Pen profiles of nominees

The following people are standing for election to the Board of Trustees

Office holders

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Adrian Ellison - nominated for the position of Chair

Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor and CIO
University of West London


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Adrian Ellison is Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor and Chief Information Officer at the University West London, where he is a member of the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive and responsible for Registry, Library and IT services. He has been in UK higher education for over 20 years having worked previously for London School of Economics and Political Science, Royal Holloway University of London and the University of Leeds. Adrian is a a trustee and Vice Chair of the board of ucisa and Chair of the Board of Directors of ucisa Services Limited.

Adrian has spoken about information technology at national and international conferences and events and co-wrote/edited the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education’s 'Getting to Grips with Information and Communications Technology' and UCISA’s ‘Social Media Toolkit: a practical guide to achieving benefits and managing risks’.

He is a qualified project and programme manager and a fellow of the RSA. Outside of his professional career, Adrian is an advanced motorcyclist and coaches people to become “better bikers”, and likes food, wine, cars, shoes and art.

Please describe how your experience will support ucisa delivering the strategic plan 

With over 20 years’ of working in a variety of roles and institutions in the UK higher-education sector, I am well placed to understand the digital and technology demands of the sector and the wide IT industry. I have authored and delivered numerous IT and digital strategies at various HEIs.

At UWL I now sit on the “top table”, reporting directly to the Vice-Chancellor. As a member of his executive team, I take collective responsibility for developing institutional strategy and policy. My areas of responsibility include IT Services, where I am the de facto IT Director, Library Services, Registry (I have responsibility for the academic regulations) and Student Administration. I have been closely involved in negotiating several large contracts including outsourced facilities management, catering, as well as big IT projects, such as student records systems, CRM, learning analytics and outsourced data centres. I also work closely with the Chief Compliance Officer on matters of data protection, data management and compliance.

An experienced people and resources manager, I currently have responsibility for c.200 staff, including senior (director-level) direct reports and routinely manage multi-million pound revenue and capital budgets.

I consider myself well-respected within the sector and a trusted authority on a range of topics, having spoken at national and international conferences (most recent examples being on learning analytics). I have contributed to and co-authored a number of ucisa-sponsored sector-specific guides, including the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education’s 'Getting to Grips with Information and Communications Technology' and UCISA’s ‘Social Media Toolkit: a practical guide to achieving benefits and managing risks’. I also hosted the ucisa Infrastructure Group “question time” for 4 years running.

Please describe your motivation for applying to be a ucisa Trustee or USL Director:

I have always been a huge advocate for ucisa and supporting the IT community within the sector. The power of the collective is far greater than the individual and there is no point in “re-inventing wheels”. I am happy to share my skills and experience to help others and see ucisa as a vehicle to help support people to develop professionally and personally (as I have over the years).


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Paul Harness - nominated for the position of Vice Chair

Director of Information Systems Services
Lancaster University


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Dr Paul Harness has been Director of Information Systems Services at Lancaster University since 2013. Paul is a digital leader with extensive experience of strategy, planning, organisational change and transformation in large and complex organisations. He is particularly interested in digital innovation and creating an entrepreneurial spirit within IT. Paul has led on the Digital Lancaster strategy which has recently resulted in an exciting partnership with Amazon Web Services and the #askLU project (

Prior to Lancaster, Paul was Director of IT Services at the University of Manchester (8 years) where he led the unification of two IT organisations during the merger with UMIST. This included at £30M business systems programme which at the time was by far the largest in the sector. Paul started his IT career at UMIST after a period as a post doc researcher in Glasgow. Paul progressed to become Director of IT at UMIST, a post he held for 3 years prior to the Manchester merger.

Paul is a Director of Lancaster University Network Services Ltd and a former Chair of the Russell Group IT Directors (RUGIT).

Please describe how your experience will support ucisa delivering the strategic plan

I have worked in HE CIO roles for the last 18 years with extensive experience across all areas of the sector. For the last 6 years I have been IT Director at Lancaster leading on Digital Strategy with an interest in innovation. Prior to Lancaster, I was Director of IT Services at the University of Manchester (8 years) where I led the unification of two IT organisations during the merger with UMIST. This included at £30M business systems programme which at the time was by far the largest in the sector.

Please describe your motivation for applying to be a ucisa Trustee or USL Director:

I feel I have significant experience that I can contribute to UCISA as described above, and at the same time am keen to learn from others. I have been a co-opted member for the last 12 months and am keen to continue this work.


Nominees for the two elected positions on the ucisa Board of Trustees

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Vipin Ahlawat

Director of IT Services
Loughborough University 


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Vipin joined Loughborough University in 2014 and before that held a range of technology leadership roles in higher education and in the public and private sectors, including at the University of Leicester and Pearson Education Ltd.

Vipin has a B.Sc in Chemistry and an M.A in International Relations.

Please describe how your experience will support ucisa delivering the strategic plan

I have a twenty-five year track record of successful IT delivery and leadership, with over sixteen years in the education sector and the last ten years leading IT in higher education. My achievements in that time include the development and implementation of transformational digital strategies, leading established teams through substantial, positive change and moving IT from being perceived as just a technology provider to being sought out as a trusted innovation partner by the rest of the organisation.

My successes have been achieved through building partnerships, connections and mutually-beneficial coalitions to drive positive change, which I feel closely aligns with ucisa’s strategic aims and inherent strengths. My diverse experience in higher education and the public- and private-sectors means that I have a broad perspective, sector knowledge and a commercial mindset, which I believe will be valuable in identifying opportunities for collaboration, both amongst HEIs and with leading vendors. I will also bring the experience of leading an IT team that has been rated 1st in England for student satisfaction in the five most recent National Student Surveys. 

Please describe your motivation for applying to be a ucisa Trustee or USL Director:

Ucisa has come to the fore as the pandemic has repeatedly demonstrated the need for collaboration across the sector.  As IT teams have coped with unprecedented demands, security threats and the need for constant adaptation, ucisa has been seen as a trusted partner for those teams in brokering partnerships (between institutions and with suppliers), providing timely communications and showcasing best practice.  I am personally convinced that these traits will be more important than ever as the education sector moves into a period of growing uncertainty and financial pressure, and I would very much like to support ucisa in delivering to its members.  Ucisa now faces exciting opportunities to provide ever more responsive support and valuable leadership to the sector, and as a Trustee I feel I can contribute to identifying and delivering those opportunities.


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Mat Flower

Assistant Director and Head of Digital Architecture
University of Wolverhampton


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With an IT career spanning twenty five years, Mat is currently Assistant Director & Head of Digital Architecture within Digital Services at the University of Wolverhampton. He and his team have strategic responsibility for the long-term roadmap of the University’s core infrastructure and services, ensuring that they both support and enable the delivery of the overarching Digital Strategy and broader University strategies. Recent achievements include leading on the delivery of all aspects of technology for the University’s new £45 million School of Architecture building, as well as playing a key role in enabling the University to move to a radically new operating model as a result of lockdown restrictions.

Mat is also the Chair of the ucisa Digital Infrastructure Group, a role that he has held for the last three years, but has been actively involved with ucisa since 2013.

Please describe how your experience will support ucisa delivering the strategic plan

With an IT career spanning twenty five years, seventeen of which have been in the Higher Education sector, I believe that I am ideally placed to assist ucisa with the delivery of its strategic plan. My career path has equipped me with the experience in both developing as well as delivering strategy. Sitting on various University-level committees has helped me to develop not only a broader and deeper understanding of my own institution, but also of the wider HE sector.

I have been involved with ucisa since 2013 when I first joined the Infrastructure Group. Since then I have led the planning and delivery of many events, including establishing the annual multi-day IG/DIG conference. As Chair of the Infrastructure Group, I oversaw the merger with the Network Group to form the new Digital Infrastructure Group. Both of these examples were done with the objective of contributing to enabling and supporting the delivery of the overarching ucisa strategy.

With the opportunity to become a Trustee, I believe that the experience I have developed as part of my role at the University of Wolverhampton, coupled with my role(s) with ucisa, ideally equip me with the skills to actively contribute to delivering ucisa’s strategic plan.

Please describe your motivation for applying to be a ucisa Trustee or USL Director:

In the eight years that I have been involved with ucisa, it has continued to evolve, adapt and grow to ensure that it continually provides benefit and best value to its membership, none more so than in the last year, something that I am very proud of. I am also extremely proud of everything that the Digital Infrastructure Group and I have achieved, and the part that this has subsequently played in helping ucisa to deliver its strategic plan.

I feel very privileged to be part of ucisa and very much want to be able to continue to contribute to its ongoing success. I now believe that skills and experience I employ as part of my ‘day job’, coupled with my experience of being part of the Digital Infrastructure Group and the wider ucisa organisation ensure that I would be able to positively contribute to the work of the ucisa Board of Trustees.


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Gareth McAleese

Head of Enterprise Applications and Data
Ulster University

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Gareth is Head of Enterprise Applications & Data at Ulster University. He has been at Ulster for over 20 years and worked in a range of technology roles. Gareth and his team are responsible for the strategic development and delivery of the Enterprise Application Portfolio, Collaboration, Data Management and BI solutions supporting Digital and business strategies at Ulster.

During his career he has been involved in a range of national initiatives, such as the HERO research portal and more recently representing ucisa on the HESA Data Futures Programme board and Technical Design authority.

Gareth is currently Chair of the ucisa Corporate Information Systems Group which he has held since February 2019 and has been involved with ucisa since December 2011.

Please describe how your experience will support ucisa delivering the strategic plan

I have 20+ years’ experience in Higher Education with 10 years at a senior IT level but also experience of all areas of a modern university.

I have been involved with ucisa for almost 10 years where I am currently chair of the ucisa Corporate Information Systems special interest group and a member of the ucisa Leadership council. I have also been chair of the annual CISG conference and delivered several successful workshops and conferences.

I have extensive experience of working with sectoral bodies and key suppliers to the sector and currently represent ucisa on the HESA Data Futures Technical Design Authority and have a deputy role on the HESA Data Futures Programme Board.

I have worked with people of different levels from across the sector to delivery sectoral projects and change initiatives. I have written articles and contributed to case studies and presented at a wide range of conferences and workshops and see myself as knowledgeable and respected within the sector.

I hope my experience, background and wider network will provide a valuable resource to the ucisa board and would welcome the opportunity to contribute to the development and delivery of the ucisa strategic plan and its contribution to my own ongoing personal development. 

Please describe your motivation for applying to be a ucisa Trustee or USL Director:

Having been involved in ucisa for 10+ years, seeing how it has developed to closely support the needs of the sector, particularly in the last 12 months, I would welcome the opportunity to contribute and make a full contribution to the ongoing development and delivery of the ucisa strategic plan and also ucisa as an organisation.

I also see the opportunity as an excellent opportunity to contribute to my ongoing personal development as a leader and manager.


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Jots Sehmbi

Director of Innovation and Technology
University of Essex

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Jots is a seasoned IT Director and Tech Executive with over 23 years of industry experience, spanning multiple sectors. Appointed in late 2019 to the role of Director of Innovation and Technology at the University of Essex (combining the traditional roles of CIO and CTO). Her role is focused on driving the modernisation of existing IT services, and delivering digital transformation initiatives, enabling the University’s strategic growth objectives to increase its student base by 20% over the next five years. Jots is recognised in the top 100 UK 2020 CIOs for the swift digital enablement of all the University’s business operations in response to the pandemic.

Jots is also a tech advisor to a number of boards, including the Essex County Council Superfast Board (overseeing the rollout of superfast fibre broadband across the county), Tech London Advocates (providing advisory to tech start-ups and private sector technology initiatives), and from 2017-2019 was the Chair of the Russell Group Universities Service Management Group.

Please describe how your experience will support ucisa delivering the strategic plan

My experience will support ucisa to deliver its strategic plan though the following:

Goals 1-3 – Become the expert voice in the use of digital technologies in education and grow the membership and make it easier to engage with ucisa, and offer further membership benefits.

I have a wide network of technology and non-technology experts, and through my connections would be able to firmly support ucisa’s mission to become the expert voice in the use of digital technologies, expand its membership and benefits offered. Additionally, I have over 18 years’ experience in education and having formed and chaired a number of cross University digital voice groups during my career, I have firsthand insights and experience of the needs of the education community.

Goal 4 – Optimise the organisation of ucisa to support effective strategy delivery

I’m an experienced senior leader with a wealth of experience on defining strategy and executing it’s successful delivery through operational channels. Utilising my experience I’d work closely with other ucisa board trustees and leadership council members to support the delivery of ucisa’s strategy, through championing the mission of ucisa, providing guidance and expertise in areas from my experience, and linking connections from my network to help ucisa’s mission.

Please describe your motivation for applying to be a ucisa Trustee or USL Director:

I have been a member of ucisa for most of my career in higher education, and member of various special interest groups. After attending the leadership conference in 2020, and having been in a senior leadership position for some years, and reflecting on my own experience, it felt like the right time to contribute to the wider education community.

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James Smith

Director of IT
Birkbeck, University of London 


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I am a firm believer in the power of education to transform lives, and proud to play a part in that effort. I have spent my entire career working in and around the use of technology to support Higher Education, and am currently Director of IT at Birkbeck, University of London. As such I’m responsible for ensuring our IT services support our teaching, research, and the management and administration of the enterprise. My background is in business analysis, project management and the design, build, implementation and support of corporate information systems. I’ve been involved with ucisa for the last decade – for much of it as a member of the ucisa CISG committee – contributing to events and publications produced by the group. I think ucisa is a critically important part of our corner of the HE sector. Whilst successive government policy shifts have encouraged our institutions to be more competitive, the value of the collaborative spirit fostered by ucisa – providing networking, (at times ‘group therapy’), information sharing, skills development, and collective action on issues of shared concern - is immense. I’m very happy therefore to volunteer to act as a trustee for the organisation, and hope to support it continuing to flourish into the future.

Please describe how your experience will support ucisa delivering the strategic plan

I have significant experience of digital transformation and technology management in the Higher Education sector – having worked in this area for nearly 20 years. As such I have experienced the value that ucisa brings to the sector – to share knowledge and expertise, and to support colleagues working across institutions. In many cases ucisa provides an essential support network – many of those working in IT in our institutions will not necessarily find others in their own organisations who understand the difficulties and frustrations they face – but they can and do find them via ucisa in similar roles at other institutions.

I have worked ‘at the coal face’ in business analysis, project management, business systems architecture, design, implementation and support. In more recent years, in more senior positions I have been responsible for driving technology strategy development and implementation – and injecting the potential of digital technologies into top level institutional strategy. In my current role I am a member of the senior leadership team, and have significant interaction with the governing body – giving me an appreciation of the wider context in which our organisations operate and the opportunities both perceived and actual (not always the same) for the use of technology.

I lead a department of 70+ staff, and have managed project teams spanning the organisation, and understand that clear, accurate, open and honest interactions with colleagues are essential to ensure both delivery of required business outcomes, but also job satisfaction for those involved.

In addition to my technical and leadership experience, I believe I have a good set of communication skills, and have frequently presented on these topics at a range of ucisa events.

I believe I understand ucisa’s strategic vision – both appreciating its importance for our sector and individuals working with technology in it – and that my skills would also be useful as a trustee of the organisation in delivering this vision.

Please describe your motivation for applying to be a ucisa Trustee or USL Director:

As already stated, my primary motivation for applying to be a ucisa trustee is simply that I value the experiences, support and opportunities ucisa has provided me, and the organisation I work for, over many years – and I am keen to continue to support it in this way to ensure that it is able to continue, and further develop this work going forwards.

I am also keen to gain experience of performing a governance role (having not previously done so) as I believe this will personally aid my understanding of the challenges faced by those in similar roles – including members of institution governing bodies – and I hope that this will enhance my ability to relate to, and work with such people as my career progresses.


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Emma Woodcock

York St John University 


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Emma Woodcock is an experienced Senior Leader who has worked within a variety of complex organisations. She has held several IT Leadership Roles and works regularly at Executive level; she has also held IT Operational roles as well as Change Management and Programme/Project Management roles. 

She has experience of working in Higher Education, Local Government, and the Private Sector. 

Emma forged her early career within the private sector where she was involved in implementing process improvements and organisational change, many of which overlapped with the introduction of new technologies. Emma’s career evolved alongside the growth and evolution of IT as a professional discipline, she has witnessed the development and adoption of professional standards such as ITIL and has experience in managing their adoption and use. She is a qualified ITIL Expert, MSP Practitioner, Scrum Master and is an active ucisa member. 

In her personal life Emma brought up two sons on her own and understands the challenges of juggling a demanding career with the commitments of family life. Emma is particularly interested in how to support more women into digital careers. 

She enjoys open water swimming, singing in four part harmony and running (although the running has lapsed – she intends to pick it up again this year!).

Emma has held several voluntary roles including a school governor, Sheffield steelers lacrosse junior section manager and membership secretary and is currently treasurer for Sheffield Harmony, a large women’s acapella choir.

Emma has worked for organisations including:

• Yorkshire Water where she was responsible for process improvements and system implementations
• a number of private laboratory firms where she gained experience as an IT Service Manager responsible for complex laboratory systems
• a large Metropolitan Borough Council where she held the position of Transformation Programme Manager responsible for a challenging programme to deliver digitally enhanced services
• she held the role of IT Service Delivery Director at Sheffield Hallam University with responsibility for the delivery of the Universities IT Services and was the Head of Corporate Systems prior to taking up this role.

Emma is currently in the role of CIO at York St John University and is responsible for IT operations and has recently published a new Digital Strategy for the University. At the heart of this strategy is a commitment to design the Universities digital campus with as much care and attention as the physical campus.

Please describe how your experience will support ucisa delivering the strategic plan

Higher Education is a challenging sector to work in as an IT leader – the open nature of a campus combined with the demands of research and a varied curriculum presents some unique challenges especially in areas such as cyber security. I understand these challenges from holding leadership roles in both one of the largest UK Universities and one of the smallest.

I believe that I can offer a marriage of experience accumulated in the fields of IT management and organisational change management. I have learnt lessons the hard way and carry the battle scars of failed initiatives and I truly understand the impact of issues such as poor decision making, poor levels of scrutiny, lack of challenge, poor stakeholder engagement, and poor supplier management. I will use these experiences and the ways in which I have overcome these kinds of issues to support ucisa in the delivery of its strategic plan. I think that my skill set will lend itself most strongly to optimising the organisation of ucisa to support strategic delivery and to grow the membership.

I can bring in depth knowledge of the challenge’s IT leaders face to maintain services during periods of accelerating digital change. I understand the pressure to deliver new solutions to meet the way in which HE is evolving. I am an advocate of good digital design and believe passionately about technology adding value in education. I have experienced the reality of this on the ground and understand the sector specific nuances that add complexities to the way in which we manage IT services.

Finally, I care deeply about the development of the profession of IT within HE/FE. I have worked hard to “professionalise” and raise the profiles of two HE IT departments, bringing industry standard practise to teams that had previously suffered from a lack of recognition and low morale. I care about the way IT itself needs to evolve to gain greater recognition and Executive level support. This aligns with so much of what UCISA wants to achieve with its members. Sharing good practise, supporting the development of its members, and helping to win the ear of Executive teams. I am keen to use my experiences of developing teams to support UCISA to explore how its membership benefits can enhance the ability of our members to become trusted strategic partners within their organisations.

Please describe your motivation for applying to be a ucisa Trustee or USL Director: 

The simple answer to this question is that I have benefited enormously from the work that ucisa does, my first experience being the support of the Project and Change Management Group when I first joined the HE community just over 10 years ago. The resources and networking opportunities were invaluable. I have now reached a point in my career where I feel I can offer value back to ucisa as a Trustee.

I am also conscious that ucisa itself has been changing and is having to consider how it will continue to adapt post pandemic – these are exciting times for our IT community, but the challenges ahead are daunting. The role of ucisa has never been more important to the sector, the pandemic has catapulted IT and digital firmly into the spotlight. I am passionate about retaining the momentum and respect that IT departments across our sector have achieved in the last 14 months and I believe that ucisa is playing a key role in bringing the IT leadership community together. I am hugely motivated with what this community can potentially achieve together.