Profile: Pete Quinn

Pete Quinn is Head of the Disability Advisory Service (DAS). DAS is part of the Student Welfare and Support Services and has eight members of staff: five disability officers/advisers and three administrative support staff, and responsibility for around 80 support workers. DAS promotes equality of opportunity for disabled staff and students at the University, and provides specialist advice on disability. DAS’ website is at

Pete Quinn

What does your current role entail?

My role is a varied one, with the overall aim of championing positive attitudes towards disability both within the University and in a national arena. My responsibilities include:

  • Allocating casework and oversight of the progress of student support for the 1,500 students with a disclosed disability, including specific responsibility for 190 students at five of the colleges (team members have responsibility for a number of colleges to ensure we cover everyone);
  • Providing advice and guidance to a range of bodies across the University on disability issues, from University-wide committees to specialist groups such as the Bodleian Library’s Accessible Resources Unit;
  • Coordinating and delivering training on disability;
  • Project work such as Disability Awareness week and the employability of disabled graduates;
  • Engagement with national and other external bodies on disability issues. For example, I’m one of the Directors of the National Association of Disability Practitioners and I have recently contributed to a Casebook on Successful Diversity Mentoring which will be published in 2012.

How did you get into this job?

After school, I volunteered in Tanzania for a year, and had my first experience of working with students with disabilities. During my undergraduate degree at Oxford Brookes, I worked for their admissions department during the summers and after graduating, worked there full-time in the Registry department. I got experience of student support and registry functions like timetabling and doing transcripts, and after a couple of years was ready to move on.

As a result, I applied for a job in the University of Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education and joined in 2000. That role enabled me to extend my expertise in student support and it was there that I was really able to develop my awareness of disability issues, for example by representing the Department as their disability contact.

In 2005 I moved to the central Disability Office as a Disability Officer. At the time, the Office had 3 people including me, so I have seen it develop greatly in the last six years. It was an exciting time to be working in this area following the introduction of the Disability Equality Duty (2005), a later amendment to the Disability Discrimination Act, which meant that the University needed to undertake much more meaningful engagement with disabled students, staff and community members. I was promoted to my current role in 2010 and have recently finished a period of also being Interim Head of Equality and Diversity.

What led you to originally apply to work at Oxford?

The job in the Department for Continuing Education seemed like a very good career opportunity and an interesting role that I would be able to shape and develop. The prestige of working for Oxford was also attractive. Overall, it felt like a good thing to do.

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

I would like to be heading a student support function in a university, one that includes areas such as disability, counselling, financial advice and careers guidance. I’ve acquired a lot of prior experiential learning that could help me get to this kind of position but in the future I will look to doing a formal qualification to bolster this experience. This could be a public sector MBA or a management acceleration programme.

What do you like about working here?

I’ve had some good managers, who have let me get on with what I am good at but also enabled me to develop in other areas too. Oxford is a place where local solutions to local problems are encouraged and that allows the kind of flexibility you don’t find in all universities.

There are great networking opportunities to be had: working here can open many doors.

What are the challenges of working here?

Working in a unit that engages with pretty much every area of the University, I find it frustrating when I see other units that don’t seem to engage with each other. There can be a tendency towards ‘silo’ working. I also think we could do more to promote some of the innovative things we are doing here. For example, we are one of a small handful of UK universities to allow students to use voice recognition software in their exams, and we don’t promote that.

Any final comments?

When I went for my interview at the Department for Continuing Education, there were no less than six people around the table, each representing the different areas that my post would encompass! Whilst at first this was intimidating, the interview actually became a really interactive discussion and the panel seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say.

When I was offered the job, I worried that it would be difficult to fit in – not dissimilar to the worries many of our new students have. But I soon found out that there are lots of nice people here and any initial concerns I’d had soon passed.


Last updated: December 2011