Professor Helen Higson

The provost and deputy vice-chancellor at Aston University, Professor Helen Higson, talks role models, running and her new role as a vice lord-lieutenant


I was brought up in a boy’s boarding school by two teacher parents who told me that I could not be a high-flier. I actually achieved a lot by hard work and perseverance, getting a scholarship to Cambridge University. When I went to the University Careers Service they told me I should run a university. I laughed that off, until a few years later when I found myself working as a university administrator! I came to Birmingham in 1985 and joined Aston University. It’s 2020 and I am still there, having done most jobs in what is a wonderful place. It has helped me to gain a Masters, PhD, National Teaching Fellowship and an OBE.


I try to make sure that staff and students can perform to their best ability, that they are well looked after and feel part of our community. I also chair Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP Employability and Skills Board, which is an important catalyst for training, employment and skills. My membership of the IKON gallery board is also important in promoting the arts in Birmingham and encouraging national and international recognition for the city. Most recently I have become the Vice Lord-Lieutenant – a great honour and responsibility – supporting the Lord-Lieutenant, who is the Queen’s representative in the West Midlands.


My biggest success personally is my running. Since the lockdown I have run almost every day, clocking up nearly 800km. It has been fantastic watching the changing seasons on my early morning runs and finding new areas around where I live. My biggest professional success has been to change so many lives of young people. A university education is one of the best investments that individuals, organisations and society can make. Going to university changes your life, helping you to become happier, healthier and wealthier.


Find yourself a role model or mentor to help you learn many lessons and connect you with the right people. Some of my mentors have been senior and experienced, but the best have been younger mentors – people who helped me stay current. One trained me up on social media… so, if you want to follow me, you can on Twitter @higsonhe


I arrived in Birmingham 35 years ago from the south of England. My first, and lasting impression, is that it is a city of opportunity. Its diversity means that whoever you are, you can be yourself. This has certainly been the case for me as I have been enabled to thrive here.


Apart from running, my pride and joy is our Keetso cat – large, demonstrative and polydactyl (look up that word!!). I love reading, going to the theatre and I have just completed a qualification in coaching.

Find out more about West Midlands Lieutenancy @WMLieutenancy or