Closing the gap

Carolyn Fowler, Durham University's first female registrar, plans to bridge the divide between academics and administrators

May 7, 2009

Carolyn Fowler is Durham University's first female registrar and secretary, but she has her sights set not on the gender divide in higher education, but on healing the schism between administrators and academics.

"One of my major strategic priorities is to try to improve the working relationship between the two, and it is something I'm committed to doing something about," she said. "Mutual understanding and trust between professional services and academic staff is very important and would bring huge benefits."

Ms Fowler was one of the first women to attend Durham's University College after it became mixed sex in 1987. After spells at the Metro Radio Group and Roche Engineering, she decided on a career in public-sector administration. Her first appointment in higher education was at Northumbria University, where she was an administrator in the maths department.

In 1998, she returned to her alma mater as an administrative officer in Durham's School of Education, before going on to become head of the undergraduate section in the registrar's division.

In 2004, Ms Fowler was promoted to the position of deputy director, where she helped establish the university's Strategic Planning and Change Unit. A year later, she was appointed academic registrar.

She has served as registrar and secretary on an acting basis since her predecessor, Lee Saunders, moved to the University of Birmingham in October 2008. She was appointed officially last month.

Although Ms Fowler's career in the academic world has been solely in administration, she said that this had not prejudiced her views.

"I try very hard to think about what it feels like to work in a department and not get caught up in my own world," she said. "Sometimes people in central administration forget or don't understand the different pressures that can apply in academic departments. I feel it is very important that we have empathy for what it feels like to be in that part of the organisation."

Ms Fowler said that the experience she has gained will give her an "ideal grounding" for future challenges, which will see her officially take responsibility for Durham's central administration, with the exception of its finance and estate functions.

She will also oversee the conduct of Durham's official business and governance, as well as acting as secretary to its senate and counsel, and confidential adviser to Christopher Higgins, the vice-chancellor.

neha.popat@tsleducation.com.

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