UCL News


Spotlight on Tom Rowson

9 September 2015

This week the spotlight is on Tom Rowson, Director of Planning, Office of the Vice-Provost (Operations).

Spotlight on Tom Rowson

What is your role and what does it involve?

I'm setting up a new six-person Planning Team reporting to Rex Knight the Vice-Provost (Operations).

Planning can mean all sorts of things in the context of a university. Our role is to help faculties, professional service directorates and vice-provost offices to develop clear, integrated plans that support UCL 2034.

These plans might mean, for example, launching new programmes and considering how a Faculty's student community will grow and change over time, or it could mean thinking about how implementation of a new IT system could improve the service offered by a central directorate.

Our role is to coordinate planning activity, provide colleagues with good data and insight into the external policy/competitive environment, make connections across different parts of UCL and help ensure that our academic plans can be delivered in operational terms.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I've been at UCL for five months and have felt hugely welcomed by everyone I've met. It's really a joy to come to work where people's first instinct is to collaborate and - cliché alert - go the extra mile to help a colleague out.

Prior to working here I was at King's for three years, another great place to work, and before that I was a management consultant. As a consultant, I initially worked with central government departments and agencies on strategy, change and performance improvement projects before discovering higher education and then worked with a range of universities and private providers, including IOE and UCL.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

When I was a graduate trainee at a consulting firm, I set up the company's first corporate social responsibility initiative. One thing led to another and soon it became a global policy to give all staff three days a year to 'give back' something to the community - equivalent to one per cent of post-tax profit.

More than ten years later, it's grown and developed and become embedded into the culture of the company. In part, this taught me the importance of timing and also that even in a large organisation, anyone can challenge the status quo and make good things happen.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of you to-do list?

There are quite a few vying to be top of the to-do list - facilitating the annual Planning Round, tracking our progress against the UCL 2034 principal themes and key enablers, assessing the operational impact of the most recent set of faculty plans.

The one that is top of the list, for today at least, is the 'Size and Shape' project. As the title suggests, the aim of this project is to develop a shared view on the direction of travel for UCL's size (which we might measure in terms of the how many students and staff we have, or how much income we receive) and shape (which we might measure in terms of our balance of academic disciplines and activities) over the next 5-10 years, within the UCL 2034 framework.

We will be looking at some broad scenarios and asking what their advantages and disadvantages might be, and how we reconcile our ambitions, financial/spatial constraints and the external funding, policy, economic and market environments.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

I can't get past Post by Björk for my favourite album. It captures that sense of being young and beginning to explore the world in new ways.

I've almost been beaten into submission into saying Frozen here, having watched it numerous times with my kids in the last two years and had the songs looping around my head endlessly as a result. But instead I'll go for Amores Perros - a great Mexican film from the turn of the century.

And my favourite novel is Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. It's magical.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

I'm terrible at jokes, but the internet has provided one that made me smile - I love a good pun.

Clowns divorce: custardy battle ensues.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

I'm not sure that I'd enjoy a dinner with a group of the great and the good, so is it OK if I go for a dinner with my family and friends? It'd be late lunch at the start of summer. Everyone would be involved in preparing it, we'd be eating outside with great music in the background and it'd go on well into the evening…

What advice would you give your younger self?

Your youth is shorter than you might imagine!

What would it surprise people to know about you?

That I spent last weekend demolishing a strange shed-like building in my garden, in part by using a huge pneumatic drill. Frankly, it surprises me that I did this!

What is your favourite place?

You sure like putting people on the spot, Spotlight! I'm not sure I have a favourite place, but a place that I keep going back to is St Donat's Castle in South Wales, near where I grew up and where I went school for a couple of years. Lots of good memories and a stunning place.