Open Eye: Opening up - Gill strikes a new note
Thursday 07 January 1999
She is an accomplished musician who followed a Masters in Music from Kings College, London, with a music research scholarship in Munich, then her OU maths study helped to spark a change of direction.
What was your family background?
I come from Bromley in Kent. My father was an industrial chemist and my mother did office work but gave it up to bring up children. Apart from one cousin, I was the only one in my family to go to university.
What was your earliest ambition?
From my earliest years I was potty about music. I went to my first prom concert at the age of five. I started playing the piano late, at 13, because until then we lived in a flat where we couldn't have one.
How were your school years?
OK. I went to what was then Beckenham Grammar School for Girls where they totally supported me in my musical studies. In the sixth form they even paid for me to have lessons from a Royal Academy of Music professor.
What was your first job and what did you earn?
I suppose my first real job was a junior research fellowship in music at Somerville College, Oxford, in 1979, where I earned pounds 2,000 a year. My first permanent job was lecturer in music at Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes University) in 1982.
What made you start studying with the OU?
At Oxford Polytechnic I was working in a very esoteric branch of music research - music analysis - some of which was supposedly based on mathematical principles. I was very sceptical whether these principles were really valid in a musical context, but couldn't argue the case because I didn't know enough about maths. My first idea was to do a maths `A' level, because I only had an `O' level in the subject, but a friend said "Why don't you do a degree with the Open University?". I did the maths foundation course, as it was then, and it was a revelation. I loved it. In all I did four maths courses over four years.
What difference has the OU made?
Up to that date I had had an elitist education - grammar school, conservatoire, Oxford University. The combination of my experience at the OU, meeting other students and seeing what a struggle some of them had had educationally, and going to work at Oxford Polytechnic, was an eye-opener. I came out of music research, and became interested in education, and what it could do for students in an inclusive way. I eventually became head of learning and teaching at Oxford Brookes in 1996. And the maths study answered my question - I decided that the mathematical principles weren't valid!
What does your new job involve?
The University of East London is highly committed to access and widening participation. I'll be leading the academic agenda. The students are mostly local and there are a lot of mature students, and students from ethnic minorities. There's a lot of regeneration going on in the area and the new Docklands campus is going to open soon.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
That I can develop things in the university which are beneficial for students. Education is a lifeline for many people - it is a way of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.
... and least?
Education cuts which mean that what we are trying to do becomes more difficult year by year.
Would you do more OU study? If so, what?
I probably won't have time. But I would recommend it to anyone.
To what do your attribute your success?
A lot of people have given me chances and opened doors for me, but I suppose I would have to say persistence and dedication. And my education.
What are your goals for the future?
To change the values of the British education system. We have not fully thought through the implications of the change to mass higher education. The research assessment exercise is still the dominant agenda, which means staff are rewarded more overtly for good research than for good teaching, to the detriment of the sector.
How would you like to be remembered?
As a contributor to British higher education on behalf of students.
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