UEA’s excellent reputation for research and student experience and its track record of “doing different” were amongst the things that attracted Prof Sarah Barrow to her new role as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Arts and Humanities, which she took up at the end of July.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to develop and raise the profile of our renowned teaching and research across the faculty,” she said. “We already have an excellent reputation and are on the cusp of becoming truly great.”
Prof Barrow’s background gives her the insight and experience to achieve this. She comes to UEA from the University of Lincoln, where she was Deputy Head of the College of Arts, staff member of the Board of Governors and, prior to that, Head of School for Film and Media. Before Lincoln, she led the English, Film, Communications and Media Studies department at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, which included a comprehensive languages programme and, for a period, was Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching there. She was on the Board of the Media Archives for Central England and remains a Trustee for the English and Media Centre, a national body for literacy.
Passion for film
“I read Modern Languages at Cambridge and my passion for film began when I was encouraged to explore it as a medium through which to discover new cultures,” she said. “It led me to completing an Erasmus-funded Master’s in European Film and Media, based in Dijon and Manchester, before returning to work in the International Projects Division of the University of Cambridge’s Examinations Syndicate. I travelled across South East Asia teaching and training English teachers, using film to teach about culture.”
She completed her PhD at Sheffield in Hispanic Studies and conducts research on Latin American cinema and cultural policy, travelling to the region annually for fieldwork.
Prof Barrow moved on to a British Film Institute-funded role developing educational programmes. “I enjoyed working with the community and being involved in projects ranging from the Cambridge Film Festival to summer schools but was keen to enthuse people through teaching, which is why I moved to Anglia Ruskin,” she said.
“At heart, film is an art form, a language and a powerful tool for effecting change, whether that’s cultural, economic, political or emotional. I’m delighted that UEA has such a strong social conscience and sense of civic commitment, demonstrated by initiatives like our Global Challenges Research Fund projects, where our strength in interdisciplinary work contributes to the welfare of people in developing countries in areas such as human rights and social justice - topics we don’t shy away from in our teaching and research.
“I want to shout about our amazing Arts and Humanities projects and the positive impact they’re making. I believe it’s especially important to do this at a time when young people are feeling pressured to question the value of our subjects - the debate on the importance of Arts and Humanities is one that we must continue to influence at national level.”
Student Employability is one of Prof Barrow’s responsibilities as the new chair of the Employability Executive. “We must all be very mindful of what our students will do when they leave university,” she said. “It’s an important part of our role to help them feel they have a place in the world, direction and the capacity to make a difference. Many skills that are intrinsic to the Humanities, like researching and writing a dissertation, sifting through information and developing arguments, are critical for the workplace and we must help our students understand and articulate their many talents as well as offer more opportunities, such as working, studying or volunteering abroad, that will take them out of their comfort zones, increase their self-confidence and enable them to blossom.
“Experience of the wider world is also essential preparation for life beyond university and I will work with colleagues to build on our links with local businesses and organisations to develop more internships, placement opportunities, mentoring and joint projects, as well as campaign for more funding for post-graduate research and study for students who want to pursue academic careers.
“I’m also excited that the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is launching a new investment programme to support partnership work between universities and the creative industries and am sure we can play a role in that project.”
At Lincoln she was lead for several major Arts Council and AHRC-funded digital arts projects that brought students and staff together from across many disciplines with a range of public and private external partners, from the Woodland Trust to the Commonwealth Trust. She also worked with international charities to set up projects for students in Thailand and Peru and established a student-led social enterprise to support creative work in the Lincoln area.
Another cross-University role that’s closely aligned to some of the issues highlighted by the work of the Arts and Humanities faculty is her chairmanship of the Equality and Diversity Committee. “We’re making good progress towards our Athena Swan goals and I will continue to support colleagues in achieving them,” she said. “But we still have a lot to do, so I want to take even more proactive measures and see us contributing confidently to the debate and actions around all areas of equality and diversity so that we are positive role models our for students and so that all colleagues are able to work within a culture of respect.
“I’m very excited to be here in this position. Norfolk is a great place to live and work and I’m really looking forward to settling in and being part of UEA.”