Case study

Governance administrator — Hayley

A graduate training programme led Hayley to work in university governance for a London-based institution

How did you get your job?

After completing my degree in German and Italian, I moved to Beijing where I worked as an English teacher for one year. Towards the end of this, I started to look at what I could do when I returned and I came across the Higher Education Graduate Trainee Programme, now known as Ambitious Futures.

It included varied projects, leadership and management experience and was in a sector I was passionate about so I applied for it and was fortunate to be successful. The scheme consisted of three work placements at two universities spanning a fifteen-month period.

At the same time, I completed a module of the AUA PG Cert in Professional Practice and was a member of the AUA PG Cert Board of Studies, so I was able to track my professional progress within an academic context.

Join a professional network as it's an invaluable way to meet other colleagues across the sector and gain an awareness of the many different types of roles that exist

How relevant is your degree to your job?

My subject of study helped me gain key analytical and critical thinking skills that are important in my current role. Though I do not need to speak German and Italian on a daily basis, my subject, and particularly my year abroad, certainly helped me become more adaptable and able to deal with difficult situations. Higher education is also global so my international experience has helped put this into context and means I have an awareness of the landscape and am able to relate to it.

What are your main work activities?

My days are varied depending on the time of year but might typically include:

  • planning inductions for new members of council;
  • supporting the running of an election;
  • writing and preparing papers for council and committee meetings;
  • managing the website;
  • supporting and attending council and committee meetings;
  • managing the process for the sealing of official documents;
  • liaising with teams from across the entire institution, including the Principal's Office, regarding particular aspects of college governance;
  • coordinating college communication to all members of council.

I am one of the key points of contact for the Chairman of Council at the institution so an important part of my role is supporting the coordination of his activities at the college. I am also secretary to the Governance Committee.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I have been in this role for just over three months now and have been able to adapt the role to my working style and personality. After the graduate trainee scheme, governance was an area of HE I was keen to move into and it has definitely been a positive learning curve for me.

I still have a lot to learn and will look forward to completing an academic cycle so that I can see what has worked well and what I would look to improve for the next cycle. I'm in a team that supports my development and envisage that I will be supported to take on further activities when I have fully acclimatised to my role.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Working in governance gives knowledge of the short-term and long-term management and strategic direction of an institution, which is something that really interests me.

I feel privileged to be in such a central role with access to some of the most senior figures at the institution. I also like the variety of people that I work with - HE attracts a real mix of people from different backgrounds.

Furthermore, without wanting to sound too clich├ęd, I like being in a sector that contributes something important to the world - being surrounded by academics who are leaders in their fields and students who are beginning to find their way is very inspiring.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

I liaise with very busy people and it can be quite challenging to match diaries, particularly at short notice. I have to be careful to manage my time effectively, otherwise I run the risk of spending hours sending dates back and forth. We also work to very tight deadlines, which can be an added pressure, but it certainly keeps us on our toes.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

Be open-minded. Prior to my graduate scheme, I wasn't aware of the extent of professional services roles available within HE. I would also say, don't confine yourself to self-imposed limitations. I saw myself as a languages graduate and would probably not have thought myself capable of working in the School of Life and Medical Sciences until my placement there.

Finally, I would say to join a professional network as it's an invaluable way to meet other colleagues across the sector and gain an awareness of the many different types of roles that exist. HE is collaborative and those networks can prove instrumental in career direction. I'm an active member of the Association of University Administrators (AUA) and that has certainly played a pivotal part of my own development.