"I was the first person in my family to stay at school beyond the age of 15. It's education that makes a difference" - Sir Chris Husbands

Sir Chris Husbands was the first of his family to stay in education beyond the age of 15. Since then he has risen to hold leadership positions in four UK universities and received a knighthood for his services to higher education. Ruth Dacey reports.

Sir Chris Husbands: "I believe passionately in education. Its education that makes a difference".Picture in Sheffield...9th June 2020..Photo credit: Simon Hulme/JPImediaResell

He was born in Warwickshire, made his mark at the University of Cambridge, before spending much of his early teaching career in urban comprehensive schools in London, Norwich and Hertfordshire.

Now, as vice-chancellor at Sheffield Hallam University, Professor Chris Husbands has his feet firmly planted in Yorkshire, playing a major role in a regional think-tank and offering a leading voice through the pioneering Yorkshire Universities charity.

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Prof Husbands, 61, said a combination of coming from a working class background and being fortunate to have a primary school teacher, who saw his potential, has equipped him well for leadership in higher education.

Professor Chris Husbands said Sheffield Hallam University and other institutes across Yorkshire will play a pivotal role in the recovery of the economic landscape across the region by working closely with local industry and the Government.Pictured Sheffield...9th June 2020.. Photo credit: Simon Hulme/JPIMediaResell

His grandfather Arthur Dewell worked in the mining industry for more than 40 years while his father Roy Husbands worked in a weaving factory for 28 years in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. As a child Prof Husbands believed he was destined to follow in the footsteps of his hard-working manual labour and industrial past however his final year teacher Miss Harris, at Camp Hill Primary School, Nuneaton, played a major role in shaping his future.

He said: "I was very lucky, I had a great teacher and she thought I had something. She encouraged me, and she challenged me and I started to think that I was going to have a different sort of life from the life that my parents and grandparents had had.

"I was the first person in my family to stay at school beyond the age of 15. I have always been absolutely passionate about the power of education. It’s what really made a difference to me - and that was the difference between myself, my Dad and my Grandad."

He went on to graduate from the University of Cambridge with a first class honours in history and a doctorate in geography before he qualified as a teacher in London and taught in Norwich and Hertfordshire.

Despite the drastic changing face of how student life will look under the shadow of coronavirus, Prof Husbands said all the universities across the region are absolutely determined to offer students a fulfilling and rewarding experience in the Autumn. Photo credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

Before taking over the role as Sheffield Hallam University vice-chancellor from predecessor Professor Philip Jones in January 2016, he had been at the Institute of Education, University of London, for eight years in leading policy and director roles, which he led to becoming the world number one in its field.

Speaking about what attracted him to the university he said: "It’s a university that makes a profound difference to its city, where many of the students are like me - first generation into higher education - it was a job I really wanted to do.

He added: "I want universities to be absolutely embedded in their communities…it’s one of the things that attracted me to Sheffield Hallam, which is absolutely glued into the middle of the city".

Prof Husbands said although delighted to have been knighted in June 2018 for his services to higher education it was tinged with sadness as his father Roy, 90, passed away the month before following several strokes.

Living to the South-West of Sheffield, Sir Chris Husbands said he is determined to "bring the world" to the city and take "Sheffield to the world." Photo credit: Nigel Barker photography

He said: "I went to see him in the hospital and he couldn’t speak, and I was so upset. I don’t know whether he heard, or whether he understood when I told him about the news.

"Somebody said to me that hearing is the last thing that goes after a stroke so maybe he heard. I know he would have been very proud."

Prof Husbands credits his greatest achievement as passing the “gift of education” onto his four daughters Emily, Harriet, Anna and Jessica who have gone on to study at university level.

He said: "I am the proudest of my four daughters. My children automatically assumed that their lives would be different from the assumptions that were around when I was a child.

He added: "I believe passionately in education. It’s education that makes a difference".

Boasting an impressive career at the helm of UK education organisations, Prof Husbands roles include chairing the independent Skills Taskforce on UK vocational education and training policy and being a member of the Academies Commission examining the future of schools policy in England.

He has held board membership at Universities UK and the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise. In July 2016, Mr Husbands was also appointed by the UK government to chair the Teaching Excellence Framework for UK higher education, and was appointed by the Secretary of State for Education to chair the Doncaster Opportunity Area Board in 2017.

Living to the South-West of Sheffield, he is determined to "bring the world" to the city and take "Sheffield to the world." Coronavirus is at the forefront in any discussion of future plans, and the vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, said the city and the regions universities role has been “vital” in the fight against coronavirus across Yorkshire.

Prof Husbands said: "We’ve seen over this crisis that universities have made a phenomenal contribution to the immediate response".

This includes the earlier deployment of thousands of healthcare students into the NHS frontline and opening up facilities available for the production of essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to match supply demand.

He said here in the UK and around the world governments are increasingly looking to universities as "solutions to the problems that society faces" at the moment.

He added Sheffield Hallam and other universities in Yorkshire will play a “pivotal” role in the recovery of the economic landscape across the region by working closely with local industry and the Government.

Prof Husbands said: “Our assumption is that this is going to be a long, slow recovery. The economy that emerges from covid is going to be very different from the economy we knew.

He added: "We are going to need programmes of reskilling and we need to work very closely with industry and with the Government".

Under the shadow of the coronavirus Yorkshire and UK universities are face a cash black hole particularly due to the potential loss of hundreds of millions of pounds in fees as foreign students cancel enrolment.

Sheffield Hallam accommodates 32,000 students from 100 countries and out of that total figure 18 per cent come from abroad. Despite the drastic changing face of how student life will look, Prof Husbands said all the universities across the region are “absolutely determined to offer students a fulfilling and rewarding experience in the Autumn”.

The Sheffield-based institute started moving to online teaching in mid-March, before full lockdown. Teaching will begin again on September 28, with smaller group learning going ahead face-to-face while teaching with larger groups of students will still be done online.

He said: “We are obviously very worried about the financial impact. We are looking really hard at how we can continue to be attractive to international students and it's good for UK students to mix in diverse communities.

Prof Husbands said for young people making decisions about next year - they "need to think long term".

He said: "Going to university is about giving you the opportunity to shape your future.

"This is desperately unfortunate what has happened, but this will pass. I would encourage any student to go to university- whether they are growing up in Beijing or Barnsley or from Shanghai or Sheffield."

Moving forward Prof Husbands said the university has placed importance on distance delivery of lectures, where the focus is on passing on information.

He said: “Learning is social, you learn from others, you learn with others.

"The hard thinking we are doing now is pinpointing the components of learning that have to be face-to-face and working out how we make those very high impact.

"If we can do that properly then I think we can get higher education to a really exciting position."

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