Centrally managed, locally delivered: University of Westminster’s model for efficient corporate services

Carole Mainstone
Following the recent launch of the University of Westminster’s Vision for 2020, Carole Mainstone considers the continuing need for evolution and daily operations to function as one. Interview by Amy Wishart.

Can you tell me a little about your role as Registrar and Secretary at the University of Westminster?

My role has two elements, as the name suggests. In the role of Registrar, I am part of the University’s senior management team, with responsibility for the line management of the Corporate Services departments. This includes Estates & Facilities; Information Services; the Academic Registrar’s department; Recruitment, Admissions and Marketing Services; Student Affairs and Human Resources & Organisation Development. Over 850 staff are employed in these functions and we are ‘Investor in People’ and ‘Customer First’ accredited.

In the role of Secretary, I am responsible for supporting and overseeing the work of the University’s governing body and also act as Company Secretary, because the University is constituted as a company limited by guarantee.

How do you balance the ‘business as usual’/ daily operations with the need to evolve the way things are done?

The Corporate Services are run on a management model of “centrally managed, locally delivered”. All Corporate Services staff report to a manager within the Corporate Services and not to academic staff. This means that we are able to provide dedicated and relevant professional training and support for our management team and to create clear career paths for all our staff. In turn, this enables our daily operations to be run effectively and with focus.

We operate an approach of continuous improvement in which we constantly review what we are doing, aiming to identify whether and how it could be done differently and better. We hold an annual residential meeting for the Corporate Services management team as well as regular monthly Directors’ meetings. The need to maintain and upgrade our ‘Investor in People’ and ‘Customer First’ accreditations requires us to keep the indicators for these standards under continual review and ensure that we develop our management approaches in line with these. Daily operations and evolution should thereby happen together and not be regarded as competing requirements on our time.

As an extra initiative, we are running a Change Academy programme, which is not exclusive to Corporate Services but which applies to all University activities, and a number of innovative change projects have come out of this.

Do you have any top tips you could share with other HE institutions that might be embarking on a change or modernisation process?

My personal top tip is to be clear about what you are trying to achieve and making sure that people know and understand it.  Clarity of purpose is essential as are good and clear communications. Planning and executing change processes properly can take a long time and it is important to keep everyone focused on the end result. A good plan and schedule is essential, and formal project management techniques can also be an effective tool.

Are you considering new approaches to procurement or providing services at the University of Westminster? Do you see particular barriers to achieving efficiencies by these means?

We are currently working on some feasibility studies for efficiency gains in specific areas of the Corporate Services. Each feasibility study has two Directors working together on it and we monitor progress at our monthly meetings. The Change Academy programme is also producing some good new ideas for changes in the provision of services, which involve a wide range of staff from across the University in generating proposals and ideas.

What’s on your current roadmap here at Westminster?

We have just launched our new Vision for 2020 and everyone is now involved in developing the implementation plan. This includes a major change project called Learning Futures which is about the redevelopment of our curriculum and associated academic processes. The biggest impact of this on the Corporate Services’ roadmap is the need to optimise and upgrade our student records system, a project which is just about to start over the summer.

What do you like to do outside your role?  

I’m a qualified pilot so I fly whenever I can. I enjoy horse racing, particularly National Hunt racing. I play tennis and go running regularly. I am planning to retire from HE next year, so I hope to have a lot more time to do all of these things as well as taking up some additional activities.

Carole Mainstone is Registrar and Secretary of the University of Westminster. The University of Westminster has been a member of the Kingston City Group since August 2007 and Carole was chair of the KCG Board 2009-2011.

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