By Neil Harris
At the heart of every university or college is the Registry. It is totally focussed on students, yet most students hardly ever know they have been in touch with it. It hums away like a well oiled machine, working in the background to make sure that the institution is running efficiently. And it employs a great many people. Some have A-levels when they join and may be promoted up the ladder with experience. Others have degrees and PhDs.
Running the show
Imagine that it's your job to organise degree ceremonies for several thousand graduates and their guests. Hire musicians. Organise the seating and order of presentation. Work out who will be in the academic procession. Refreshments afterwards? Definitely! Everyone will want to chat in their robes, renew acquaintances and say their fond farewells. First you find out who will help, because although it may be orchestrated by one person, it needs many to make it happen.
This is Lisa Lindsey-Clark's job at Exeter University. 'This summer we will be holding 9 Ceremonies with a total of 3,300 students graduating. We also hold 2 ceremonies in January, which are attended primarily by postgraduates.
I am responsible for administrating the entire process from booking the venues, and sending invitations to graduands and their families to ensuring that everything runs smoothly on the day. I liaise with colleagues from across the University, including academic and administration staff within individual departments, the catering and accommodation offices, porters, security, gardeners and electricians to ensure that we provide a complete service to graduands and their guests. I also liaise with colleagues to make arrangements for honorary graduands and VIPs. During the Graduation week we hold two ceremonies each day and one of my main responsibilities during this time is to register last-minute graduand absences and convey these to the presenters, who announce each student. Going off campus, to the cathedral is new territory for me, which will bring interesting and exciting challenges'.
Skills you need
What do you need to be successful in a career working in university registry? They are practical, down to earth people with an eye for detail. They are strong in administrative skills and adept with databases. If something needs to be organised they will do it. They liaise with all of their departments and put university policy into action. Yet their main focus is the student.
University registries are involved with students before they join the institution, throughout their academic life and quite often even after they have left. Someone must organise the writing of prospectuses, open days for teachers, assist prospective course applicants and recruitment oriented visits to schools by university staff. A few members of staff will be hiring stands at educational fairs all over the world, staffing them and answering questions asked by those from overseas who might take a place on a course. Someone in the Registry sees that it is done.
Having the prospectus written and agreed is a mammoth task because every department must agree to what is said about them and the courses they offer. Liaising with course directors and admissions tutors is a task that registry employees do continually.
'Coordinating exams is one of my responsibilities', says Lisa Lindsey-Clark. We hold three examination sessions throughout the academic year and my team liaise with school staff to ensure that all examinations are timetabled as required. We have almost 500 students who require special provision. This varies from extra time for a student with dyslexia, catering for a physical disability or providing a smaller room for students who suffer panic attacks in the larger venues'.
As students progress their examination marks are deposited in the registry. Degree certificates are produced and enquiries about whether or not someone gained a degree from that university must be answered.
Student finance is another sub-department. Most of us remember the long queues on our first day at university when we had to register for our course. Most of that is now done on-line. But avoid paying your fees and very soon someone in registry will be in touch. Seek a scholarship to help your finances and you discover that it is someone's job to administer all the funds from the central university.
Dr Paul Rodaway is Director of the Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Lancaster University. "We are a unit within the Registry but have a range of roles beyond those normally associated with such a function' says Paul. "Our teaching quality support office is responsible for guidance and support for internal quality assurance processes relating to all undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at the University.
More broadly our teams contribute to quality enhancement through providing professional development for staff that teach or support learning, deliver on-line learning services to students and staff (including the University virtual learning environment), and support student learning skills development. We also work with staff in partner institutions, for instance in Malaysia, to ensure that teaching standards are maintained and organise training for lecturing staff".
Job grades and Titles
Everyone working in a registry has a job grade and also a title. Typical job grades for starters are Registry Assistant and Senior Registry Assistant. More senior is an Administration Officer who tends to manage a sub-section. A section could be run by someone called Head of Registry Services. Above these are Deputy Registrars and Academic Registrar. A talented person can be promoted through the grades.
But in each section within the department everyone also has a title. At University College London, for example, registry sections include Admissions, Management Information, Curricular Development and Exams, Graduation Ceremonies, International/ Study Abroad, Student Finance and Scholarships, Student Information, Student Recruitment, Management Information and Graduation Ceremonies There is usually a Head of Admissions whose staff are called admissions officers. On the international front there is often an international liaison officer and a study abroad officer. A publications officer is in charge of publications including the prospectus and maybe the web site. Someone will be responsible for disabled students and may have the title Disability Support Officer.
University registry departments are a hive of activity. The functions they cover vary a little from one university to the next but they carry out essential services for their institutions and their students. If you're a down to earth, practical person, strong on attention to detail and enjoy liaising with lots of people - students, academics, support staff and pretty well everyone else within a university - there could be a job in a registry for you.