Profile: Michael Sibly

Michael Sibly is the University’s Deputy Registrar and heads the Academic Administration Division (AAD), one of the largest units within the University Administration and Services, the collective term for the central administrative departments of the University. AAD has an annual budget of close to £18M and 265 staff. For more information about AAD, please see

Michael Sibly

What does your current role entail?

My main responsibilities cover the management and leadership of the University's Academic Administration Division (AAD).  AAD covers planning and resources, academic policy and operations, all aspects of student services and administration from admissions to graduation, educational policy, and the four divisional administrations. I work closely with other senior officers, especially the Registrar and the Pro-Vice-Chancellors, and attend Council and its main committees.

My title was changed from Secretary of Faculties and Academic Registrar to Deputy Registrar in October 2011, and in my new guise I also get involved in a wide range of strategic issues, deputise for the Registrar when he is absent, as well as represent Oxford in a range of external relationships, in particular with Oxfordshire County and Oxford City Councils.

How did you get into this job?

I read history at Cambridge and then joined the Civil Service as a fast stream trainee in the Department for Education and Science. I came to Oxford in 1983 in what was then called ‘the Establishment Section’ – these days it’s Personnel. I was part of a small team of three, and my own work concerned gradings, union relationships and other human resources matters for the whole university. After a couple of years, I was asked by the Registrar to be an Assistant Secretary for the Faculty Boards of Music, History and English. I was pleased to accept as I was keen to move around and get experience of other areas.

In 1986 I saw a job as senior administrator in what is now the Department for Continuing Education. At the time I was also doing some lecturing for the Department and felt I had a good understanding of how the Department worked, so I decided to apply. I stayed there for three years and then returned to the central administration to head the Graduate Studies Office from 1989-91. Again, I was keen to move as it was a good opportunity to learn more about another aspect of the University.

In late 1991 I was contacted by the then Director of what is now the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), whom I knew from working at the Civil Service, who asked me to support him in his newly created role as Director of Policy. As HEFCE was formed shortly after I arrived (from the former Universities Funding Council), it was an exciting time to be there, and there were similarities with my earlier Civil Service role in working closely with the government. The University allowed me to take up this role as a secondment for two years.

When I returned to Oxford in 1994, I acted as Secretary to the North Commission, and managed Oxford's 1996 Research Assessment Exercise submission, using the experience I developed having previously worked on the Research Assessment Exercise at HEFCE. I became Head of Planning in the newly formed Planning and Resources Allocation Section in 1998 and stayed there for seven years. In the role, I developed more structured relationships with government bodies such as HEFCE, helped to develop the University’s planning and budgeting round, and supported the creation of a new resource allocation method that is used to distribute funding between the many constituent parts of Oxford.

I moved into my current role in 2005, so this is nearly the longest I’ve ever been in one job!

What led you to originally apply to work at Oxford?

After a number of years working for the Civil Service, I felt ready to move on, and I was also keen to move out of London. I thought I would enjoy working in a university and had already gained experience of working in education. So when I saw a job at Oxford for graduates with some work experience, it looked interesting and I thought that my experience would be suitable, so I applied.

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

The Deputy Registrar function of my role is quite new, so I would like to develop this more. I want to spend more time building up Oxford’s relationships with external organisations such as the local authorities and the Association of Heads of University Administration. Internally, we have recently started work on what could become a major project on the professional development of administrative staff, and I am particularly keen to develop this project further.  

What do you like about working here?

I like universities! And it is possible to retain a degree of personal autonomy and individuality and avoid becoming corporate man or woman. Most people are friendly and very able and interesting, and if you are prepared to make an effort to move around and gain experience there is the possibility of a good career progression.

What are the challenges of working here?

The complex and highly devolved structures, so a lot of effort and energy is taken up in discussion and persuasion.

Any final comments?

If you are capable and hard-working, opportunities here will arise which you should take up! A range of experience will help you understand the way that different units work, and importantly, enable you to put yourself into other people’s shoes and understand their perspective on things. You can’t plan everything – I didn’t have a particular career plan or path in mind when I joined Oxford. In fact, at the beginning I had no intention of staying in Oxford, nor even necessarily of remaining in university administration - but I’m glad I did! 


Last updated: January 2012