As a corporate department within the University, Finance is fairly invisible – most students would not know we existed. Yet our reach extends to every single part of the University and all our yearly budgeting relates to improving your student experience, from the equipment we buy for the laboratories you work in, to the buildings you live and study in, and the café and sports facilities you use.
Beyond the financial day-to-day, as Group Finance Director I am responsible at Board level for the University’s estate – which of course plays a huge part in what it’s like to live and study here. I also sit on the national executive of the British Universities Finance Directors Group and this lets me see, and influence, what is going on far wider than just at Herts.
Over the last decade or so we’ve completed several big building projects that have transformed the experience of studying and working here. We now have some superb teaching and learning facilities, industry-standard workshops and laboratories, and our students have a genuine choice from a fantastic range of accommodation. We offer social and business incubation space that is truly inspiring. I'm very proud of our two campuses.
My role also means I am a director of the University’s bus company Uno, which operates here and in Northampton, Oxford and Cranfield. We have a new fleet of about 120 buses, and some 40% of our passengers are University staff and students. It’s very important that we provide everyone with a good service – and that we get everyone on to campus.
Our excellent sports facilities and huge range of sporting activities are also my responsibility. Our students participate in sports at all levels, but we also have international athlete training here, as well as members of the public using the Sports Village. It’s a great link to our local community, while also putting us on the national sporting map.
I am a qualified accountant, which has allowed me to work in many different industries, including airlines and rail, as well as the commercial world. It has meant I am experienced in managing in complex financial environments. Like transport, higher education operates in a fairly restricted financial environment – we have to be careful what we spend, and there isn’t a great deal of profit involved.
At the same time, in a university setting you can’t always make decisions based solely on profit and cash flow – for example, the nature of research means you can’t guarantee you won’t lose money.
My role here is an enormous balancing act. I am constantly trying to keep students, staff and customers happy, making sure we spend our limited resources wisely, and provide the best experience we can for all those connected with us. We have 24,000 students who need me to balance the books and keep this complex organisation financially sustainable.
Herts is a big and diverse university and in a very high cost area compared to some of our natural competitors. But we have a pretty clear idea of where we want to be, and what will give our students the best chance of success in today’s competitive world.