Access to Higher Education can transform lives and open up doors of opportunity that would otherwise be closed. So often a degree from the University of Hull has been a launchpad for a successful Career. 1993 BA (Hons) History graduate Clare Marchant has certainly had a successful career, working with Rank Hovis McDougall, Deloitte and the NHS before enjoying seven years with Worcester County Council, where she became Chief Executive in 2014. Now she has been named as UCAS Chief Executive where she will be helping over 700,000 people a year access a higher education degree.
Why did you choose to study at the University of Hull, and what were your initial impressions of the campus and the city?
I was really attracted by a University with a central campus and loved the Lawns as potential accommodation when I went to visit with my dad at the time. I knew the Politics Department had a really good reputation but to be honest a real factor at the end of the day came down to cost of living. My parents weren’t well off so to ensure I could see it through financially that was a real factor to consider. I loved the city when I visited – I’m not sure if Spiders and Waterfront nightclubs still exist but I have fond memories spending time with good friends there when I wasn’t studying!
Where there any staff or fellow students who had a particular influence on you during your time at the University or beyond?
I loved my modules with Dr Simon Lee. He was young and inspirational and made the link between learning and current society and its impact on individuals lives. I loved History at A level but he gave me a passion for the value and impact of excellent public service. I also had my first big relationship at University at the same time as learning about urban regeneration and American law! One of my lifelong friends, Fiona Hill, I met as part of the Hull University Athletics Club and we still run together now on occasion with our children so it really has set me up for life.
UCAS will be familiar to most people as the organisation that handles hundreds of thousands of young people’s applications to study at University each year. What does it mean to you to be joining an organisation that plays such a crucial role in many young people’s lives?
It is a huge privilege to be given the opportunity to lead UCAS. UCAS has a superb staff group really motivated to make a difference to the lives of learners, whether they be young or more mature! My mother and father both went to University later in life and it changed their lives massively and for the better.
I am passionate about widening participation in higher education but also recognise UCAS needs to look beyond participation to how learners are the most productive and fulfilled they can be post the point they choose to participate. I’m looking forward to working with partners in this area.
The education and employment landscape in the UK is going through significant change and I really believe UCAS needs to be proactively helping the sector respond to this, whether it is demographic, technology, behavioural or policy changes. One of the most exciting parts of the role is working with students to ensure we make the processes and data as accessible and user friendly as possible. I know both my 9, 20 and 23 year old sons use technology in very different ways than I do and the challenge is to understand how generation Z might use technology as they grow up.
What role do you think a University Education can play in the lives of young people, and what role can those young people who have that experience of higher education play in society?
A University Education is a massive privilege – I remember in 2006 teaching young people in Ghana basic IT skills and appreciating what a first class experience we have in the UK from school through to higher education. It provides us with an opportunity to form opinions, research, learn, influence, debate and acquire skills that will help us grow as people and professionals. Higher Education can really mature skills so employers can take on individuals with analysis and research skills as well as specialisms, insights and matured interpersonal skills. This in turn helps our employers become as productive and competitive as possible as quickly as possible – all good for UK PLC which then helps sustain our standard of living and so the cycle goes on.
You have been Chief Executive of Worcestershire County Council at a time in which it became the fastest growing local economy in England. How did you play a role in this success?
My key role was getting all partners, whether these be our political leaders, business leaders or education leaders to articulate and agree a ten-year vision for Worcestershire’s economy and challenging that to be as ambitious as it possibly could be. I then led the Council through a critical period delivering against this plan – ultimately any plan is only as good as your delivery against it and we have seen huge changes across the county in road, rail and digital infrastructure as well as the development of skills centres and the growth of our own colleges and university.
Thinking about all of those students who will be starting at the University of Hull this year, or those students who will be applying in the coming year, what do you know now that you wish you had known when you started out at University?
To view it as a privilege so to cease every opportunity. Make friends and don’t hold back – everyone else may look confident but they are as much finding their feet as you. Throw yourself in – Carpe Diem.
Interview by David Simpson, Alumni Engagement Manager