Barry Winn

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Vision Science and Physiological Optics 1987 

Vice Chancellor of Sohar University in the Sultanate of Oman

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"GCU is an excellent institution that has an important role in Scottish Higher Education. I am proud to be a graduate as the experience transformed my life and presented opportunities that I never thought would be possible. I look forward to watching GCU rise in stature over the coming years."
Barry Winn

We sat down with Barry Winn, to find out more about his GCU PhD degree in Vision Science and journey to becoming the current Vice-Chancellor of Sohar University in Oman. 

What made you choose GCU and your specific course? 

I was a contact lens wearer for sport and decided to study optometry. I'm originally from the North East of England and had spent time in Scotland walking and climbing, and so I wanted to be a student north of the border. Glasgow College of Technology (GCT) was the only place to study optometry in Scotland and this made the decision very easy.  

What are your memories of University?  Were you involved in any clubs or societies?  

I loved living in the west of Scotland and was made to feel very welcome by everyone. Life became a little bit more difficult when England failed to qualify for the 1978 world cup in Argentina when Scotland did. I learned to live with Ally’s Tartan Army and the hysteria of the time. 

The Department of Optometry at GCT was vibrant, and so were the excellent and enthusiastic staff. I played football for Hamilton College as I lived out there like many students from outside of Glasgow. 

How has your career progressed since graduation? Did your qualification aid you?  

I practiced as an optometrist before returning to GCT to complete my PhD. I have had academic jobs in a number of universities in the UK and served on the General Optical Council Education Committee, Chaired the College of Optometrists Academic Committee, and twice chaired the QAA benchmarking group on the subject area. The experience as an undergraduate and postgraduate at GCT has served me well.

Read more about Barry here

Can you tell me more about your current role?  

I am currently the Vice-Chancellor of Sohar University in the Sultanate of Oman. It is an exciting role to lead a University in a foreign country, but many of the challenges are similar to the UK. We have 7000 students in a range of subjects and we have the ability to transform their lives through higher education. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to gain a degree and PhD, and it has transformed my life and the lives of my family. 

What is your greatest professional achievement?  

I introduced a new programme when I was the Dean of Life Sciences at the University of Bradford. The course allowed dispensing opticians to gain an optometry degree in one calendar year. 

I was able to confront the conservatism of the professions and the university sector to use the modular framework to good advantage. We recruited 24 students to the first cohort and 11 gained first class honours degrees. 

The students were passionate and committed to this new route and worked hard for their success. They passed the professional examinations at a higher rate than students on the regular programme and registered with the General Optical Council - some returned to study for a PhD. This programme is still running and offers a viable route for dispensing opticians to make advancements in their careers. 

What advice would you give to current students and new graduates?  

Higher education provides a great opportunity for personal and professional development. Embrace the challenges and enjoy your time as a student. You can achieve anything if you show commitment and dedication. There are many people in the world who would love to have access to UK university education. Don’t take it for granted. 

What are your future plans, both professionally and personally?  

I will stay as Vice-Chancellor of Sohar University. I have been working with a number of UK universities and have secured £10.2 million from the Omani government to develop advanced manufacturing in Sohar. We have called the project Intaj - Suhar which will give young Omanis the change to develop skills from apprenticeships to post doc. 

We are working closely with the business community to provide in-country value to an economy based on metro-chemicals. I will stay long enough to deliver on this work and then plan to retire in central Scotland.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?  

I still manage to play football with staff and students. The heat in Oman is a challenge but I am just about surviving. Football has proved to be a great way to meet people everywhere I have worked and this is especially true in Oman. 

I also visit the Royal Opera House in Muscat when possible as it is a world class venue and attracts talent from around the globe. I have also tried to keep active in my academic discipline and this year publicised a book chapter with a colleague at GCU. We have donated our copy of the book to GCU library.

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