Interview with Douglas Blackstock, CEO of QAA

Douglas Blackstock MAUA talks to us about his AUA beginnings and what the future may hold for higher education

Douglas Blackstock is the Chief Executive of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education

Could you tell us about how you first became involved with the AUA?  

1997 was a pivotal year for me; it saw the publication of the Dearing Report, the birth of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), and the start of my membership of AUA.

I had just started working as CEO of the Students’ Union at Warwick University when an AUA mailshot crossed my desk.

This was my third role as an SU general manager and as such, I was very well connected across the students’ union community. However, while I had got a great deal from what was then the Association for Managers in Students’ Unions, it was a narrow field. The AUA was an opportunity to broaden my horizons. I wanted to take advantage of the networking and professional development opportunities it could offer.

To this day, I think students’ union staff should join the AUA. They could contribute significantly to the organisation and get an enormous amount from being part of it.

What compelled you to join the AUA and how did it change your career trajectory?

By 2001-02, I had started to think beyond the SU and knew that I wanted to move on, either to university administration or to a role within a national HE organisation.

The AUA made me think about national bodies in the sector. It helped me to look up from where I was to the bigger picture of UK HE and a rich variety of roles and opportunities available.

For the first few years of my membership, I couldn’t attend the AUA Conference as it always clashed with SU trade events,  but the magazines, updates and connections were invaluable in shaping my thinking about my next steps.

Why would you encourage HE administrators to join the AUA?

AUA membership is a great opportunity to access professional development opportunities and to connect with colleagues working in similar and different jobs across many institutions.

Membership of a professional organisation like the AUA demonstrates a commitment to your own personal and career development.

It’s also a chance to give something back to the sector and to be a role model for new members. In my case, I was privileged to be invited to be a keynote speaker at this year’s AUA Conference.

What do you think of the AUA’s contribution to  the sector?

AUA has made a major contribution to the recognition of colleagues working in university administration.

In UK higher education, people grow within and move between institutions. The AUA network not only raises the standing of our profession, but also the quality of the people working within it. The UK has a world class HE sector, and the AUA continues to contribute to that.

The AUA has grown and adapted, for example with the introduction of the professional recognition programme. The Annual Conference recognises the changing environment of university administration and member needs, for example offering international expert insight.

What are your thoughts about the future of the HE sector?

We could be facing another 10 years of economic and political uncertainty, with global challenges like Brexit and huge changes within our own sector. We’re seeing increasing divergence across the UK, but we still have the frameworks for a UK-wide system.

As staff are increasingly challenged and the pace of change quickens, organisations like the AUA can help equip us with the skills, techniques and tactics we need to play a vital role within and beyond our institutions, as they steer a course through choppy waters.

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