Meet Our Members: Helen Watson, Goldsmiths, University of London

Helen Watson joined Goldsmiths, University of London, as Registrar and Secretary in February 2017. The former Director of Planning at the University of Oxford studied Music at Exeter College and completed her MA in Higher and Professional Education at the Institute of Education. Prior to Oxford she held posts at City University and at Imperial College. Here she talks more about her new role.

What is your higher education history?

Before Goldsmiths, I worked for Oxford University for six years. I was the Director of Planning and Resource Allocation, and in the last 18 months I was there, I also took on the Council Secretariat, which covered a range of governance functions.

Before that, I was at City University London for nine years – latterly as Director of Planning and before that in various roles including Head of Administration for the School of Allied Health Sciences.

I started my career in higher education as Departmental Administrator in the Department of General Practice in Imperial College’s Faculty of Medicine. While I was there, I began to develop a deep interest in higher education administration and policy, and completed the MA in Higher and Professional Education at the Institute of Education.

What does your current role and remit encompass?

I lead professional services covering Communications, Development and Alumni Relations, HR, Legal and Governance Services, Strategic Planning and Projects, and Student Experience. I am Secretary to the University.  And, as a member of the Senior Management Team, I advise the Warden and senior colleagues.

What does a typical day look like for you in your role? 

I’ve only been in post a couple of months, and so far it’s been incredibly varied. I am still getting around the College meeting new colleagues and increasing my understanding of what I’ve taken on.

At the same time, I’m fitting in the combination of the routine committee cycle and dealing with the unexpected events and situations which we all need to handle regularly in our roles.

What do you find most enjoyable and/or challenging in your role?

Goldsmiths is a really exciting, creative place full of vibrant personalities, and at this stage I’m just enjoying meeting so many new people and learning about the organisation. The challenges, no doubt, will come soon…

What are the current challenges for your institution?

Goldsmiths has the costs of operating in central London without the size necessary to deliver economies of scale. It’s strong focus on the humanities and social sciences means that it hasn’t got the diversity of income sources available to institutions with a broader subject mix.

What do you think are the biggest changes ahead for higher education?

The separation of research and teaching funding, with the creation of the Office for Students and UKRI, will bring fundamental changes to the way we operate and are regulated.

Brexit, tighter immigration controls and demographic change will mean that universities will be competing ever more vigorously for students and a number will not be able to recruit to their targets.

Who has inspired you and why?

I have met many inspiring leaders in higher education thinking and policy in my roles, and through studying at the IoE. The late Professor Sir David Watson had the ability to expound on the driest or most wrong-headed government policy in a way which made it sound fascinating and Professor Louise Morley delivered some brilliant classes when I was at the IoE.

Music, which I studied at University, has been an inspiration throughout my life. The complications which arise from juggling a full-time career, two children and a substantial commute have since intervened, but in the time my husband and I sang with the Philharmonia Chorus, we were fortunate to take part in concerts conducted by world-class musicians including, among many others, Leonard Slatkin, Carlo Maria Guilini and Kurt Masur.