University of Birmingham director of legal servicies: Uni form

 Carolyn Pike took but a short break from her alma mater before returning as director of legal services at the University of Birmingham

Carolyn Pike, director of legal services at the University of Birmingham, returned to the institution at which she studied as an undergraduate after less than a decade in private practice and has been there ever since.

She began assisting with the institution’s in-house legal office at its inception.

“I started as a visiting lecturer, doing the undergraduate and LPC course,” says Pike. “Then, when Birmingham decided it needed an in-house office about 14 years ago, I moved across and assisted. When the professor retired I took over as director, 11 years ago.”


Group captain

Birmingham was one of the first universities to appoint an in-house legal team and Pike now chairs University Legal Practitioners – a group of in-house lawyers across the sector. The group now consists of 130 members from 70 institutions, and has grown substantially in the past five years.

“Most universities used to have one or two lawyers; now some have 10,” says Price, pointing to changes in the higher education landscape in the past few years as the reason why. “Universities have become more complex. The regulatory framework and the compliance -obligations placed upon have them have increased. Also, they’re being required to be much more of a commercial enterprise and that is a different skill-set.”

The role of the in-house higher education lawyer has evolved as higher education itself has transformed. Universities cannot now rely solely on external counsel.

“Having someone who really knows the inside of the institution well is crucial,” says Pike. “However good your external lawyers are they can’t know how every single institution they act for ticks.”

Her team of six works regularly across employment, property, contracts, data protection, freedom of information and fair access.

“The work we do has such an impact on the region and nationally,” she continues. “The university generates more than £1bn of spending in the local economy and we support in excess of 11,000 jobs over and above the ones in the university.”

One example of a project that covers both the university and the city is the university’s new medical school in the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

“The school is embedded within the hospital,” Pike explains. “They walk from the ward into the lecture theatre. That was an exciting project to bring to fruition because it has transformed the education experience of some of our students.”

Last year, the university linked with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and Eton College to collaboratively exhibit one of the world’s finest private collections of Egyptian art.

“The college had some wonderful Egyptian artefacts in the Myers Collection,” Pike explains. “They could not share them with the public so Johns Hopkins and Birmingham teamed up. It was a fantastic thing to negotiate and implement.”

The Barber Institute in Birmingham and the Baltimore university will now share the works for the next 15 years. 

School of thought

However, the project Pike is now working on outdoes all the above. The behemoth of a creation is one of the first university-led secondary schools in the country.

Birmingham will build a training school on the outskirts of its campus to enable its trainee teachers to learn and share their training with the community by teaching local children. It will be a comprehensive, open to all 11- to 18-year-olds, and is due to open in September 2014 or September 2015.

Pike has co-ordinated all the legal services needed to support a project of this scope, rare in the UK, although University College London opened a similar academy
in September 2012, while Barack Obama’s daughters attended a similar venture at the University of Chicago.

“[The school] is fundamental to the ethos we have of bringing education to the whole of the city,” Pike says. “Our school of education, where we do our teacher training, went through Ofsted last year and was given an ‘Outstanding’ rating. 

“That’s what prompted us to think we could create a school to bring our students in as trainee teachers and share best practice with schools across Birmingham. There are some great opportunities to do that and the Government has been supportive.”

The children who attend will have access to university facilities and academics intend to give guest lectures. Years 7 and 12 will be recruited in the first year of the school and intakes will build year by year from then.

Pike examined admissions protocols, liaised with Birmingham City Council, analysed how to recruit children from more deprived areas and implement travel policies so that they can attend, negotiated with the Department for Education, examined the construction and build issues, and talked to the council about the school’s policies.

The legal work behind such a venture is sprawling and complex but Pike’s enthusiasm for the job is tangible.

“We come across the weird and the wonderful,” she says. “It’s part of working for a great charity that takes its mission very seriously – education is what we do and we educate in lots of ways.”

Carolyn Pike
University of Birmingham

Position: Director of legal services

Reports to: Registrar and secretary Lee Sanders

Legal capacity: Six

Annual legal spend: Varies,
but £60,000-£70,000 (Aug-Aug 2011/12 financial year) 

Main external law firms: Eversheds, Pinsent Masons, Mills & Reeve, SGH Martineau 

Helen Shay

Helen Shay
In-house counsel, University of York

May you live in interesting times, the saying goes. Certainly any in-house lawyer at a university does today.

I have been in-house counsel at the University of York for five years and handle OIA (independent ombudsman scheme) cases and advised on difficult student complaints/claims, often involving mediation and equality issues, working alongside the university’s equality office.

My role also includes liaison with the records manager on complex data protection and freedom of information issues. The latter has become very topical for universities, particularly for claiming exemption for commercially sensitive information.

Following the new fee regime, universities are working in a more competitive environment and competition law is increasingly relevant. They are also looking for more ways to collaborate with other organisations, often outside the UK, which brings the need for complex agreements, such as for degree validation or joint awards. Jurisdiction and arbitration clauses have to be negotiated, not to mention indemnities or exclusions, particularly where local law applying to an overseas partner may radically differ from UK law.

Students are adopting more consumer-aware attitudes and, quite rightly, expect value and quality in education provision. I’m therefore promoting careful drafting for such things as prospectus documentation, so the university can be confident it will deliver on promises. As well as being fair to students, it also links to wider issues of safeguarding reputation. Ultimately, that is key to any successful university.