My SDF story with Clive Betts

by Rossana Espinoza 0

My SDF story with Clive Betts



Where do you work and what is your role?

I work for the University of Exeter as Head of People Development.

When did you join the SDF?

In early 2007, not long after it was first constituted. Although I wasn’t on the Council right at the start I witnessed its rise from the ashes of the Higher Education Staff Development Agency (HESDA) when that was dissolved and partly spawned the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. The very last HESDA conference was, I believe, in Bournemouth!

Why did you want to join the SDF?

It was the only professional body dedicated to supporting staff development professionals in the broadest. I was also attending SEDA events and knew SEDA members but I couldn’t relate to their much narrower focus on educational development for those with teaching and learning responsibilities. SDF was for everyone.

What’s the best thing about the SDF?

I suppose I’ve just said it: SDF is for everyone and is only active because everyone gets involved. If people don’t participate then there is no SDF. It is not an organisation that carries on regardless with a mission to self-perpetuate. It is only as good as the people who choose to engage!

What are you working on at the moment?

My current motto is “learning everywhere” which is the title of my new learning and development strategy currently going through scrutiny and approval processes. To work, my strategy requires effort to consolidate a wealth of development opportunities into a curated provision that is accessible and relevant to everyone who works in the University (slipped into business-speak a bit there, sorry!). This is realised through a host of projects, programmes and initiatives alongside, of course, BAU; hence that accounts for pretty much all my time.

What does a typical day look like?

It’s an early start: I love walking across the beautiful grounds on our Streatham Campus with the low sun shimmering through the trees in the arboretum. Even when it’s frosty or raining hard there is always something magical to see in the early morning light.

The work part, probably in common with so many, begins with emails and a wry smile at a diary that I wonder how I was daft enough to allow to fill with so many meetings. At the moment I am also running a lot of workshops and as much as I am genuinely passionate about helping people grow and learn it is a struggle to balance this with my other duties. Principal among these duties is leading my team of nine fantastic colleagues and managing the usual hiccups and unexpected, “urgent” tasks filtering down the line.

My working day doesn’t really end, it just kind of slides into the evening with emails and reports in front of the TV or with music on in the background. I don’t mind this at all, and I don’t expect my team to do the same although I am beginning to understand that the simple fact that I work out of hours exerts an unintended pressure on them to do the same.

Tell us about an event that altered the course of your life/and career

Back in the Autumn of 1985 I was a Postdoctoral Research Associate (Biomechanics and Entomology) at the University of Exeter. I adored my research and I loved all the teaching I did but there was no more money in the pot so I had to move on to find my next position.  My heart was being pulled in one direction: London, where the (romantic) love of my life had just started her first job. My professional head was being pulled in another direction: a College Fellowship at King’s College, Cambridge. Both were mutually exclusive: our long distance romance was already strained to breaking point and my academic opportunities were extremely limited at the time.

I listened to the right part of my body and this year “my girlfriend” and I celebrate 32 years of marriage! The other side of my life has been fulfilled in different ways; more on that later…

The person who has influenced you the most is

My dad. He probably never realised just how important he was in giving me my moral compass, my understanding that I could be as good as anyone else, a ridiculous sense of humour and a love for life. He had a very hard, poverty-stricken upbringing in rural Norfolk. I can’t imagine his hardships then and through the second world war as a “boy” on HMS Ajax, although in later life he shared some of the horrors he witnessed. My dad taught me practical things like how to mix cement, wire-up a mains circuit and hang wallpaper (including the associated colourful language), as well as my guiding principle that “you have to make your own way in life” which, for him and for me, means taking responsibility for your actions and for yourself for as long as you can.

Work life balance – what leisure activity do you enjoy the most?

I am a passionate naturalist, ecologist and entomologist and a big part of my leisure time is devoted to the study of the natural world and educating others about it. In 2001 I co-founded a not-for-profit organisation called Ambios Ltd ( to further this ambition and it is now internationally active, deploying EU funding to support nature conservation training and working with EU students and Universities in five EU countries.

Something about you people would find surprising

I used to have very long hair, a straggly beard and played bass in and “roadied” for a heavy-metal-punk-rock-fusion University band called Ice-Pix. I was rubbish but we had the most amazing three years annoying all kinds of people in Aberystwyth (where I did my first degree).

What’s your greatest fear?

Anything that adversely affects our children’s health and happiness which I cannot do anything about (including my own ill-health that prevents me from helping!). My happiness is inextricably intertwined with the happiness and wellness of our children. I can’t imagine this ever diminishing even though our youngest of three is now 20.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Professor Alice Roberts. What a brilliant presenter! Her breadth and depth of knowledge and obvious passion for her subject(s) are captivating: she is also a talented artist and a parent (kids are always a good ice-breaker).

Michael Palin seems to be such a lovely man, a hero from my youth, a very capable novelist and must be full of stories of his travels (or maybe just sick of them?).

David Attenborough, although I am sure I would be struck dumb by his sheer greatness.

What would your super-power be? 

Super-speed – there are so many things I want to do and not enough time to do them, including all the books I want to read and all the places I want to see and films I want to watch and beers I want to taste…

What’s your favourite/least favourite food?

I adore bacon, the smokier the better. I dislike celery although I tolerate it in small doses (loaded with taramasalata for instance…)

What’s the worst job you ever had?

Distributing magazines through peoples’ letter boxes. Soul-destroyingly boring and dreadful pay.

What thing would improve the quality of your life?

Generally, seeing our children able to comfortably support themselves and be happy in their own lives. Specifically, a modest lottery win would help reduce the ridiculous number of credit cards we have…

What’s coming next for you?

At work – “year-end”: loads of report writing and finance summaries.

At home – Lots of building work on our beautiful but rather decrepit old house. Not looking forward to any part of it except the end!