Open Eye: Opening Up - From Secretary to student

Joe Clinch has been Secretary or Acting Secretary of the Open University for 20 years, and will retire at the end of the year.

What was your first job and what did you earn?

Temporary Stores Assistant as a National Serviceman in the Royal Navy. The pay was 4 shillings a day (20p) or 28 shillings a week. I later advanced to be a Temporary Acting Sub-Lieutenant in the Supply and Secretarial Branch of the Royal Navy - a most formative experience for someone at the age of 19 and 20.

What brought you to the OU?

When the post of Deputy Secretary was advertised in October 1968 I was excited by the vision of a university dedicated to widening opportunity. I wanted to be part of it. The University of Sussex, where I then worked, gave me the confidence to see the way in which a professional administration could contribute to the OU's success.

What difference has the OU made?

Ask the students. I believe that it really has changed the lives of many of them.

What has been the most significant decision in the history of the OU?

The decision to admit 25,000 students to four Foundation Courses in the first year of operation. The scale of the start was bold (and perhaps, as Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes Minster might have said, even courageous!) but it came off and meant there could be no second thoughts.

What advice will you give your successor?

Respect the University's mission and values.

Could you sum up your OU career?

Commitment to making it an institution of which students and staff would feel proud.

What would you like to see the OU's future being?

Maintaining excellence of opportunity and scale in the provision of student learning.

Is the role of a University Secretary to be a brake on the Vice-Chancellor or a steer?

The role is to help the Vice-Chancellor lead the institution and to exercise the responsibilities of that office. That may involve a steer and occasionally a reminder about the limits of the authority of the office.

What development, gave you most satisfaction - and which disappointed you?

I suppose the first 24,500 students being actually registered on time for 1971 study was the single most satisfying milestone. I was disappointed that the University abandoned its Scottish degree structure heritage and still wonder whether the Senate was correct to go that way. A 420-point honours degree would have been my way forward (with a maximum of 60 points at level one.

Has increasing public accountability and bureaucracy made the running of a body like the OU more difficult?

The move from `trust to transparency' in public services has undoubtedly carried a heavy cost. Of course, trust is a precious commodity and if trust is abused then it is to be expected that the paymaster will demand greater transparency. Higher education has been slow to ensure that self regulation works in practice and is now paying a price.

What has been the most satisfying part of your role?

Participating in degree ceremonies which for a Walton Hall-based functionary are a wonderful reminder of what the OU actually means to students.

..And the least satisfying?


What (if anything) do you regret, or what would you go back and change if you could?

I have always tried to avoid looking back. I have no major regrets.

Of all the people you have met during your OU career, who really made an impression?

Peter Venables, who chaired the Planning Committee and was the first Pro-Chancellor, was a most wise and inspiring man. His influence on the academic structure of the University and his later work on Continuing Education have had a lasting impact.

How would you like your contribution to the OU to be remembered?

As a team player who tried to be fair in dealings with others and who was usually effective at making things happen (for those that know about the Belbin team role profile I am strong as an `implementer' and a `completer').

Is there a particular reason for retiring early?

No special reason but after almost 20 years as Secretary or Acting Secretary and almost 30 years as a member of the top management team, 62 seems about the right time to retire.

What are your plans for the future and will they have any connection with the OU?

I have a blank diary for 1999 but I have registered as a student for Discovering Science. Others who retired tell me that you quickly wonder how you had time to work! If the opportunity arises I shall continue in public service on a part-time basis but I look forward to having more time for my leisure interests - walking, wild flowers, listening to music.

What is your parting message to students and alumni?

To students: Make full use of the excellent opportunities that your University provides; and to alumni: Promote the excellence of your University to your family, friends and colleagues.