Meet Our Members: Matthew Hilton, Kingston University

The roles of Registrar, University Secretary and Chief Operating Officer vary greatly between institutions but include many shared responsibilities. In our new blog series, we ask members to tell us more about their working life and career history. Here Matthew Hilton, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Operations) and University Secretary, talks about his role at Kingston University.

What is your higher education history?

I joined Kingston University at the end of 2014, after over 20 years in the Civil Service. My last job there, though, was as the Director of HE at BIS so I’ve been working on HE issues for five years now. Before that, my roles in the Civil Service included Principal Private Secretary to two DTI Secretaries of State; Director of Communications at DTI; and Director of Employment Relations Policy at BIS.

What does your current role and remit encompass?

I’m the Chief Operating Officer here at Kingston and I’m also the University Secretary. So that’s HR, Estates, IT and Facilities Management on the one hand; and governance and governing board relationships on the other.

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

I try hard to keep it rational, so I do spend time thinking about the diary and how I’m using my time. I think it is all too easy to find yourself being managed by the diary rather than the other way around, which is a recipe for not doing the right things.

That said there are a lot of meetings in my life: as University Secretary, I have to attend all our committees, and I also try to prioritise 1-1 meetings with colleagues. If I can find a bit of time and space to reflect on it all away from my screen as well, I think I’m doing well!

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

Succeeding in both elements of my job is critical to me making a success of things here. If you look round the sector at the moment you see all sorts of variations on this theme – I was struck at a past AHUA conference that no two people seemed to have the same job description!

One of the things that attracted me to this role in the first place was the chance to try and build something a bit new, using the two elements of the role in a way that reinforce each other, that push each other a bit. Maintaining a focus on keeping in both spaces and making something good of the mix is the best AND most challenging bit.

(There is inevitably a chunk of my role that is about compliance. This is really important stuff, although it is not the most exciting aspect of the job. But it comes with the territory, and it’s the necessary heavy lifting that gives us a licence to explore those more exciting things).

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

The big changes in our eternal context pretty much speak for themselves. But I do wonder whether we are at a point where we need to redefine ourselves a bit, and maybe that’s the big challenge given all those changes. Globalisation, consumerism and government policy changes haven’t just moved the goalposts; they’ve really built a new stadium where we now need to play.

I feel a bit of frustration sometimes at the way we (allow others to) have conversations that are predicated on old models. That’s a very broad observation though and not one I see as having a quick fix -” HE2050”!