Lives with Purpose – Alumni Profile

UNSW Alumna Professor Anne Bamford OBE is a globally recognised thought-leader and researcher in the field of education, passionately advocating for inclusion, innovation, and creativity.

Valuable lessons learned at UNSW

During my time as a student at UNSW, the University was ahead of its time in offering a combined degree covering both the creative arts and education. It was fuelled by rigorous research and delivered a program which developed my strength in inquiry learning.

From a social and professional perspective, many of my UNSW peers have gone on to become leaders in the fields of education and the creative arts. There was a strong sense of collegiality, a desire to instigate change and have a positive impact on society.

Loving what you do – a career with purpose

I am driven by the importance of all people having access to the opportunity for a rich and varied education and the way this unlocks the potential for human flourishing and transformational social mobility. Many people are denied access to getting the education, skills and creative and cultural opportunities that enable them to develop a love of learning and to succeed. Increasingly, we need to be lifelong learners and to sustain this, we must have engaging and enticing learning everywhere. 

What I love about what I do is both the global and hyper-local dimensions of my work. I have been privileged to look in depth at the education and arts and culture in many countries of the world and this gives an insight into what is common about so many human experiences but also what is unique to places, contexts, and times. I have been able to witness global changes as the result of my work such as Education for All and the global Fusion Skills programmes occurring in education and businesses around the world and transforming our skills for the future.

On the other hand, my work has daily, and very practical impacts and it is incredibly rewarding to see the individual lives that have been transformed. For example, the recent Oxford University graduate, who now works, for me started in one of the schools I direct as a 13-year-old boy who had never been to school and could not speak English; the Bangladeshi women’s group mainly over 60 who are learning to use a computer for the first time while also cooking incredible food to share; the local areas transformed into safe and vibrant spaces by arts projects…

Highlights on the career journey

I started as a teacher in Sydney, but my career has taken me all over the world. I have worked as an art lecturer; Director of Teacher Education; Director of the Engine Room at the University of the Arts London. I am a World Scholar for UNESCOI also work on the board of a theatre and an arts festival and am Director of a global lab for peace in education. I ran a fabric and fashion design business and have been based in Europe and the UK for the past 18 years, although, until Covid, a lot of my time was spent working in many countries around the world.

Problem solving at work

Every day there are problems to be solved and some days it can feel like you are doing mental gymnastics, but I think I get the most satisfaction from the work I do which is strategic ‘crystal ball gazing’. In this work, I conduct deep investigations of the current situation and then using a Tracking and Impact Matrix, design recommendations for the implementation of strategies to really create positive change and impact. It is incredibly rewarding when you see this work being enshrined in national or international legislation, enacted in schools’ systems or global businesses, changing places, and improving people’s lives. When this occurs, the people, places and organisations take real ownership of the change. You disappear but the impact lives on and this is change in action.

Building resilience 

Sometimes this is very hard. You see things that can make you very sad and angry – especially inequality and unfairness in systems; this can challenge my resilience. A group of young people once said to me you should not be resilient against some things, as resilience can be seen as a form of acceptance. So perhaps now, I try to separate the things I should not be resilient against and try to change them instead. It is also about collaboration, collaboration, collaboration… when you climb mountains, take people with you to share the journey.  Having amazing collaborators gives you energy and reinvigorates your work, making it innovative and dynamic. It feeds the process and the spirit.

Proudest achievements

Personally, it was when I received the examiners’ reports for my Doctoral thesis. I suppose like a lot of people I suffered from a feeling of imposter syndrome. I was trying an experimental method for my Doctoral thesis, and it was radical for the time. I was working full-time and had several children under eight years of age, so managing work, life, and my own confidence was challenging. When I read the examiners’ reports I could hardly believe it. I had to read them many times over … it was such a form of validation and affirmation. 

More recently, I was very excited to receive an OBE from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. You never know who nominates you for such an award and it was a complete surprise. The Queen said such lovely things when she presented me with the award and seemed to really value the importance of giving all people an opportunity in life. 

Advice for current students 

To be given time and space to study and learning is an absolute joy. Love it, treasure it. If you become passionate about the joy of learning it is like a special gift that you have forever more throughout your life. You are never bored, and each day becomes an adventure about what you will learn that day. Each person you meet is a potential source of learning and if you view places and people in that way, you see everything through refreshing eyes. 

Professor Anne Bamford OBE is Strategic Education, Skills & Culture Director for the City of London.

Degree and year of graduation:  Master of Education in Creative Arts, 1993.

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Photo credit: Clive Totman