New Report from AHUA on the Role of the Registrar

Paul Greatrix, Registrar at the University of Nottingham, introduces a new report by AHUA on the roles of its members.

Back in 2017 I did a really simple survey on the tenure of Registrars and COOs within UK universities and published a short blog on the AHUA website about the responses received.

Having done this piece of work it soon became clear that many AHUA members (and a few others) were interested in learning more about the different roles and responsibilities of Registrars, COOs and others.

Then, early in 2018, the Society for Research into Higher Education published a report on Senior Professional Leaders in Higher Education. This research looked at senior professional services leaders, their careers, background, values and standing within institutions. The project explored, among other things, the career trajectories of senior professional leaders in contemporary universities and how they describe their professional identities, expertise and capabilities.

Building on this AHUA therefore decided to survey its membership more fully to reveal the realities of life as a Registrar. The outcomes form the basis of the report, Never a Dull Moment: The Role of the Registrar.

The report show substantial commonalities in some dimensions and some divergence in others. Looking at roles in overview there are two extremes, with at one end of the spectrum some jobs which are highly governance-focused, and at the other some Registrars with very broad managerial roles. Most Registrars though occupy the space in between these two extremes and enjoy a wide range of duties, which are described in more detail in the report.

Given the very challenging external environment in terms of finance, regulation, competition, public perception of HE, Brexit and many other pressures, as well as the increasing scale and complexity of university operations, it is perhaps unsurprising that several respondents commented that in fact the biggest challenge was not one specific task, but the variety and volume of tasks that they are expected to deal with.

The comments from individual Registrars in the report give a flavour of the weight of work and how it can manifest itself in the course of the working day.

On titles and responsibilities and, despite the name of this report, it is interesting to observe that actually only a quarter of members actually have a title which includes the word Registrar and an even smaller proportion (the author included) have Registrar as their standalone title. The diversity of other titles is striking and includes:

  • Chief Administrative Officer and Secretary
  • Chief of Operations and Estates
  • Chief Operating Officer and Registrar
  • Chief Strategy Officer and University Secretary
  • Clerk to the Governing Body
  • Company Secretary
  • COO and Secretary
  • Registrar, Secretary and Chief Operating Officer
  • Secretary to Court
  • Director of Administration
  • Director of Operations
  • Director of Organisational Development
  • Director of Planning & Academic Administration
  • Director of Student and Academic Services
  • Vice Provost (Operations)

Over three-quarters of role holders come from within HE, which is perhaps lower than it might have been a decade or more ago but is still a sizeable majority.

The responsibilities of roles are varied, including:

  • Governance
  • Data protection
  • Legal services
  • Academic administration
  • Risk
  • Student Services
  • Corporate Affairs
  • Health and Safety
  • Admissions
  • Institutional Strategy and Planning

The overriding impression of these results is that Registrars are involved in a huge span of activities and the diversity of their responsibilities, the rapidly changing nature of the environment, the range of challenges faced and the constant change means that the common feature of every role is that that life is never, ever dull.

I hope you find the report gives an interesting insight into the always interesting, frequently challenging and certainly never dull, role of the Registrar.

Read the report

Our thanks to Rachel Smith of Pickle Jar Communications for her diligent work in putting together much of the report.