Newslink 88 | Winter 2017

Newslink 88: Guest editorial

Dr Steven Quigley FAUA
AUA Trustee and Academic Registrar, Regent’s University London

In no particular order: a commentary, an opinion, an observation, and a prediction.

All Trustees serving on the AUA Board contribute in some way to the functioning of our excellent AUA. Part of my contribution as a Trustee is to hold the publications purview for the Board and because of that I am a member of both the Editorial Advisory Boards of our membership magazine Newslink and academic journal Perspectives. Since I serve in this capacity Giles Brown, the Editor for Newslink, suggested that I might wish to write a guest editorial; as I never miss an opportunity to expand my CV here it is!

The writing of an editorial does not sound difficult, but if you have not written one before then you are left wondering what you should write about. My understanding for an editorial is that I am solely offering my thoughts, not my employer’s and maybe the AUA’s, however for this piece these words and thoughts are all my own. Furthermore, and most importantly, the editorial should express an opinion, an observation, a prediction or a commentary so I shall start with an observation first.

This issue is packed with some excellent articles; we have part two of Michelle Gander’s piece on the careers of professional services staff, a piece on evaluation by Neil Raven, Jan Shine’s top tips on making the most of resources, an interview with Douglas Blackstock, and an updated ‘timeline’ bringing the one we published in the Jubilee Publication up to date to illustrate the on-going dramatic changes and uncertainty in/imposed on the sector.

By way of a commentary, Jo Johnson (Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation) gave a speech on 20 July 2017 to an organisation called Reform (an independent organisation interested in improving public sector performance within budget). Jo Johnson’s speech may be found at: (accessed 5 October 2017).

I have picked three things from the speech to comment on and I shall then make a prediction; first, of particular note, is the pushing of two year degrees for a reduced fee. Why? Simply because of money? Will this produce a better student experience? I am not convinced for two reasons, first, I question whether an employer places the same value upon a two year degree as a three year degree. Second, I am not convinced that a two year degree can ever be seen as academically equivalent to a three year one. If this notion of a two year degree gathers momentum then I will be interested to see the statistics of how many students who are signed up for two year degrees actually gain the breadth and depth of skills, knowledge and analysis needed to complete within that time period and how many end up being employed within six months of graduation in graduate level jobs! Third, Jo Johnson is looking to empower the Office for Students three months ahead of its previously intended launch.


This will bring forward the timetable for delivering a new regulatory framework for higher education. I am left wondering what the first changes might be? Might it be a change of agency name to something that people can understand such as the Higher Education Regulation Authority? What do you think? Jo Johnson’s view is that one of the first things that he wants the OfS to do is to look at student-university contracts. This I suggest is a case of taking things too far. If you were a 17 or 18 year old student then would you sign a contract that might be up to or over 30 pages in length? I suspect not as it would terrify you. If we as a sector are to turn our implied terms for being a student into massive expressed term consumer contracts then I predict that we might all end up having no students at all!

5 minutes with…

Our new Honorary President Mary Curnock Cook OBE

What does your appointment as Honorary President to the AUA mean to you?

I am really looking forward to the opportunity to connect with and share expertise with other professional administrators in the sector. I hope I can add value through my own experience at the helm of UCAS, one of the oldest shared services in the sector, and no doubt learn a lot myself through the AUA network.

What do you think is the role of the AUA in the sector?

As well as recognising professionalism in administration, the AUA provides an instant network for members to share experience and learn from one another. A professional network is probably the most powerful learning tool that anyone can have.

What piece of advice would you give to someone just beginning a career in HE administration and management?

Decide whether you are there for the ride or whether you want to shape the ride. Shaping things can start in small ways, but managers always notice the people who are genuinely motivated and prepared to volunteer to get involved with new initiatives.

What drew you to take a role within the HE sector?

As a late starter in higher education (I didn’t go to university until I was in my 40’s) I spent the first half of my career feeling I’d missed out. Little did I know that I’d end up working in HE or the extent to which I’d be inspired by it.

Also in this issue…

Evaluation: an introductory guide
Dr Neil Raven considers the fundamentals of evaluation6

Higher education in the UK: a timeline 1961-2017
Dr Matthew Andrews looks back over the last 56 years of higher education history

The Tertiary Education Management Annual Conference 2017
Matthew Hisbent reports back from the 2017 Tertiary Education Management Conference, Melbourne, Australia

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