Profile: Anne Knowland

Anne Knowland is Senior Tutor at University College (also referred to as Univ). The college has around 370 undergraduate and over 200 graduate students, as well as more than 70 academic staff undertaking teaching and research in a wide range of fields of study. Univ’s website is

Anne Knowland

What does your current role entail?

As well as being the college’s Senior Tutor, I’m also Tutor for Admissions and I share responsibility for graduate studies with the Dean of Graduates. My role is a wide-ranging one that includes:

  • overseeing undergraduate admissions
  • widening access
  • graduate admissions
  • academic welfare and discipline
  • disability design coordination
  • academic recruitment
  • the College’s academic strategy, such as considering the size and shape of the College (the balance between undergraduate and graduate student numbers, the subjects offered and so on), and a working party on academic excellence that has recently been set up

A lot of the Senior Tutor’s role is about quality assurance, for example putting arrangements in place to ensure that students can give feedback on their tutors/advisors, monitoring students’ performance, and reviewing the progress of newly recruited academic staff.

I also enjoy getting involved in University work if I can, and am currently the Senior Tutor representative for the Humanities Division and on a number of working groups. I think it’s important to look at the University as a sum made of many parts, and not individual units.

How did you get into this job?

My first role at Oxford was in what is now the Academic Administration Division, where I serviced a number of major committees. In 1990 I moved to Research Services, working on matters such as contract negotiations and intellectual property rights. After five years there I became the Faculty Board Secretary to Oriental Studies and Anthropology and Geography as well as Administrator for Oriental Studies.

In 2000, the current divisional structure was established and I successfully applied to become the first Divisional Secretary for what is now the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS) Division. In this role I worked closely with heads of departments and sub-departments on academic recruitment and many other issues. I worked with some very good people in the 20 years I spent in these areas and enjoyed the opportunities to do different jobs by virtue of working for a large organisation.

I moved to Univ in 2004 because I thought the job looked very interesting, would give me more contact with students and a range of academic colleagues, and the college at the time was going through some changes that I hoped to help influence. I also thought the role would give me more time than when I was Divisional Secretary, although this turned out not to be the case! Interestingly, the vacancy had first arisen in 2000 at the same time as the MPLS role, and I chose not to apply at this point as I wasn’t sure what the role would entail: the role of professional Senior Tutor was very new at the time. So I was very pleased to see the vacancy arise four years later, at which time I applied successfully.

What led you to originally apply to work at Oxford?

I did my first degree at Ghent University in Belgium, where I am originally from, and was a Junior Lecturer in English there from 1975-80. I then came to Oxford to do a DPhil in English as a British Council Fellow, intending to return to Belgium afterwards to continue my academic career. However, by the time I finished my DPhil in 1984 I had married an Oxford-based academic and had two children, so decided to stay in the UK for a while. I decided to look for a job in the University’s central administration as I believed – mistakenly as it turned out! – that the job would give me more free time than working as an academic. However, once I got in to administration I became hooked on it and found I was able to progress quite quickly.

Thinking about your career, what would you like to be doing in the future?

I’m not really sure. I’d like to have more time available, but I’ve been saying that for a while! It would be good to be able to have a greater focus on clearly defined project work: sometimes Senior Tutors have to spread themselves thinly. I’d like do some more academic work, which I haven’t had much opportunity to do for some time.

What do you like about working here?

I like seeing the impact of policies I’ve developed quite rapidly, and in college you can work reasonably quickly as the committee structure is lighter than in the central university. I’ve enjoyed working with our incredibly able student representatives on issues to improve the student experience, for example in reviewing academic discipline procedures. It’s fulfilling to see the Oxford ‘tutorial experience’ in action: this is something not really replicated elsewhere that I think we should treasure and value. Our graduate community is very international and it’s enjoyable to see bright students coming together from all over the world.

It’s also very rewarding to work with academics who are experts in their fields and who have a sense of commitment to the college that means they are ready to work on matters that affect the college community. I have some excellent colleagues. Finally, the surroundings are beautiful, with amazing buildings. All of this makes me feel very privileged.

What are the challenges of working here?

I have noticed a growing professionalization of administrative structures, both in the central university, divisions/departments and in colleges. As colleges have smaller staff numbers, this means that career opportunities can be limited and sometimes the only way a staff member can progress is to move to another area in the University.

Working in a college community is like a second family, and in the same way as with families, your community is always with you whether for better or worse!

Any final comments?

I could contrast two strikingly different interview experiences I’ve had. At the interview for my first post in the administration in 1987, I was told that there would be some ‘questions that must be asked’ which turned out to be what today would be considered the very questions that shouldn’t ever be asked as they were personal questions about my domestic set-up, childcare arrangements and so on! Contrast that to my second interview at Univ 20 years later when around 40 members of the Governing Body were present to ask painstakingly fair and scripted questions. This seemed intimidating but was very good practice as Senior Tutors often have to present papers or argue their case to the Governing Body.


Last updated: January 2012