Asking the Provost: How should registrars change in these changing times?

Registrars need to change in these changing times. Mike Shore-Nye, Registrar and Secretary at the University of Exeter, speaks to the Provost and Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Janice Kay, to gain insights on how we can best adapt to the challenges of COVID-19.

New insights, new voices

This is a time of intense change for our sector.

As such, I thought I should change my approach for my next few blog posts.

Rather than reflect on my experiences as Registrar, I have chosen to gather new insights for your attention. I sought the voices of those who oversee, govern, or experience professional services.

I hope this will help me ensure that the focus of my leadership is meeting the new challenges that COVID-19 has set us all, and that my key stakeholders are now facing.

Over the past month, I have interviewed our:

  • Vice-Chancellor
  • Provost
  • Chair of Council
  • Guild of Students Chief Executive
  • Guild of Students President.

I began each interview with a simple request for honest, open, and personal reflections on what they see as the current challenges facing registrars in these unprecedented times.

I hope that their responses give you as much food for thought as they gave me. I will publish these over the coming months as we all work our way through this unprecedented new academic year.

Asking the Provost

My second interview for this series was with Professor Janice Kay, the Provost and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter. Janice is a superb academic leader and has driven Exeter’s strategic focus on building research power and engaging students as partners to co-create the superb student experience that Exeter is famous for over the last decade.

Below is a summary of my interview with Janice.

In your opinion, what do you see as being the key attributes and skills for an effective Registrar?

  • Inspirational leadership –  engaging our  professional and academic workforce with a compelling vision for the future
  • Vision – using experience and insight to enable shrewd forecasting to help develop a  long term vision for the institution
  • Planning – ability to translate vision into a plan for mobilisation and delivery
  • Insight – can we ensure the university has insight and a views across different HE systems and business models through effective networking and sector research?
  • Striving for best practice – always wanting the best for the institution, taking best practice from where it ever it can be found nationally and internationally from within the sector and outside
  • Flexible structures – being willing to enable flexibility in organisational structures
  • Compassionate decision-maker – you need the ability to take fast, hard-nosed decisions with compassion
  • Dedication and drive for the best but combined with a sense of humour
  • Collaboration – a key player in the University senior team able to work with academics and professional services alike to deliver operational efficiency and quick decisions

What are the most important things a Registrar should be concentrating on during the pandemic?

  • Combining effort – act always  as the drumbeat of the institution, ensuring that the day to day and the COVID-19 response work together seamlessly
  • Leadership – play a key role as the heartbeat of the institution, leading from the front with compassion and demonstrating humanity to keep up morale
  • Financial stability – ensuring the sustainability of the institution, taking confident longer term financial decisions to cut costs whilst looking after the immediate ‘pennies’
  • Advocate good governance – with flexibility to change structures to reflect these extraordinary times
  • Communications – regular, honest and open communication to staff and students with transparency and authenticity
  • Income management – income generation and preservation of income and a spirit of entrepreneurialism
  • Looking ahead – be aware of the longer term: this is not going to be just a one-year hit, put concrete steps in place to build back confidently – providing opportunities and helping people to adjust to the ‘new normal’
  • The single most critical role the Registrar must take throughout this crisis is to keep your head whilst everyone else is losing theirs!

What do you think the key challenges will be as we move from the current stage of the pandemic to the medium and longer term return to normal?

  • Be ready to adapt – take decisions on the basis of the best evidence and with confidence, recognising that there is such uncertainty and so many degrees of freedom that some key decisions are going to be the wrong ones and we will need to know when to change direction decisively
  • Teaching and learning – changing the business model of the university around the way we educate and fully understand the impact of the switch to blended digitally enabled learning
  • Industrial relationship management – difficult industrial relations around pension and pay that will not be made any easier by the costs of managing an institution through the pandemic
  • Adapting to change – the size and shape of the university will change. The Registrar must help us understand how to let go of old models or ambitions as we face up to the new realityovernance  – evolution of structures will occur, what have we learnt about what is most important?
  • Constant horizon scanning – develop a very strong vision of how the UK HE sector will need to evolve and a clear understanding of our institution’s fit in it:
    • Making plans to take your staff with you
    • Ensure resilience for yourself and the senior team

Mike Shore-Nye is the Registrar and Secretary at the University of Exeter.