Academic journal article College and University

Data Tales from A Small Island

Academic journal article College and University

Data Tales from A Small Island

Article excerpt

I began my career in higher education on January i, 1980. I worked in the admissions office at Queens University Belfast, where I helped process the thousands of applications for undergraduate admission that were received and processed through the Universities Central Council on Admissions (ucca). UCCA served as a clearinghouse for undergraduate applications in the United Kingdom from 1961 until its merger with Polytechnics Central Admissions Service (pcas), to form the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), in 1993.

In the subsequent 36 years, I worked at eight universities in the United Kingdom and overseas and experienced a wide range of higher education environments of various sizes, missions, and cultures. Without doubt, the single greatest change in U.K higher education during this time was from a selective to a mass system. Enormous growth ensued: the number of students obtaining an undergraduate degree in the uk increased almost sixfold, from approximately 68,000 in 1980 (House of Commons Library, 2012) to more than 400,000 in 2014 (hesa 2015).

Now, in semi-retirement, I have had time to reflect on some of the key aspects of my career in higher education. I hope these personal reflections on my own experience and on higher education more generally will provide some insight into how some aspects of higher education in the United Kingdom have developed. I count myself privileged to have experienced a wide range of institutions in all of the U.K. university mission groups and in a range of positions extending from junior administrative officer to academic registrar and, finally, to university registrar and secretary.

The traditional prerequisites for being a successful registrar-including governance, leadership, and a forensic understanding of systems and processes (and the technology that supports these)-not to mention political acumen-are well known. However, in this article I will focus on one critical area that sometimes is overlooked: the ability to understand and use key data at both the operational and the strategic level. I believe this to be one of the "bread and butter" elements of being a successful registrar. Indeed, analyzing and interpreting data is one of the core proficiencies cited in the Report of the AACRAO Professional Competencies and Proficiencies Working Group (aacrao 2015).

The facts that I'd been a mathematics teacher for three years prior to starting my career in higher education and that my bachelor's degree is in aeronautical engineering meant that I was comfortable generating, assuring, and manipulating data in my new profession. Although this paper presents a u.k. perspective, I believe that my ob- servations and comments apply in the United States, too, particularly with regard to the role and status of registrars within their universities.

It is worth noting that the nearest equivalent to a u.S. registrar in the United Kingdom is an academic registrar, who typically reports to a university registrar/secretary who, in turn, reports to the vice-chancellor (president). For the purposes of this paper, the terms "registrar" and "academic registrar" are interchangeable.


In today's rapidly changing higher education environment, the requirements of a wide range of internal and external stakeholders are arguably more demanding than ever before. For example, since 1998, the U.K.'s tuition fees increased from zero (fully funded by government) to £9,000 (approximately US$14,000 funded by students) in England and Wales in 2012. Arrangements differ for students on undergraduate courses in Northern Ireland and Scotland, where tuition fees are much less: £3,925 (approximately us$6,ooo) in Northern Ireland and free to local students in Scotland. That said, the reality today for the majority of u.k. students is that a typical three-year, fulltime undergraduate degree program will cost them a total of £27,000 (approximately US$41,000) in tuition fees or well over £50,000 (approximately US$76,000) when accommodation, food, and living costs are included. …

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