions I have made.

I am the youngest of 3 children and the first in my family to go to university. My mother was a rather unconventional single parent who in her early 30’s, whilst having at least 2 part time jobs, went back to college to finish her A’levels and start her degree and professional qualifications, sponsored by her employers. She was successful in achieving her degree had a long professional career. I am very fortunate to have 2 lovely grown up children, both of whom went to university – and who, most importantly are kind, considerate and (mostly) responsible.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not specifically in terms of jobs, but I was always focussed on being successful in my career. On reflection, (and I wouldn’t have admitted this at the time perhaps), I have always been competitive and enjoyed planning, scoping and delivering on new projects. I have always liked shaking things up – not disrupting for its own sake, but to avoid complacency and dogmatic attitudes.  I have really enjoyed learning at every stage of my career and have sought out roles that have been challenging and sometimes uncomfortable.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, and they have been mainly positive and driven me to adapt and innovate. I had my children relatively early in my career. I took the minimum maternity leave as we couldn’t afford to live on one salary – it was the early- mid 90’s and interest rates were 14% pa…We had great childminders although I am conscious that many of my career choices were defined by childcare considerations. In reality this meant that I pursued a more teaching and leadership focussed academic career with regular hours, rather than an academic career based on research requiring more a more fluid schedule. Ultimately, this has served me well – but I do remember constant worry about childcare responsibilities as well as cost and, as a result, seek to facilitate flexible working and childcare support wherever possible.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

  • Having two hopefully happy and well balanced children.
  • Being appointed a Professor of Law in 2012
  • My appointment as VC and CEO of the University of Law in 2016
  • Innovation in undergraduate course design- particularly international study and work placements and improving degree outcomes and career opportunities for students

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Taking opportunities when offered – even if they are not always of immediate benefit – and wherever possible responding to projects and requests for assistance. I have delivered lectures all over the world, responding to invitations which others found stressful and/or logistically challenging. I achieved promotion by moving jobs as opportunities would not have come soon enough. This meant being adaptable and seeing the positive in disruption. My family had lots of holidays around conferences across the world and had to learn to be responsible and more self sufficient as they grew older and I was commuting to work.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I am a huge advocate of mentoring. My mentor had a highly positive impact on me. She kept me focussed and gently challenged me to go beyond what I thought were my limits. I have mentored others but am not currently actively doing so.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Improved state childcare provision and funding

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and challenge/call out negative, dogmatic and unacceptable behaviour

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

The pandemic has exacerbated the existing attainment gap for students from diverse backgrounds both at university and in professional employment. Digital poverty, amongst many other factors has been a real challenge for so many students struggling to cope with the move to on line learning. We need to understand how to overcome the attainment gap through reviewing and changing our teaching, learning and assessment to ensure that all students begin and conclude their university careers from a position of equal access and opportunity.


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