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Meet Sarah Lethbridge, our new Flexible Learning Academic Partner

3 May 2023
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Tell us about your history at the university and what led you to this new role 

I’ve worked at Cardiff University for nearly 18 years. Firstly, as a Senior Researcher investigating how to apply lean thinking, an improvement methodology that originated in Japanese car manufacturing, to the world of service. As part of this work, I delivered a lot of lean teaching programmes for industry, which led me to becoming the Business School’s Lean Services Manager and subsequently, the School’s Director of Executive Education. 

In order to build Executive Education, I had to create a Business community around the school, so my role then evolved to include External Relations. Alongside all of this I was also the Programme Director for the Executive MBA and I’m now the School’s Pro Dean of External Engagement.  

Sorry for all of that but just wanted to share that I have spent a lot of time thinking about designing and delivering different types of academic programmes, that attract academic credit and those that don’t, and I am very aware of what our external communities are asking from us in terms of access to our research and teaching. I have a good contact network of businesses and public sector organisations and a great deal of experience in helping people who work to learn. These people want what they want, they need processes that are responsive and sensitive, and they want to learn flexibly.   

I’ve recently handed over the role of Director of Executive Education to Professor Sarah Hurlow and my 5 year term as Director of the Executive MBA is coming to an end in September too, so it was a great time for me to focus on how I can use my varied experiences to help to progress an approach to Flexible Learning in Cardiff University.  

What will your priorities be in your new role as Flexible Learning Academic Partner? 

There’s an imminent need to develop a workable way to be able to charge students per module of study. The Flexible and Distributed Learning group, led by Professor Ann Taylor, achieved a great deal, working with Professor Barbara Ryan to help the MSc Clinical Optometry to be even more flexible, but currently, Optometry still has to do too much work to collect payments for small units of activity. If we are going to expand Flexible Learning, we need a more automated way to enable little and often payments.  

The College of Biological Life Sciences has a real urgency to deliver more flexible forms of study too. As their Registrar Rob Davies explained to me, medical professionals completely appreciate the need to continually study, indeed, they have to demonstrate that they still continually learn to maintain their license to practice – Doctors, Dentists, Pharmacists, Optometrists, all need and want to learn in a flexible way and Cardiff University needs to continue to be the place for these professionals to want to study at.   

Longer term, I want us to deliver more microcredentials, have programmes of study that allow people to accumulate their learning credits to build up their academic qualifications and yes, to be more creative about how their degrees are structured. I’d love for it to be easier for a student Doctor, who wants to be a GP one day, to be able to study an entrepreneurial module at the Business School. Of course, we have to make sure that they will still learn enough to be able to be a fully qualified Doctor at the end of their studies, but we need to be able to flex to offer students’ opportunities to learn in a variety of different disciplines, to assist their employability. 

I have spent the last 18 years talking about the customer centricity of Toyota and Tesco and Aldi and Amazon as a mechanism for survival and growth, I honestly see no reason why higher education will be immune from the relentless dominance of excellent service experience. And don’t panic everyone, I’m not trying to turn the university into Tesco, I think what we actually need to be worrying about is a more tailored approach to individual student learning journeys, more sensitivity to their requirements. Amazon and Tesco are OBSESSED about keeping their customers happy. Cardiff University needs to be obsessed with the wellbeing of our students and their academic outcomes.  

What excites you about becoming an Academic Partner? 

I spend a lot of time helping other organisations to embrace improvement initiatives of their own, so it’s really great to be able to work on an institution wide improvement initiative for the organisation I work for. 

I’m looking forward to getting to know more people across the wider university and I’m looking forward to achieving some positive outcomes in practices that have frustrated me when leading Executive Education and whilst looking after my Executive MBA students.  

More from Sarah 

I’m aiming to deliver regular weekly progress updates so drop me a line at if you want to be added to the distribution list or if you’d like to talk to me about your school’s Flexible Learning requirement or experience of Flexible Learning.   

I also write a (slightly irreverent) monthly blog, which you can read at if you want to find out more about lean thinking and leadership. It’s a good place to get to know more about what drives me!