Nigel Foster

Nigel Foster

Nigel Foster is a University of Leeds alumnus and has almost 30 years of experience working in private and public sector transport organisations. He was previously a director at Arup and is now a director of his own consultancy business. Nigel is a Governor of the University, sitting on both the Audit and Risk and Strategy committees and is also a visiting professor at the Institute for Transport Studies. 

“My Masters was in Transport Planning and Engineering and I came here because of the excellent reputation of the Institute for Transport Studies; it was one of the leading centres in the UK for transport studies and has remained so. During a Masters, you really learn the value of research. Undergraduate study is more about learning but Masters is about research, learning and application – it takes your knowledge to another level. Then, when you go into industry, you have a really good, thorough grounding in core skills and it opens your mind to the importance of exploring in more depth the subject areas you are interested in.

At University I enjoyed sports and other activities, particularly football and when I spoke at the Student Conference a couple of years ago, I made the point that co-curricular activity is important. As a student, I think that you should be trying to achieve three things: developing your academic learning and research; understanding how these apply in industry, society or meet the needs of employers; and lastly participating in social and co-curricular activities to grow your interpersonal qualities. I think the three of these together, not only improve your roundedness as a person, but also improve your skills and employability, and value to society. 

I’ve always maintained a relationship with the University, in both a professional and personal capacity – I’m still friends with some of the professors who taught me as I really value the time and help they gave to me during my Masters. I have maintained those relationships for most of my working life, and certainly over the last 20 years they have grown stronger. I am a great believer in collaborative working and sharing knowledge because I don’t know the answer to everything; I really value engaging with other people – shared knowledge shared application and shared experiences, that’s where this university and Institute excels.

I believe that it’s important to be philanthropic and to give back to the university that invested time in you, but it is really powerful because it is two way: I know every time I do something with the University, I benefit and others benefit as well. Whilst at Arup, I worked hard on building a professional connection with the University; we introduced an industrial relationship with the University so that, for example, we could tutor a student studying for a MEng degree and at the same time, we as an employer got an understanding of what those students were like. We’ve gone on to recruit some fantastic students – the University is a very significant recruiting ground for Arup as graduates have the knowledge and skill set we look for and it all culminated in a strategic partnership between the two organisations, something which I am very proud about. 

I’m currently a visiting professor in the Institute of Transport Studies, chairing the industrial advisory group, helping them to build more and stronger relationships with business and exploring new opportunities for research and development and supporting the cities strategic theme.

Of all the things I find special about the University of Leeds, it’s the people. Whether it’s the students that you are trying to create an opportunity for, the academics you work with, or the businesses engaged with the University; it’s all about the learning you gain from people with such a tremendous range of experience, and then how you apply it for the benefit of society.”