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Getting to know Geoff Whitty

Professor Geoff Whitty CBE holds a Global Innovation Chair at the University of Newcastle, where he is attached to the new Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education. Geoff led the world-renowned Institute of Education in the University of London for more than ten years.

Geoff presented the New Professors Talk on 29 October, titled Getting into uni: Who you know, what you know or knowing the ropes? We caught up with him this week on Engage: 

Tell us about your background, including what drew you into higher education?

I was born in London, went to Cambridge University and then trained in London as a teacher of history and social studies.  After working in schools for a few years, I wanted to learn more about education. I became a teacher trainer and eventually a professor of education in universities, culminating in over ten years at the helm of the Institute of Education, University of London – the UK’s leading graduate school of education.

Since leaving that post at the end of 2010, I have had fractional appointments at various universities, including this one at Newcastle, which I took up in March of this year.  I come here for two blocks of about ten weeks each year.  My role is to mentor staff in the School of Education and help establish the University’s new Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education as a local, national and global leader in its field.

What’s been the most unexpected aspect of your work so far?

If you mean my career as a whole, then it was becoming head of the institution in which I had been a student.  My fellow students said they always knew I would, but I suspect that’s with hindsight rather than foresight!

If you mean my work at Newcastle, it’s been how friendly and helpful people are here even though they’re so busy.

Do you draw on any people or resources for inspiration?

I was heavily influenced by some of my mentors in the sociology of education, although these days I tend to disagree with them more than agree.  One of the pleasures of not being head of an institution any more is that I have time to read again – novels as well as work related books.  I am hoping to read the latest Ian McEwan novel while I am here.

What are you passionate about? Can others in the community get involved? How?

Ever since I volunteered to teach immigrant children in London when I left school in the 1960s, I have been passionate about the education of those who are positioned as ‘outsiders’ in our society.  That’s why I believe our work here in the Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education is so important.  And it will only be successful if it opens up to the community, including groups who feel marginalised.

What’s been your proudest achievement to date?

Leading an institution – the Institute of Education in London- that combined a commitment to academic excellence with a commitment to being inclusive.  I like UON because it espouses similar values.

I’m also proud of my children and grandchildren and hope to have some more – of the latter that is!

What would be your dream project?

Any project that would make a genuine contribution to closing the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

Geoff with koala


What’s your favourite Newcastle neighbourhood and why?

Honeysuckle, where I live when I am in Newcastle.  Partly because it’s the only neighbourhood I really know but also because I love the waterfront and the bars and cafés along it.

Can you name a local hero?

All UON students who have overcome difficult circumstances to come here.

What do you look forward to doing most in Newcastle in summer? And winter?

Unfortunately, my work pattern means I won’t get a chance to experience summer (or winter) in Newcastle this year.  Maybe next year though.

Where and what was the last greatest meal you had in Newcastle?

I had two excellent meals at Scratchleys seafood restaurant on the waterfront when I was here earlier in the year.

Best place to getaway to?

I come to Newcastle to get away!

Your #1 Newcastle insiders tip?

I’ve just discovered that it’s almost impossible to find a decent restaurant open on a Monday or Tuesday evening.  Had I been a Newcastle insider, I’d have already known that – and maybe even had an answer to the problem.



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