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Spotlight on... Simon Buller

23 July 2019

Simon is the UCL Institute of Education’s new Director of Operations. He joins the IOE from the Faculty of Laws, where he has been Director of Operations for the last three years. He shares with us here his latest project, phase two of the IOE Masterplan, and his love for London.

Simon Buller

What is your role and what does it involve?

I have recently been appointed to the role of Director of Operations for UCL Institute of Education. I have oversight for operational activity including a large professional services team. This translates to around 130 centrally based staff working on teaching, research and enterprise support as well as communications and marketing, HR, finance and estates. I also work closely with our six departments and many centres and institutes to support professional services best practice. 

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

I have been at UCL for exactly eight years. After an incredible experience at the UCL Bartlett School of Environment, Energy and Resources, I have been working as Director of Operations for the Faculty of Laws. Laws have been a truly brilliant Faculty to work for. Their dedication to student experience is phenomenal. How the academics balance such outstanding research, policy work and teaching is still a mystery to me. I am currently working out my notice with Laws and therefore in a dual role until the end of September.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

Despite a near entire career in HE, I am most proud of my two-year stint as an aid worker in Sri Lanka. I worked for the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and the UN in the east of the country working on conflict-related projects relating to coordinating and supporting internally displaced persons (IDPs). Whilst out there, I learnt to speak Sinhala, travelled the country on my 250cc Honda and played as a regular for the Ampara cricket team (often amidst the background sounds of shelling). Two notable achievements whilst I was out there were to set up a security warning system for the 120 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) registered in the east and also to work directly with the then Sri Lankan President on a Global Fund application for country level prevention of HIV infection.

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

I’m currently working on the IOE Masterplan Phase 2 which is a £55m refurbishment of IOE’s iconic main building on Bedford Way. Phase one recently upgraded 2000 m2 of teaching space and this new phase will be upgrading the infrastructure of the building, office space and entrances and reception floors. This is really ambitious project which I think has been a long time coming. We are just in the phases of design and consultation with the IOE community and hope for works to start in the new year.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

This is like UCL’s desert island discs! The album would have to be Nick Cave’s The Boatman Calls – song writing in its purist form. The film is Woman in the Dunes (1964) by Hiroshi Teshigahara, a simple masterclass in storytelling and direction. Finally, my favourite novel is by Donna Tartt who only publishes a book every ten years and someone I was hooked on since 1992’s A Secret History. However, my favourite novel is The Goldfinch, her latest truly amazing read. I was utterly bowled over by its rhythm and enchantment. 

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

Why are pirates called pirates? They just arrrrggggghhhhhhh!!!!

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Chris Morris, Will Self, Marina Hyde and Boris Johnson. I’d ensure the doors were locked and there was a lot of wine flowing.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Buy a cheap house in Balham. I’d be a multi-millionaire now.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

In 1994 I broke the Olympic pole-vaulting record although there was nothing official about it - I was just having a play around with the sports facilities whilst studying at Norwich City College. The staff invited lots of sports coaches along to see me jump and asked me if I wanted to pursue it as a career. I politely declined.

What is your favourite place?  

London. I’ve lived here for over 20 years and it still surprises me how incredible this city is. I have a young family now and there is always the temptation to move out but I just can’t do it. It feels like the entire world lives on my door step and that keeps me interested in life every day!