Fifteen to One | Helen Foster

In our latest Fifteen to One Q&A feature, Helen Foster reveals our exciting new International Strategy Fund to support international partnership work across research, teaching and student opportunity.

Helen Foster, Director of the International Office

Helen joined the University last year as Director of the International Office. She shares insight into international teaching partnerships and an exciting new International Strategy Fund worth £7 million over the next five years. 

Can you describe your role in 100 words?

My role as Director, International Office, is to lead the development of strategic delivery plans to support global student recruitment, Transnational Education (education delivered by the University in another country), and international partnership development. 

The International Office has a team of staff based in Leeds, Malaysia, China, Nigeria, India and, most recently, Brussels. Much of what we do involves recruiting students through representing the University at overseas recruitment fairs; promoting Leeds as a study destination at schools, colleges and universities and working with international recruitment agents. We also work with partner institutions to build collaborative teaching partnerships and supporting our Pro-Deans for International in developing international strategic partnerships.

What really impresses you about Leeds?

I have been at the University for just over a year now and feel very honoured to be working alongside brilliant people, especially my team. I’ve joined a really capable group of individuals who never fail to impress me every single day. As we have offices in six countries our times zones are all over the place, but we are constantly in communication. 

I was drawn to Leeds because of its global vision. I feel really proud to be working here because of how much progress has been made in this area in recent years. I absolutely love Leeds as a city too and have enjoyed getting to know it. 

I worked in London before and I have to say that it’s true, people are much friendlier in the North!

What question have you been asked most frequently in your role?

Who are our international teaching partners? International teaching partnerships are an evolving area of our work. These partnerships go beyond student exchanges and involve an award – this could include joint or double awards where students split their time between Leeds and a partner institution. Partnerships like this can be at any study level. They often develop from research collaborations between the partners or can act as a springboard into research.  We had 353 partnership students registered this year – up 32% on the previous year and 45% on 2019 pre-COVID entry. A searchable list of our partnerships can be found on the International Office SharePoint site.

What are you most looking forward to working on?

I am really looking forward to supporting the management of our new International Strategy Fund with our colleagues in the Research and Innovation service. This fund has been set up to support international partnership work across research, teaching and student opportunity. It is supporting the work we are doing around the development of strategic partnerships which is one of our International Strategy key performance indicators. The fund is worth £7 million over the next five years. 

Could you tell us about the main priorities for the International Office? 

Our priority is to continue to support our international strategy. To ensure that we continue to build a balanced cohort of students (35% of students being international, from over 150 different countries); to help foster and embed a global mind-set and to create global partnerships especially with institutions in the Global South. Find out more about our international strategy at an online event with Professor Hai-Sui Yu, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, between 3-4pm on Wednesday 12 July. 

Is there something, or someone, that has inspired you in your career?

I went to university relatively late in life, although I was only in my late 20s which seems very young now! The whole experience completely changed my life and I never wanted to leave the Higher Education environment – and I didn’t! There are so many people that have inspired me over the years. I’ve been very lucky to work some very talented people at home and in other countries (and still do). It’s such a privilege to learn about different cultures. It just challenges you all the time, so you never get complacent about things, especially the student recruitment landscape, which is always changing. Travelling for work is so interesting; you learn such a lot about yourself as well as other people and cultures.  

We all have that professional or personal achievement we’re incredibly proud of – can you tell us yours?

Personally, my main achievement is having a child who is now 26 and has grown into a lovely person. I am incredible proud of them. George is an artist and is so talented. Other than that I am proud of doing the Coast to Coast walk and raising money for MS and running my first half marathon in my 50’s. 

Professionally, the project I am the most proud of is the work I did whilst at the University of Nottingham on the Shanghai Expo. It involved running 16 conferences over a period of six months involving all sorts of different audiences. It was successful in cultivating links that resulted in significant international research funding and links. 

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career that you know now?

I really believe in work coaching and I wished I’d have taken advantage of that kind of support when I was younger.

If you didn’t work in HE, what would have been your chosen career?

Our school didn’t offer much in the way of career advice but if I had my time again, I wouldn’t change anything really! Working in HE is great and there are always so many opportunities. But, if I had to pick I’d say I would have liked to have been a film producer or director. 

What are your campus highlights so far?

I love the Brotherton Library and our galleries. 

Have you found a favourite spot on campus?

St George’s Field, particularly the graveyard with a famous Beatles related grave!

What’s still on your ‘to do’ list to visit?

Visit all the coffee shops. The one in Esther Simpson looks very nice. 

What do you do to relax away from University life?

I spend most of my time socialising with my friends and family. I like gardening, running, yoga, reading and listening to audio books and watching films. I like cooking, being inspired from all my international travel over the years. And of course, I love to travel. 

Where’s your favourite travel destination and why?

I’ve been to many Asian countries but Vietnam is my favourite, especially Hanoi. I love the people, the food and the culture.  I also love Tuscany for the landscape and the light. 

If you could have a coffee with anyone, who would you choose? 

It would one of my good friends but if it had to be someone famous then Kate Bush, Paul McCartney, Meryl Streep or Jodie Comer (I’d just want to tell Jodie that I’ve got a feeling she is going to be one of the greatest actors of all time). 

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