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Professor Sir Paul Curran on leading through crisis and the importance of kindness

Professor Sir Paul Curran is President of City, University of London, joining in 2010 having served as Vice-Chancellor at Bournemouth University and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Southampton.

A former NASA research scientist and advisor to the European Space Agency (ESA), Sir Paul’s award-winning work in ecological Earth observation, involving the use of satellite sensors to monitor the environment, is published widely. With a focus on climate change, his most recent research involved the estimation of terrestrial chlorophyll content at regional scales. Here, he talks to GS about City’s response to Covid-19.

What has been the biggest challenge to date in responding to Covid-19?

Moving all education online, moving most staff to home working and closing most of our estate within a week (from Friday, 13th March).

What positives have your drawn from the crisis?

Colleagues have risen magnificently to the challenge and have been working together, often under some challenging conditions, for the benefit of our students.

The support, kindness and caring I’ve seen in abundance has shown the university at its very best. 

How will this crisis change the organisation?

The post-pandemic world of higher education will change because we, our students, our finances and the economic and political world we inhabit will change.  For example, there is conjecture about the proportion of future higher education that will be delivered online, the impact of collaborative technologies on the way we work and what that could mean for our estate, decision-making, collaboration and the level of trans-national student movement. 

What are likely to be your leadership priorities after the crisis has passed?

Thinking through the implications of a changed world on the future direction of the university.

What have you learned about yourself during the crisis?

You can never overcommunicate – even when it feels as though you are.

Relationships can be real, warm and meaningful, without always being face-to-face. 

What advice would you give to others?

Maintain personal networks across the sector and beyond.

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