Meet our Members: Mark Milton

"I work with so many knowledgeable and skilled people it makes my role much easier." Mark Milton, Chief Operating Officer, University of South Wales, discusses his career history after recently joining the HE sector.

What is your Higher Education history?

I’m new to Higher Education and still somewhat star struck by the whole thing! Until I joined USW in 2020, I’d simply been a student at one HEI in the dim and distant past. More recently I’d been a client of HEI’s, contracting employer related programmes. So, in fact my experience mostly lies in the functions I lead rather than in the institutions of HE.

My employment started in a very different sector to HE, in the pensions industry, where I went through a general management training pathway whilst working for the Prudential. I have that business to thank for giving me so much in terms of development both professional and personally. As ever things change, so I headed for the door and joined another business in the same industry – the oddly named Clerical Medical Investment Group. Through CMIG I found myself working on major business initiatives at home and abroad.

By the mid 2000’s I’d seen enough in the financial world. I was then nudged in the direction of public service and the opportunity to join one of the local police forces as their HR Director. Not a uniformed role but intentionally a different type of person to bring challenge to the way of working and uplift skills in people management.

The service gave me the opportunity to spread my wings and working across multiple forces I took on responsibilities leading a range of operations such as Finance, Estates and Legal services. It was also through this route that I began to work closely with the Welsh Government and FE/HE institutions.

I led the application of the very first Apprenticeship programme to be brought into policing in the UK and from that I was the national lead in Learning and Development as we developed L6 qualifications in policing. Partnership with HE institutions in England and Wales then gave me a vital link to take my next career step.

What does your current role and remit encompass?

The role of COO is whatever the VC wishes to make it but in general I lead the professional services teams which support the delivery of teaching and research. So, I’m proud to lead activity such as Academic Registry, Estates, IT, planning and performance management, organisational transformation, and student wellbeing.

With the focus on COVID 19 management I’m grateful that USW recognised the need to give me some space and with that issue now diminishing I’ve a feeling a few more responsibilities are heading my way in the next few months!

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

A real mix of meetings and appointments. Some desk time but mostly I’m trying to support my teams by advising and guiding them. As a Governor too I have considerable duties in terms of reviewing the performance and progress of the university.

With lockdown diminishing I’m trying to get out and visit more. We have three main sites and I like to see these all in operation to get a sense of how things are for staff and students. I visit our catering functions wherever I am. Helpful to get a cup of coffee but these places are also hubs of activity in which I get a sense of how people feel.

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

Most challenging is the frailty of the market, student numbers ebb and flow and thus have a direct impact on the university through the planning of resources.

Most enjoyable are the people, I work with so many knowledgeable and skilled people it makes my role much easier and one in which I feel my skills sit neatly alongside those of my team managers.

What are the current challenges for your institution?

By far and away, getting certainty over our future student numbers and alignment with the things we do best. With over 24,000 students it may seem that small fluctuations should be manageable, but it does feel like a market that is changing around us; we need to make sure we are prepared, to be flexible and durable.

What do you think are the biggest changes ahead for Higher Education?

Whilst Education is something delivered to the Welsh Government the impact of Auger in the general HE environment will potentially be significant. It could significantly reshape the nature of the student body and drive change in the nature and format of universities. Even with devotion I see that as having a significant impact upon HEI’s here in Wales.

Who has inspired you and why?

Always my family. Having seen my two children progress through Warwick and Liverpool Universities, seeing them absorb the world around them and contribute to it, is simply amazing.

In my 2-years I found the sector to be very welcome and the AHUA community has given me support, confidence and a warm welcome – thank you!