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Mary Curnock Cook OBE

Chief Executive, Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)

(Elected 2014)

Mary Curnock Cook joined UCAS as Chief Executive in January 2010. She came to UCAS after six years at the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA, formerly QCA) where as Director of Qualifications and Skills she led on qualifications policy and development for the 14-19 reform programme covering, among other things, GCSEs and A Levels. In addition she had responsibility for the UK Vocational Qualifications Reform Programme.

From 1994 to 2001, Mary was Chief Executive of BII, the professional body for licensed retailing. She served as a Council member on the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) between 1997 and 2001, and was a non-executive director of Laurel Pub Company, and Chairman of award-winning e-learning company, Creative Learning Media, both from 2002 to 2005. Prior to 1994, Mary was Marketing Director of Food from Britain, and International Sales and Marketing Director of International Biochemicals.

Mary lives in West London with her three grown-up children, one of whom is still at university. She has an MSc in general management from the London Business School, and was awarded an OBE in the 2000 Queen's birthday honours for services to training in hospitality and tourism. She is a governor at Swindon Academy, and a trustee of the Access Project, which supports young people from deprived backgrounds to progress to higher education. She is also a trustee of the National Star Foundation, which provides highly specialist care and learning support for young people with complex physical difficulties, emotional, acquired brain injuries and associated sensory difficulties.

She said: ‘It is such a privilege to be invited to become a Birkbeck Fellow, where I find myself in distinguished company with many others who, like me, are impassioned about access to the rich rewards of higher education for people who perhaps don’t fit the normal template of school-A level-university.

‘I didn’t go to university until I was in my 40s, so I have a natural affinity with an institution that makes it possible for older and non-traditional learners to participate.

‘With some 20 years of experience working in secondary, vocational and now higher education, I am particularly proud to become a Fellow of a university which is pushing the boundaries of understanding learning and teaching through its education research programme and the Centre for Educational Neuroscience. This research is so fundamentally important - to be honest, I’d like to enrol right now. But then, enrolment-envy is an occupational hazard in my job, and a Fellowship of Birkbeck is a truly wonderful alternative.’