Department Administrator

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Manish Maisuria is a Department Administrator at the University of Warwick.

About you?

What is your background?
After graduating from University in 2000, I went straight into University administration by working for the Widening Participation Team as a Schools' Liaison Officer. Having completed two fantastic years in this role - which combined working closely with students from all sectors along with administration within HE - I worked for the Examinations Syndicate attached to the same University, then moved into Research Administration (which with the current RAE focus proved to be the most awful, negative-fuelled environment I've ever had the misfortune to work in), which then (despite the negativity) provided me with the
necessary stepping stone to get into my current Departmental Administrator role.

What initially attracted you to your job?
The variety in tasks - from financial forecasting to equal opportunities, with a bit of Personnel, RAE administration, timetabling, examinations and
organisation of seminars and events thrown in. And it got me out of the said awfulness of my last RAE-focussed role.

Define your job?
As above: Lots of variety in tasks, and experiencing the real running of an academic department, which for me, involves learning about new things as the course of the academic year progresses. I also get to update/design departmental web pages, deal with student issues, involve myself with publicity, teaching quality issues, staff development, careers liaison, developing automated systems to make administrative systems more effective...and of course, deal with the RAE, God bless it.

Can you walk me through your day to day activities?
Get in. Coffee. Check and respond to the 5000 (sic) or so emails I get. Coffee. Liaise with Chair and Department Secretary for progress/taking on new tasks. Attend meetings. Depending on the time of year, deal with report writing on financial forecasting, SWOT analyses, examinations processes, student registration, or timetabling. More coffee. Deal with any issues that any of the academic staff have. Meetings. Liaise with Central University Resources and respond to their directives. More meetings. More coffee. And then have a lunch break in the midst of all this. I should perhaps explain that having coffee doesn't imply that I attend formal coffee breaks, rather that I drink lots in my office. Alone. With my PC. But it's still all good.

How has your job changed in the last 5 to 10 years?
I've only been in my current role for 6 months, but yes, it seems that although there are set tasks for certain times of the year, the processes are constantly evolving, keeping everyone up to speed with national directives and policies. I've never experienced another University devolving what would normally be centrally-administered tasks, down to all of its varying departments and research centres. Although it provides for much more work, it still gets one involved and undertaking tasks that they otherwise wouldn't become involved in, thereby increasing their experience and skills.

What are the key issues facing your sector?
Internationalisation. I guess this is an area that has been borne from the
inherent pressures in preparing for the RAE, where universities are being forced to increase their profiles into new further-reaching markets, which has its positive aspects too. But coupled with the pressures of scoring highly in the next RAE round, academics are being recruited from far and wide, whilst others are being continually assessed and persuaded to produce more quality research and publications. The plus side is that this would then increase the chance of research and collaborations with the global market, as well as crediting the institution with the ability to attract international key players in the field. The down side is that it is all done at the cost of the current staff within the department. And all for one little score (and of course, the money, the kudos)...

How does government legislation affect your job?
It is important to be aware of legislation especially where it concerns the academic and pastoral care of students. Equal opportunities, fair admissions procedures, teaching quality and examinations are all areas I am involved in, and although the direction of all of these processes are driven by departmental academic staff, me being the right-hand person means I have to liaise with the necessary resources to keep abreast of current issues, and bring them to light at Committee meetings. It seems that contemporary times bring along much higher expectations of educational services - perhaps as a direct result of the change in legislation in 1988 whereby the education sector became more of a market, thus empowering the child/parent/student and offering them much more of a choice. The downside of this is the increased risk of litigation, which any educational establishment would wish to avoid at all costs. Therefore staying aware of issues and changes in legislation is paramount!
  - both for the care of students and non-academic staff.

What impact has technology had on your job?
Even though technology changes continuously, there is usually a wealth of training events and workshops that successfully train previously computer-illiterate staff into competent IT users. It is then not so important to become au fait with the most current of technologies, as it is to develop a level of competence with the systems you already know and have. The development of databases, web pages and automated systems is something I am involved in as part of my role, and it really has given me new skills to transfer into the development of new systems to
supersede previously ineffective processes. And all without adopting the traits of a 'techie'.

What are the best things and worst things about your job?
The best things are having the opportunity to become involved in new things which I have yet to experience, and would go as far as to say that I probably wouldn't have experienced in a single role in another profession. The worst thing is that you could be the most efficient person in the world, but you will ALWAYS be busy.

Do you have any horror stories?
Definitely! The worst part of my career has been within research administration. This, I must stress, is at departmental level, and not as an Officer in central administration. The RAE is such a cut-throat business that generates almost unbearable - and undue pressure on academics, that at departmental level, you really get to see this.

Advice to others looking for a job?

What attributes do you need/what are you looking for when hiring someone in your role?
Somebody who has experience in working in varying departments within HE or other similarly large organisations is more likely to make it to the interview stage for such a role as this. It is a relatively senior administrative officer role, so a commitment to HE and dealing with its issues are also a must, as well as good organisational and communication skills. One has to deal with a vast array of people from different backgrounds as well as external organisations, so a willingness to be flexible, empathetic and to learn new things is essential. And of course, not to succumb to pressure too easily when in post.

What are your tips/advice for those starting out?
If possible, try and scope out the department you will be working for beforehand. Look at the website, and moreover, the people including the academic staff that you may be working for and with. If you're quite open and flexible, then this may not be so important. But I feel quite strongly about knowing a little bit about who you will be working for, as well as the environment. I think its fair to say that one would be much more likely to enjoy their job if they engaged well with both the department and their line manager. If the line manager happens to be an academic, then I'd definitely encourage one to try and get a feel for them before they started.

What are your three favourite websites?
BBC; Amazon; Five Star (yes, the 80's pop group) fansites. They're great. Even though they're practically dead.

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