'Like a football referee, If they were not there the game could not continue'

April 28, 2006

Cambridge University registrary Tim Mead is celebrating 500 years since the creation of the post.

Tim Mead's post as registrary, far from being a misprint, has a unique definition in the Oxford English Dictionary as registrar of Cambridge University.

The job has been in existence for 500 years, one of the oldest offices in UK higher education. A celebratory dinner is being held in its honour this week. The Dean of Southwark will also deliver an annual sermon in memory of John Mere, Cambridge's second registrary from 1543 to 1558.

The first registrary, Robert Hobys, missed out on an endowed sermon because his 1506 appointment predated the Church of England. Dr Mead, registrary since 1997, is the 25th holder of the post.

He manages an annual budget of some £ million and is responsible for more than 750 staff. He also has control of the University Chest, which predates the registrary's post. This is literally a chest that originally contained the university's cash and books. Even today, the university's budget process is known as "allocations from the chest". Dr Mead, who keeps the chest in his office, said it now contained only a few dead spiders, although he was unsure where all the keys for its 17 locks were. This chest is a 600-year-old replacement. The original was burnt during the Cambridge Peasants' Revolt of 1381.

Dr Mead was previously an administrator at Nottingham, Southampton, Sheffield and Kent at Canterbury universities.

He likens an administrator's work to that of a football referee. "You don't want to keep seeing him or her, but if they weren't there, the game couldn't continue."

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