Role-holder interview: Matthew Andrews

Q: Please describe your current role and the main duties you carry out

MA: My current role covers the strategic development and management of core student or programme-focused areas of University business.  These functions are delivered through the seven offices of the Academic Registry.  I am also responsible for academic and corporate governance and have a personal role in University governance as Secretary (Assistant Clerk) to the Board of Governors, and Secretary to the Academic Board and Audit Committee.  The Academic Registrar is a senior member of the University’s administration and plays a pivotal role in a variety of key processes that constitute an essential aspect of the Brookes student experience.  The following specific points provide some additional detail:

  • Assuring the effectiveness and continually enhancing the University's functions associated with the admission, enrolment and assessment of students, academic policies, quality assurance and enhancement, the conferment of awards, graduation ceremonies, the maintenance of course and student records and all related systems and applications.
  • Ensuring the development and review of the University's academic policies, principles and regulations and for the Students’ Charter.
  • Providing leadership within the University in academic administrative matters and academic regulations and to further the continued development of an effective, efficient and professional academic administration by promoting good practice.
  • Ensuring the effective management of the Academic Registry's budgets and physical resources.
  • Providing effective leadership for and ensuring the personal and professional development of the staff with the Academic Registry.

Q: Please describe your route to this job – what previous roles did you have that gave you the relevant skills and experience for your current role? How did you move on from one to the next?

MA: I started working in University administration because I needed a part-time job whilst I was a student.  I’ve stayed in University administration because I think it’s fun!

My first role was a generalist administrator covering areas as diverse as quality assurance and managing the University timetable (September 1998 to March 1999).  This role developed into something more focused on undergraduate admissions whilst retaining a broad range of other activities (March 1999 to August 2001).  In addition to undergraduate admissions, I was responsible for student financial support and student statistics and forecasting, as well as the development and management of the ten staff in the Office.  My role developed as this area of work grew in importance and whilst the areas I covered did not change substantively, my office grew and I was promoted to a more senior grade (August 2001 to March 2003).

My career to March 2003 had been based on expansion and promotion but in 2003 a restructure required me to apply for a new post which combined two old posts in one, including my old post.  I obtained this new role, as Director of Undergraduate Recruitment (March 2003 to October 2005) with a remit incorporating the areas for which I had previously been responsible plus widening participation and schools liaison activities.  This role offered enormous scope for creativity with the establishment of new schemes and the opportunity to bid for external funds to support these new schemes.  I secured in excess of £1 million during my time in this role.  At this point I was leading a team of twenty-one.

Towards the end of 2005my career required more breadth: I had become too focused on undergraduate admissions and related areas as not since my earlier posts had I been responsible for other matters.  I therefore moved to become Director of the Graduate School (October 2005 to February 2008).  In this role I was responsible for developing and managing a responsive, high quality and student-focused service for research students.  This covered everything from recruitment and admissions through to exam committees (for PGT students) and viva voce examinations (for the research students).  I re-engaged with quality assurance and became responsible for charging tuition fees.

Towards the end of 2007 it was clear to me that my next step needed not only to be a new area but a new institution.  This was a vital area of breadth currently missing from career history.  It was then that I moved to Oxford Brookes as Academic Registrar, a post I have held since February 2008.

Q: What forms of help/training/qualifications did you find, or need, to help you progress from one job to the next?

MA: I have continued gaining academic qualifications partly for the same reason I work in a University: that I value higher education.  I have been fortunate to gain a BA, MA and MSc.  Whilst the BA and MA are purely academic (I was mostly a philosophy student) my MSc was undertaken part-time whilst in work.  This was in Social Research and enabled me to undertake projects on higher education policy and practice.  I am currently researching towards a Doctorate which is in history but the history of higher education.  Attitudes vary between different institutions but for some qualifications at this level for senior posts are highly desirable.

Outside of formal academic qualifications I have taken many other professional development courses and each has proved valuable.

Training is more than courses though and often the best learning comes from less formal routes.  Learning from others is a vital skill: passive observation and reflection are critical skills.  If you think someone else has done something well, try to work out why you think that. What did they do which can help you in your work?  That’s a vital question.  It can be equally instructive to learn how not to do something from others.

As a manager I try to emulate those things which have been most useful to me as someone who is managed.  I have appreciated the scope to develop my own area.  That has required me to be proactive and undertake developments – if you can demonstrate that will you develop an area when left to your own devices, you will be considered an asset to the organisation.

Q: Did any out of work experiences help you to progress in your career?

MA: I have been heavily involved in aspects of the AUA from the start of my career and in ARC from my early engagements with admissions.  I cannot recommend such experiences highly enough: they are personally rewarding and will help you develop your career.  You need the energy to make the most of these activities as passive engagement will bring only limited benefit.  But by engaging actively, developing links and contacts, and taking opportunities as they arise external organisations can be as important to your career development as the ‘day job’.  Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, these type of out of work experiences can help you enjoy your day job more because you will see more dimensions to what you do other than the simple perspective of one institution.

Q: Have you had any significant changes from the career ‘path’ you originally saw yourself on? If so, what caused this to happen?

MA: The only significant change was stepping on to this career path!  As a student I struggled to find a career I wanted to enter. The need to find part-time work whilst a student gave me more than just money, it gave me a career as it opened up to me an entire world of work of which I was previously unaware.  Since I became a university administrator I have enjoyed the diversity of the role and the rewards I get from supporting an endeavour which I feel offers one of greatest benefits to individuals and society. 

Q: Do you have any advice, with the benefit of hindsight, for others looking to further their own careers?

MA: Three things:

  • First: don’t be afraid to enjoy your job.  Our time in work is a large portion of our lives and you should aim to enjoy what you do.  Gaining a broader perspective on what you can do, through engagement with external groups, can be an important way of helping you find that enjoyment.
  • Second: learn how to be managed.  I don’t mean become a sycophant, but we often spend time thinking about how to be a manager and going on courses to learn management skills when learning how to be managed is just as important.  It’s important because being part of team sometimes means being led.  Sometimes people can find it hard to accept that.
  • Third: make your own luck.  Sometimes I have been accused of being lucky, i.e. that the right jobs came up at the right time and so on. I do not believe in luck.  Preparing in advance creates luck.  Working hard creates luck.  Reflecting on your own skills and taking responsibility to develop areas of weakness creates luck.  Engaging with the need of others creates luck.  Constant thinking about how to change the areas for which you are responsible creates luck.  Not giving up at the first refusal but being creative and persistent creates luck.  All these things and many more create luck and by acting on them you will end up discovering that you turn out to be in the right place at the right time more often.

Last update March 2011