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Firsts of every kind: Professor Julie Lydon passes the baton at Universities Wales

After steering the Welsh higher education sector through reform and pandemic, Professor Julie Lydon is finishing her term as chair of Universities Wales. Having broken the mould, she is handing over to another female vice-chancellor, Professor Elizabeth Treasure of Aberystwyth University.

Believing that universities should be drivers both of social progress and economic growth, Julie Lydon has used her time as Universities Wales chair to oversee delivery of the sector’s work on degree apprenticeships, flexible skills and start-ups, as well as governance reform.  Determined that Wales should play a substantial role within the wider UK sector and having already been part of the UK’s economic delegation to the 2012 G20 in Mexico, upon joining the UUK board Professor Lydon led sector-wide work for Universities UK on flexible learning and skills.

Professor Lydon’s career began in industry before she moved to leadership roles in Wolverhampton, UWE, and then to Wales as Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glamorgan.  Soon after becoming Glamorgan’s Vice-Chancellor in 2010, she was at the centre of major sector change, overseeing the creation of the University of South Wales in the UK’s largest ever higher education merger.

Julie Lydon was both the first female vice-chancellor in Wales and the first woman to chair Universities Wales.

She says: “It is always fulfilling to be the first to break a glass ceiling, but my greater pleasure is that others have now followed.  It’s now seen as usual for women to lead Welsh universities, as well as FE colleges and the national conservatoire.  That’s a very positive trend and I look forward to it continuing.”

Whilst setting a progressive agenda has been key to Professor Lydon’s term as Universities Wales chair, the past 18 months have been dominated by the Coronavirus pandemic, which has reshaped both education and society as a whole.

“It’s been a time of ‘unprecedenteds.’  We’ve been determined to keep learning going during truly unprecedented disruption, with universities as institutions facing tremendous challenges.  As people, the pandemic has tested us all in ways we never imagined.  But it’s been about more than survival: the leadership, knowledge and insight that universities bring to the collective response across our communities really matters.”

Universities Wales Director Amanda Wilkinson reflects:

“Julie has been both a focused leader and an empathetic colleague, and has been key to securing vital support for Welsh universities as we deal with the pandemic.  In her time as our chair, she has played a major role in part of Wales’s society and economy, as well as making a huge contribution to higher education in the wider UK.  She leaves a very strong legacy.”

Having led the Welsh sector through reform and pandemic, Julie Lydon leaves with glass ceilings well and truly shattered, and with careful optimism for the future of Welsh HE.

“Welsh universities do tremendous work, and they have even more potential.  As they unlock greater talent through greater diversity, deepen their collaboration to develop their research contribution, and grow their voice in the choices facing Wales as it rebuilds its economy and communities, our universities will be more and more a vital part of the country’s future.”