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					Professor Caroline Gipps BSc, MSc, PhD

Mr Vice-Chancellor, Professor Caroline Gipps graduated from Bristol with a good
BSc degree and an uncertain career plan. Encouragingly, she started her career as a
primary school teacher and ended up as a university Vice-Chancellor: she is living
proof that not having a career plan can get you to interesting places in the end – if you
are talented, committed, flexible and willing to grasp opportunities as they emerge.

Professor Gipps attended a girls' independent school in Llanfairfechan where she
received good teaching but no careers advice. She came to Bristol to read psychology,
of which the headmistress did not approve, on the grounds that it would lead her to
question her religious beliefs.

In fact, it gave Caroline Gipps a range of transferable skills, which have proven to be
useful in later life. She learnt, for instance, to make rats run through mazes by starving
them and placing rat nuts at the end of the tunnels. This prepared her admirably for a
career managing academics. She learnt early on that one can encourage academics to
do many things for small amount of reward – though probably something more than a
bag of rat nuts.

Having been awarded her Bristol Psychology BSc in 1968, Caroline’s first aim was to
become an educational psychologist. She spent two years as primary school teacher,
here in Bristol at Holymead Junior School. But primary school teaching was not her
forte, and she soon took a sideways move to become a research assistant at the
National Foundation for Educational Research. Her first research project focused on
developing tests of language proficiency for ‘immigrant children’ and learning ability
tests for non-English speaking children.

Caroline spent the next seven years as a full-time researcher. She found that she loved
it and seemed to be quite good at it. She successfully completed a series of research
projects, all underpinned by her long-standing commitment to widening access and
equity: projects focusing on ‘immigrant children’, children with special needs, equity
issues in assessment, the achievement of girls and of ethnic minority pupils, and
projects exploring how e-learning helps widening access students.

Here again, Caroline learnt a range of useful transferable skills. Her training as a
psychometrician and educational researcher involved observation, semi-structured
interviewing, thematic analysis and discussions among research teams about what was
really happening. From this Caroline learnt how to analyse situations with intense
lucidity. As a contract researcher Caroline also learnt how to move a project forward,
even in the face of seemingly unsurmountable problems. She had to learn this: one
can’t simply go back to a funder and say ‘I’m sorry but I can’t get the promised
sample’: one needs to work a way around it. This approach allowed Caroline to
develop the skill of not just being able to analyse a problem, but also to find ways of
being able to move things forward. Again, her experience as a researcher provided
invaluable lessons for her future career.

Having developed a successful track record as a contract researcher, Caroline Gipps’
career then took another interesting turn when her husband was awarded a two-year
postdoctoral fellowship in Vancouver. Displaying her characteristic flexibility,
Caroline took a two year ‘career break’, which is here a euphemism for starting a
family, writing up her PhD, undertaking part-time work as an assistant at the
University of British Columbia – being, in fact, much busier than she had been back
in England. This ‘break’ in her career was a very productive time, and Caroline learnt
another series of useful lessons: that having a busy life with input from family
members with quite different careers, coupled with the demands of young children,
gives one a broader handle on things, and that what might initially appear like a career
setback can be a productive experience.

Caroline then returned to England, and to a post at the Institute of Education in
London, as a research officer, where she stayed for the next nineteen years. However,
having spent years living on fixed-term contracts, Caroline then made a conscious
decision to become a lecturer in the curriculum studies Department. Not only did this
offer greater security, it allowed Caroline’s full potential as a strategist and as an
academic leader to flower.

It wasn’t long before Caroline became a Professor of Education and then a senior
manager at the Institute of Education, taking on the position of Dean of Research. She
was at first unsure whether to go down the senior manager route, but thought she
would try it. She found that she did like it, in fact she loved the strategic side of the
role, developing strategic plans and forging teams to deliver these plans. At this time
Caroline was responsible for developing the taught doctorate in Education. She had to
argue it through University of London Senate, against significant opposition from
those who felt that this was not a proper research degree. But she won the battle and it
has turned out to be a very successful programme. This she really enjoyed.

The next step in Caroline’s career came when she took up the post of Deputy Vice
Chancellor of Kingston University, a post she held for six years. Caroline takes
particular pride in two things that she achieved at Kingston. Firstly, she brought
together a range of previously discrete support services, including the library, IT
support, the registry and student services, and got them to work together as a team
improving the quality of the student experience. So successful was this team that other
departments wanted to join it, recognising its constructive way of working and ability
to move things forward. Secondly, Caroline was responsible for developing and
implementing an e-learning strategy rolled out across the entire University within two
years. This strategy rejuvenated teaching across the University, improving retention
rates and student satisfaction levels.

Following this success Caroline Gipps was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the
University of Wolverhampton in October 2005 – the University’s first female Vice-
Chancellor. The challenge of the Chief Executive post interested Caroline, and
allowed her to focus on precisely what she is most committed to – widening
educational participation. Wolverhampton is a university with one of the highest
percentage of students with non-traditional backgrounds. The challenge for the
University of Wolverhampton is to give these students a good experience and turn
them out with useful degrees, and it is highly successful in this. The University is a
key player in the city and region, offering students an opportunity to go to university
that many would not otherwise take. The University of Wolverhampton has an
exemplary track record in working with business, particularly Small and Medium
Enterprises, with a Science Park in Wolverhampton and a developing Technology and
Innovation Centre in Telford. The University works closely with the City Council, the
Health Service and the local football team in Wolverhampton, the three biggest local
employers, in a joint effort to enhance the standing of the city.

Caroline is the first to acknowledge that there are still plenty of things to be done at
Woverhampton and that there are challenges ahead for all universities. But she is a
model to us all in her determination to do the best for the University of
Wolverhampton.

We don’t all have wonderful career plans. For those looking forward, wondering
where their degree qualification will take them next, Caroline Gipps’ experience since
leaving Bristol offers a wonderful insight into how it is possible to capitalise on
University experience, pursue a high-powered and fulfilling career and also give
something back to society.


Mr Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Caroline Victoria Gipps as eminently worthy of
the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.

Judith Squires

				
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