Profile: Louise Sumner

Louise Sumner is Assistant Registrar (Education) in the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS) Division’s Academic Office. There are four other teams in the MPLS divisional office supporting the teaching and research undertaken by the academic departments. More information about the MPLS divisional office and the academic departments can be found at

Louise Sumner

What does your current role entail?

The Academic Office is responsible for managing the quality assurance processes for all programmes in the Division, and my role deals in particular with the undergraduate and taught Master’s courses. For example, I report on exam processes and procedures and make recommendations for improvements.  I provide advice and guidance to colleagues on areas such as student number planning and changes to regulations. I also represent the division at University-wide level, such as being involved with the development of Key Information Sets, a government initiative to provide greater levels of information to students.

Project-based work forms a large part of my role. This year, I’ve been leading on the division’s review of teaching, as well as the implementation of an exciting project to launch an online science portal that will draw together all science activity across Oxford, not just what we do in MPLS. The portal has a specific focus on public engagement, and we’ll also be including resources for teachers and students.

How did you get into this job?

Prior to Oxford I had a range of jobs, mainly training and consulting within the private IT sector. I also spent quite a while teaching IT and basic skills for the outreach arm of a further education college – all a far cry from the degree in drama I had graduated with, but the communication and presentation skills I’d developed during my degree really helped me. I had a period where I experimented with teaching in secondary schools, but I soon came back to teaching adults…

I joined Oxford in September 2003 as an ISIDORE (the previous Oxford student system replacement programme) Trainer and Communications Officer. I spent a lot of time out and about working with the very many different units in Oxford – colleges, departments and so on. I was even embedded in the Graduate Admissions Office for a while. This exposure to the different parts of the University was a great learning experience, if challenging at times!

After I came back from maternity leave in 2006 I led the ISIDORE training team, which gave me management responsibility. When a permanent Lead was recruited, I moved to the Exams team to work on policy and process there and to lead the research degrees examinations team. After a year and a half in the job, and then a second period of maternity leave, I had the opportunity to progress into a more senior policy and process role in what is now Graduate Admissions and Funding, and from there I joined MPLS in November 2009.

What led you to originally apply to work at Oxford?

I saw the advert for the ISIDORE Trainer and Communications Officer role by chance! However, it seemed like a great opportunity to use my skills whilst working in a more stable environment – I had been freelancing as an IT trainer/consultant at the time. Also, I was quite attracted by the idea of working for such a prestigious university.

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

I’m currently doing an MBA in Higher Education Management, sponsored by Oxford, which occupies most of my thinking-about-career time at the moment. It has helped me learn about other areas in higher education institutions, as well as confirm the areas I’m particularly interested in, such as undergraduate student support and access/widening participation (which links back to the outreach work and basic skills teaching I did earlier in my career).

At some point I’d like to head a student-focussed service at a University. I would certainly want a role where I could continue looking at policy issues both internal to the university as well as issues that affect the higher education sector more broadly.

What do you like about working here?

I love that the people I work with are both intelligent and interesting; it makes for a good challenge. I currently have a fantastic boss too, which always does wonders for a working environment.

What are the challenges of working here?

Remembering that there is a world outside of Oxford. We work for an amazing institution and it is often useful to step back from the issues at hand to ensure you get a broader perspective.

Any final comments?

One Trinity (summer) term when I was working on the student system implementation, I visited many college Governing Body meetings to discuss policy changes surrounding graduate admissions. At one particular meeting I was very surprised to be offered a piece of Christmas cake with my cup of coffee; a tradition at the College apparently. It was very tasty, but an ice cream would have been more suited to the weather!


Last updated: December 2011