Course administrators assist educators, students and course organisers in running, recording and improving academic and professional courses.
Depending on the nature and size of the course(s) and their seniority, course administrators will be responsible for providing support to one or a number of courses offered by an institution. They are usually involved at every stage of the operation of a course, from advertising and registration, to measuring progress, to awarding qualifications and collating feedback.
As important cogs both for course makers and takers, course administrators work on a daily basis with lots of different people from across an institution. They are the first port of call for students and have to be able to respond quickly and accurately to queries and concerns. They also have to provide day-to-day administrative support for course leaders, other educators and, often, heads and deputy heads of school.
Precise roles vary from institution to institution and even month to month according to the academic calendar, with workload fluctuating from being very heavy during term-time and often very quiet during the vacation periods. Whatever the exact role, being a course administrator requires good communication skills, attention to detail and an interest in education.
And beyond ensuring that courses run smoothly, there is often scope for adapting the role according to a person’s interest. For example, there might be opportunities to hold related extracurricular events for students, or to assist other members of staff in other departments.
Salaries vary considerably between regions and institutions. Graduate entrants can usually expect to earn £17,000-20,000, with salaries for course-related administrators going up to £35,000.
The most senior administrators at education institutions can earn anywhere from £45,000-60,000.
The responsibilities of individual course administrators vary greatly depending on the institution, grade and course. However, most will have to do some, if not all, of the following:
- Provide administrative support to organisers, teachers and students associated with a specified course(s).
- Manage enquiries and complaints from students and prospective students.
- Liaise with relevant departments to: a) share information about students and b) organise times, dates, resources etc.
- Maintain and update student records – often both in a database and on paper.
- Assist in planning, running and following up on professional and social events.
- Keep course documentation up-to-date and gather course statistics. May have to share this information with colleagues, other departments etc. in the form of presentations or reports.
- Coordinate examination and assessment procedures.
- Contribute to the development or formation of policy.
- Purchase resources as required, and process invoices.
Most universities will require administrators to hold a good honours degree. A HND may be sufficient, especially in further education (FE) colleges, tertiary education, schools and positions with less responsibility at universities. It may increase an applicant’s chances to hold a degree in the same or related subject as the courses or departments for which they will be administrating, although it is by no means essential.
An OCR/RSA II in Word Processing and Text Production or equivalent recent experience in Word-processing and IT is usually required. Some institutions may also require skills-based qualifications, such as the European Computer Driving License (ECDL), although they might be willing to train successful candidates after hiring.
Further professional qualifications and higher degrees, such as the Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Practice (Higher Education Administration and Management), and MBA in Higher Education Management may be recommended, or even essential at some institutions, to access higher grades.
- Strong verbal and written communication skills.
- Proficient numeracy.
- IT skills including word processing, spreadsheets, databases and internet research.
- Ability to work in a team. This includes working with a range of people at different levels, including students, educators and other administrators.
- Time management and task prioritisation.
- A demonstrable interest in the education sector.
- Ability to deal positively with changes in information and working practices according to shifts in courses and administrations.
Administrators generally work a standard nine to five day, but workloads can often be concentrated on particular times in the academic calendar, such as enrolment and examinations. At these times, administrators may be required to work overtime.
Typically, education institutions will have a positive attitude towards career breaks, part time work and job-shares.
Although the most senior posts in education administration are male dominated, at present, overall there are slightly more women occupying course administrator positions than men.
Evidence of relevant experience can be very important in order to access a competitive sector such as this. There are two main ways to get this:
- By doing related activities, for example in university clubs and committees, and participating in skills development schemes and mentoring. Getting involved with group projects at an education institution shows a willingness to work in, and understanding of, the sector.
- Temporary work, internships and work experience are great ways to get experience and essential skills, such as IT proficiency and time management. At busy times of the year, students can often gain work in the institutions at which they are studying. It is always worth contacting someone doing an administrative role to get some insider knowledge and advice.
Most education employers will provide ongoing training for employees, in line with a development plan and review system. This will include attending in-house training, as well as external courses and conferences. At least three years’ experience of administration is usually required to progress to senior grades.
Administrators are needed in education institutions right across the country. Most jobs are in universities and higher education (HE) and further education (FE) colleges. HE colleges are usually those which offer courses above A-level, Higher Grade or NVQ Level 3, including degrees, foundation degrees, HNDs and postgraduate qualifications. FE colleges are usually those offering courses to students older than compulsory school leaving age, but which are not secondary schools.
Some opportunities also exist within tertiary colleges, private colleges and specialist training college. Primary and secondary schools are increasingly employing administrators.
Due to the number of institutions, and variety of their administrative roles, there are generally lots of opportunities for progression from being a course administrator to other kinds of administration within institutions. However, senior jobs may require relocation and, as pay scales are not standardised between institutions, some negotiation over salary and benefits.
Typically, administrators develop an interest in a particular field or department. Specialised experience can be gained through secondments, personal projects, or further specialist qualifications to access areas such as finance or human resources.
Also known as…
- Course Leader
- Course Director
- Head of School
What’s it really like?
Sam Groves is a Course Administrator at the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, in Birmingham City University’s School of Visual Communications.
My role as administrator for three courses has three main aspects. One is being on the frontline for queries from anyone – from inside and outside of the institution – wanting to know more about the courses. There is a mentoring and guidance side to this, helping students organise themselves and make decisions regarding their education. It also involves getting up-to-date information about the courses out to the public, via Facebook, emails, phone and print media. The second aspect of the job is providing administrative support for teaching staff. This means keeping on top of data such as marks and feedback, and course materials such as handbooks. Thirdly, I’m involved in longer-term projects extending across several departments. Specifically, at the moment I’m collating evidence for an independent quality assurance agency about certain aspects of the university’s performance.
My favourite part of the job is interacting with the students. You can build up meaningful relationships and sometimes provide the support crucial for people to get the qualification they are working towards. The role means I end up working with lots of interesting and enthusiastic staff, too – both administrators and teachers. I also find organising events exciting – making something happen is really satisfying.
The main challenges of the role come from having to juggle so many different tasks. On top of that, there can be some unexpected surprises from students experiencing personal crises, which have to be dealt with sensitively.
I got into university administration several years ago, starting on a temporary contract in the student funding office at Birmingham University. Temping is a good way to get involved. You get a sense of what the job is about and can often move relatively easily into a full-time role.
This year I moved to my current job at the Institute of Art and Design, which is more aligned with my personal interest in the creative arts, in particular film (I curate film nights and festivals). It’s great to help students get through their arts degrees, watch them progress and see the work they produce in the end – all displayed in the degree show, which I help to organise. But also, here I have access to professional film-making equipment and other resources, including talented artists and art teachers.
Within one institution there isn’t always great scope for promotion within course administration, although I could potentially move up to become a line manager. However, there are lots of related jobs which I could progress to, for example in student guidance or even IT.
I’d advise people thinking about a job as a course administrator to try and work in a department that interests them. For me at least, it has made quite a big difference to my investment in the role.