Q&A with Ana Botín

We speak to the chief executive of Santander UK, who is the head of a scheme supporting the HE sector

March 6, 2014

Source: Eddie Mulholland/Rex

Ana Botín is chief executive at Santander UK. She was named by Forbes in 2009 as the 45th most powerful woman in the world, and in 2013 she was designated the third most powerful woman in the UK by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. She is the head of a Santander scheme that works with 68 UK universities to provide around £10 million each year for bursaries, scholarships and internships for staff and students.

Where and when were you born?
In Spain, in Santander (where else?) in October 1960.

How has this shaped you?
I was lucky – I had a great education in Spain, the UK and the US. This gave me an international perspective on life and also exposed me to the range of opportunities that exist, whatever it is you do.

How can the private sector play a bigger role in supporting HE?
Much of this is about building bridges. Companies need to talk more to universities, so that they can understand the vast pool of talent that lies in the sector. The university community is obviously the source of all our future prosperity and well-being. Investing in it helps universities and students, but also companies. Every company is competing for talent.

What are the biggest funding issues within the sector?
We don’t see many scholarships for students who want to undertake postgraduate study, so we are working with the government and university partners to look at ways to fund postgrad studies. We also need to support the entrepreneurial spirit. Many students have good ideas, as well as the will and drive to take them to fruition, yet they lack the funding to do this.

What is Santander doing to help students?
Since 1996 Santander has allocated more than €1 billion (£820 million) to support the higher education sector. The funding provided by Santander Universities is focused mainly on international mobility (students and research) and supporting entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises. It benefits all members of the university community: scholarships and grants for international students to study in the UK, and for Britons to study overseas; research grants for academics and staff visits, and support for special projects; support for entrepreneurs and internships for students in SMEs.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Enjoy the moment!

What has changed most in higher education in the past 10 years?
The access to online content and to new technologies has changed the way students approach their studies and exams and the way academics conduct their research.

What keeps you awake at night?
My sons (but that was some time ago now).

What’s a degree worth?
You can’t put a price on someone’s future. That’s why universities are so important: their success does not just generate long-term prosperity, but underpins a country’s sense of well-being – whether people feel they are fulfilled.

How does it feel to be one of the most powerful women in the world?
The most powerful people in the world are not the people who run companies, but customers. If you forget that, a successful company can quickly go downhill.

What do you do for fun?
Golf, walking, reading, music.

Which accolade are you proud of more: Forbes or Woman’s Hour?
Woman’s Hour as I was not far off the Queen [first in The Power List 2013], who I greatly admire.

In many sectors, including HE, women are under-represented in top roles. Why do you think this is?
Higher education is quite inclusive in this respect if we compare it with other sectors. I have met many female vice-chancellors and pro vice-chancellors. I still think that there is a lot to be done to reach a more balanced position, but many sectors could learn from our universities.

What’s the solution?
I’m not in favour of quotas. I think that they can breed resentment and are quite patronising to women. But I do support equal opportunity and believe in personalised support for women in more senior roles.

To what, or whom, do you feel most allegiance?
My family.

How and where can the UK’s HE sector expand globally?
Latin America is an area with great potential. Facilitating cross-border relationships between universities is a primary aim for Santander’s Universities Global Division and we will be hosting the third International Meeting of Universia Rectors in Rio de Janeiro in July.

What are the best and worst things about your job?
The worst things? Too many internal meetings. The best? The time with my team and customers.


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