Profile: Charlotte Vinnicombe

Charlotte Vinnicombe is Faculty Board Secretary and Administrator for the Faculty of Oriental Studies, part of the Humanities Division. Oriental Studies teaches over 20 languages and subjects at undergraduate level and offers almost 30 different taught graduate degrees as well as admitting students for doctoral study. It comprises a number of sub-departments and institutes, with over 100 academic staff and 18 administrative and support staff. The Oriental Studies website is at

Charlotte Vinnicombe

What does your current role entail?

My job is extremely wide-ranging (and as a result, very busy). My responsibilities include finance, resources, research projects, trust funds, planning, strategy, personnel, staff management, and servicing committees and the Faculty Board. One of my important roles is to set and manage the Faculty’s £7m budget. The single biggest source of expenditure is on payroll, and I spend a significant amount of time on personnel matters for both administrative and academic staff. I draft bids to recruit new staff, advertise posts, organize selection processes and arrange contracts.

I line manage 18 administrative staff in the Faculty who undertake a range of support functions such as undergraduate and graduate studies, finance and support for academic staff. Although I’m their line manager, some staff also report to an academic colleague with an administrative post, such as the Director for Graduate Studies, which makes the relationship somewhat similar to the way civil servants report both to their line manager and a Minister!

How did you get into this job?

My background in academic administration at Oxford has led me to my current role. My first job at Oxford was Tutorial Secretary at St Hilda’s College. I was very lucky to have an excellent manager who saw my potential and took the time to help me understand the wider context of the University – its regulations, the way it is set up and so on. This was a great grounding for my future career.

I felt ready to move on to a more senior role after two years at St Hilda’s and applied to St Catherine’s College to the post of Academic Administrator. It was quite a big step up from my job at St Hilda’s and at that time it was relatively unusual to be promoted in this way. I stayed at St Catherine’s for five years, by which time I was keen to move into a role that would give me more responsibility in the running of a unit, and also be able to work more closely with academics doing research and departmental-based teaching.

I therefore decided to look for roles in departmental administration in the Humanities Division, given my own academic background. I joined the Oriental Studies Faculty in 2002 and have been here since then.

What led you to originally apply to work at Oxford?

After finishing a Master’s degree in Victorian Literature at Liverpool University, I moved to Oxford for personal reasons. When looking for a job, I was interested in working either for the Council, Oxford University Press, or the University. I applied for a number of roles and was very pleased to be offered the post of Tutorial Secretary at St Hilda’s College.

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

I’ve been in my current job for 9½ years (minus two periods of maternity leave) and now feel ready to try something new, although I definitely want to stay in the University. This job has become far more demanding in the time that I have been in it – I quite literally have double the amount of paperwork for each committee than I did when I started, and the longer I stay, the more involved I get in everything that happens here.

I’m interested in seeing whether any secondment opportunities come up in the central administration, particularly the Council Secretariat, as I would like to dip my toe in the water there and see whether this might be an area I’d be interested in moving to permanently. And if I decided to come back to Oriental Studies, a secondment in that area would enable me to bring back new understanding and knowledge to the way the Faculty is governed.

As well as looking at secondments and promotions, I’m also considering going part-time for personal reasons. I think the University is very open to the possibility of more flexible working, though it will be up to me to find a suitable way to achieve what I want.   

What do you like about working here?

I have a lot of responsibility and autonomy, with plenty of scope for interpreting and applying policy at a local level.

I love the fact that the academics working here are so committed to their subject, and there is a strong sense of common purpose amongst them. Many of the subjects taught in the Faculty are of national and strategic importance, and many are so small as to be considered 'minority' or vulnerable subjects, which adds to our sense of being survivors! There is also a very justified sense of pride; the Faculty performed outstandingly well in the last Research Assessment Exercise and regularly attracts large benefactions. I am passionate about working so closely with academics: it’s a great team of people who constantly challenge you.

The Faculty also seems to attract administrative staff with a genuine interest in the subject areas. I think most people who work here are genuinely dedicated to what they do, and are aware that they work in one of the best academic institutions in the world, so they all work incredibly hard.

What are the challenges of working here?

The downside of being the lynchpin for the Faculty is the weight of responsibility that carries, and because my job description is so flexible, an awful lot of work – particularly when new initiatives arise – falls to me. It makes time management a real challenge. As there isn’t anyone else with a similar role to mine in the Faculty, you have to make a real effort to reach out to people in other faculties and departments to share experiences.

Any final comments?

Academics generally resist any unnecessary bureaucracy, administration and form-filling, which you might think would make it a quite hostile environment for a professional administrator. But the opposite is true: I find that their attitude keeps me focussed on what my job is meant to be and what I am here to support, and in return I feel very highly valued by them.


Last updated: January 2012