VCs in #HigherEd that Tweet


Public domain image: Pixabay

Jisc named the UK higher education social media influencers in December 2015  and in March this year the Further education’s top 50 social media users to follow. Both are worth a visit. The higher education list includes Dominic Shellard, VC at De Montfort University.

Pauk Paceo-Vega PhD introduced #ScholarSunday hashtag as a #FollowFriday for academics to recommend other academic tweeters they value. Whilst useful I’ve not attempted to analyse these tweets to see if any VCs are included – there are a lot of tweets!

The Guardian recently wrote a post called Follow the leaders: the best social media accounts for academics. This article provided a useful list of Twitter accounts who are tweeting about academia under the headings: Twitter humour; tips on writing, teaching and academic life; PhD tips; and news and views. However there was no mention of VCs who tweet.

Do any of our Vice Chancellors tweet?
Well yes they do!

Before we look at the small selection of VCs that I have found who do tweet, I thought it would be useful to look at a) how I collated this list and b) why (in my view) it is important that the leaders of our universities lead by example in the use of social media.

Please note: This is certainly not an in depth research project but an area I felt was of interest, so this blog post represents an initial exploration. At this stage I would welcome feedback and of course contributions of other VCs who are on Twitter that I have not yet discovered.


Search for VCs using Twitter

In the context of this post VC is a acronym for Vice Chancellor. A VC of a university in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, other Commonwealth countries, and some universities in Hong Kong is the chief executive of the university. In Scotland, Canada, and Ireland, the chief executive of a university is usually called principal or president with vice-chancellor being an honorific associated with this title, allowing the individual to bestow degrees in absence of the chancellor.

This preliminary search focuses on the term VCs using Twitter. I took the following steps:

  • Google search –  An obvious start was searching for ‘Vice-Chancellors on Twitter’. This gave me 16 names, four of whom are international (and tweet in English). It wasn’t my intent to look beyond the UK but I’ve included the four in this post.
  • Twitter search – My next stop was using the search term VC and the Vice Chancellor. However when using VC in search I quickly realised this also means Venture Capitalists, and within Silicon Valley alone there are many on Twitter with VC in their bios! The results did not uncover any new VC names to add to my list.
  • Wikipedia search – The objective being to establish names of VCs and their corresponding university. There is a list of VCs on Wikipedia but this is not up to date (given my own University’s VC Chris Husband has not yet been added or our previous DVC Liz Barnes, now VC at Staffordshire University ).
  • Universities UK – Same as above but this list was deemed more reliable. It’s members are the executive heads (vice-chancellors/principals) of UK university institutions which have met the criteria for membership agreed by the board of UUK. Universities UK currently has 133 members. Disappointingly this list did not include the Twitter handle, but did provide me with a list of names to go on.
  • Google search – From here it was back to Google using the name and institution to bring up an ‘about’ page for each VC. This was a slow process and again didn’t yield the results I was looking for.

These search results gave a clear message, which speaks to me that the inclusion of a Twitter handle is not considered as valuable information to place alongside the name and institution of a Vice Chancellor. It should be noted that it is rare that contact details such as a direct telephone number or email are included either.

The obvious place to add the Twitter handle would be on the University page for the VC (along with a link to their LinkedIn profile (but there lies a future blog post). For example the University of Huddersfield has a clear social media directory that shares ALL the social media profiles of their senior management including their VC  Bob Cryan. At the University of Sunderland, VC Shirley Atkinson has her Twitter handle on her university profile, as does De Montfort’s VC Dominic Shellard. His profile states that he is “one of the UK’s most active VCs on Twitter. You can follow him @DMUVC.

Why is this important?

If VCs wish to be heard using Twitter then they need to promote their Twitter handle, so that both colleagues and students within their University and also external stakeholders, can find and follow them. This may be happening via internal intranets, but even if this is the case, it immediately alienates alumni and prospective students (and parents) who do not have this access.

Another consideration is making good use of the bio space on your Twitter page. This advice applies to everyone. Having an informative bio enables new followers to quickly verify who the person is. As a VC adding a link to their university is also useful. A further link to consider is the URL of your LinkedIn profile.


Leading by example

Whilst there are some who may still argue the point, social media as a communication channel has become a part of daily lives in some way or another. It is used in both a social and business context across the globe. It is therefore very important to understand how it is being used in the context of higher education. This can only be done if you engage in the dialogues within these spaces and contribute to the conversations.

Some VCs as leaders of their universities are already doing this and have a LinkedIn profile and active Twitter account. These are the ones leading by example and by doing so encouraging their staff to do so too.

There are a number of terms which may be used to reflect leading by example

Do as I do
Be a positive role model
Walk your talk
Actions speak louder than words

Being active on Twitter immediately demonstrates that this is a positive thing to be doing. Others will then be encouraged by following a positive role model to also communicate using this social media channel. At the very least individuals can ‘listen in’ to the conversations. This is an important stage and one I refer to as positive silent engagement. By watching others engage in dialogue through social media, used in a professional context, it can help to build understanding and confidence in this communication channel.

Peter Economy writes about 11 Surprisingly Effective Ways to Lead by Example which are good pointers for everyone to consider. I’ve listed all eleven below, but highlight one in particular in bold.

  1. Be sensitive to people’s feelings, and be kind to them
  2. Take time to make people feel special
  3. Listen to people’s emotions as well as words
  4. View people’s needs and wants as valid
  5. Choose your battles wisely
  6. Respect people’s differences
  7. Avoid being defensive–and placing people on the defensive
  8. Give people the benefit of the doubt
  9. Resolve interpersonal problems as quickly as possible
  10. Treat people the way you would like to be treated
  11. Never take people for granted–never

Taking point 2 – Take time to make people feel special 

Using Twitter does not have to be a time consuming task or require engagement with all the tweets of staff and students. Even avid users of Twitter would not manage this! For many using Twitter serendipity plays a large part. However there are some steps you can take to zoom in on tweets. By introducing a shared hashtag that is made known to the university, it is possible to filter tweets containing this hashtag. For example #loveSHU or one designated for a specific university event #SHUgrad. (SHU is an acronym for Sheffield Hallam Uni). Creating lists can help to group people you follow, and can be used to filter tweets. For example I have created a list of VCs that tweet.

A simple retweet or like can acknowledge that you have read a tweet. Replying to the tweet can provide further opportunities to interact. This without doubt makes that person feel valued. I can speak from personal experience!

Twitter also provides a forum to share information about the people connected to the university. A tweet and a photo taken by the VC can capture experiences of the moment. This might be expressing enjoyment at graduation, open days and other events. It could be sharing admiration of a student exhibition or display of work. The key ingredient is that it reflects the people – students and staff. Recognising achievements big and small can make such a difference. Including the individual’s Twitter handle makes this even more personal. If you ask for a person’s name, also check if they are on Twitter and include this in the tweet.

A further suggestion is using Twitter for questions. This could either be the VC asking a question of the university community, or an organised VC question time where during a designated time slot, questions are asked of the VC (often referred to as a tweetchat). Both have the potential to focus on university life.

Clearly there is more to write about both the benefits and the barriers of engaging in social media, and this is something to revisit.


UK VCs who tweet

Below is the list of VCs I have thus far managed to identify that have a Twitter account. Names and bios are as given on their Twitter page. I’ve embedded a selection of tweets to provide a flavour of how VCs are personally engaging with and recognising their community. All are active in Twitter and retweet the tweets of others.

Professor Chris Husband – Sheffield Hallam University – @Hallam_VC
Bio: Vice Chancellor at Sheffield Hallam University. University leader, teacher cyclist and dad.

Professor Liz Barnes – Staffordshire University – @LizbarnesStaffs
io: Vice Chancellor at Staffordshire University

Liz Barnes is one inspiring and forward thinking VC that everyone should follow!

Sir Keith Burnett – University of Sheffield – @VC_sheffield
Bio: Heathcliffe, it’s me, Keithy B, I’ve come home now, so let me into your redbrick. Vice Chancellor/Head Lad at @sheffielduni

Shirley Atkinson – University of Sunderland – @ShirleytheVC
Bio: University of Sunderland, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive

Bob Cryan CBE FREng – University of Huddersfield – @HUDVC
Bio: VC of Huddersfield, THE UK Uni of the Year 2013/14 and Best Uni Workplace. An Inspiring, Innovative & International Uni with 22,000 students from 100 countries.

Professor Anthony Forster – University of Essex – @Forster_Anthony
Bio: Professor of Politics, University of Essex. Vice-Chancellor, tweeting about Essex/Higher Education & my interests in a private capacity.

Peter Horrocks – The Open University – @PeterHorrocks
Bio: Vice-Chancellor of The @OpenUniversity

Geoff Layer – University of Wolverhampton – @VCwlv_uni
Bio: Vice Chancellor of the University of Wolverhampton, the University of Opportunity. Vice President of Sheffield Collegiate Cricket Club. All views are personal.

Simon Ofield-Kerr – University for the Creative Arts – @simonofieldkerr
Bio: Vice-Chancellor, University for the Creative Arts (Canterbury, Epsom, Farnham, Maidstone & Rochester)

Nick Petford – Univerity of Northampton – @nick_petford
Bio: Vice Chancellor and CEO, University of Northampton, Geologist, occasional broadcaster, advocate of social enterprise

Dominic Shellard – De Montfort University – @DMUVC
Bio: I’m Vice-Chancellor of De Montfort University Leicester, tweeting about DMU & QPR: Tweets preserved by British Library. Opt out:

Professor John Vinney – Bournemouth University – @VCJohnVinney
Bio: Former @BournemouthUni student, now Vice-Chancellor. Professor of Computational Mechanics. Interested in #HigherEducation #Engineering #Universities #Cycling

Note: Added after publishing this post. 

Professor Karen Stanton – York St John University – @VCYorkStJohn
Bio: Vice Chancellor of York St John University

Prof Cara Aitchison – University of St Mark & St John in Plymouth – @MarjonVC
Bio: Vice-Chancellor, University of St Mark & St John in Plymouth, UK @marjonuni Hon Prof @uniofbath @pcsbath Board @EqualityinHE @plymouthuk2020 @AcadSocSciences

Dave Phoenix – London South Bank University – @David_PhoenixVC
Bio: OBE, DL, FAcSS, DUniv, DSc, FRCP(Edin), FIMA, FSB, FRSC, PFHEA. Vice-Chancellor @LSBU and Prof Biochemistry

Trevor McMillan – Keele University – @trevormcmillan
Bio: none

Adam Tickell – University of Sussex – @adamtickell


International VCs who tweet

Scott Bowman – Central Queensland University – @CQUniversityVC
Bio: VC @CQUni, husband, dad, granddad, aviator, proud to call Central Queensland home. Views are my own.

ANU Vice-Chancellor – Australian National University – @VC_ANU
Bio: none

Professor Simon Maddocks – Charles Darwin University, Australia – @CDUni_VC
Bio: TimesHigherEd top 2% of Uni’s & Top 50 under 50 yrs of age. (Views are my own & RT are just that)

Professor Peter Mbithi – University of Nairobi – @vcuonbi
Bio: Prof. Peter M.F. Mbithi is the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi.

Vice Chancellor KU – Kenyatta University, Kenya – @KU_VCsOffice
Bio: Office of the Vice-Chancellor, Kenyatta University, Kenya

Note: Added after publishing this post. 

Jane den Hollender – Deakin University – @VCdeakin
Bio: none

Glyn Davis – University of Melbourne, Australia – @GlynDavisVC
Bio: Glyn Davis is the @unimelb Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Political Science.

Professor Jan Thomas – University of Southern Queensland, Australia – @USQVC
Bio: I am Professor Jan Thomas, Vice-Chancellor & President of USQ.

Andrew Vann – Charles Sturt University, Australia – @drpievann
Bio: Vice-Chancellor and President at Charles Sturt University. Semi-absent father and husband. Hemi-demi-semi-professional banjo player. Frustrated motorcyclist.

Ian O’Connor – Griffith University, Australia – @GrifithUniVC
Bio: Vice Chancellor Griffith University

David Battersby – Federation University, Australia – @FedUniVC
Bio: Vice-Chancellor of Federation University Australia

Margaret Gardner – Monash University – @GardmarM
Bio: none

Further work

If you are aware of other VCs using Twitter do please let me know either through the comments or by tweeting me via @suebecks. I hope to expand this list going forward.


About Sue Beckingham

A National Teaching Fellow, Educational Developer and Principal Lecturer in Computing with a research interest in the use of social media in higher education.
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