Michael Draper has been appointed the new Chairman of Council which is St George’s, University of London’s governing body.

Chair of Council, Michael Draper

During a successful career working as a lawyer, including 20 years as a partner in law firms in the City, he gained considerable experience in company and commercial law and developed particular expertise in advising clients in the life sciences and healthcare sectors. Michael then decided to look for opportunities in a different sector and joined the St George’s Council in 2009.

We sat down with Michael to discuss his new role and his hopes for the future direction of the university.

How did you get involved with St George’s?

I enjoyed my legal career hugely and was fortunate to be successful in it, but I reached the point where I didn’t want that to be the only thing I had ever done. It was a big step, but I decided to give up the law and look for something different where my background and experience might be useful in a new way.

It was also important to do something for which I would not be paid. I then spotted a newspaper advert for new Council members at St George's which seemed an ideal opportunity; so, I applied, and so began my association with the university.

I was appointed to Council in late 2009. Since then I have also served on various committees, chaired the Audit and Remuneration Committees and served on an ad hoc working group to overhaul the university’s constitution. St George's has also been good at utilising my legal background in a number of other ways, such as when it is engaged in particularly tricky negotiations - and I have also handled my fair share of student appeals!

How have things changed over your time on the Council of St George’s?

Considerably. Whilst I have been on Council, tuition fees have increased significantly to their current levels, there has been ever more external scrutiny of the quality of research and, more recently, teaching. Brexit was voted for in the referendum, which presents challenges in itself, and we will have to adjust to a new regulatory regime brought in by the Higher Education and Research Act.

All of these add significantly to the regulatory and administrative burden, which is felt particularly by a relatively small university like St George’s. You find yourself having to run faster, just to stay in the same place. So, there are plenty of challenges which we will need to address by keeping calm and carrying on improving.

The other big change, of course, has been the arrival of Jenny Higham as Principal. Jenny has built a strong team around her, we have all agreed on a new strategy and I am very optimistic that St George’s is poised to make great progress.

What makes St George’s special in your view?

St George’s has a strong culture which is a product of its glorious history, its unique status as the only university in the UK dedicated exclusively to medicine and healthcare, its relatively small size, its location on one main site shared with the hospital and the high quality of its staff and students. The ingredients are all there to create what should be an outstanding experience for our students.

We can also be very nimble in responding to opportunities as they arise. I’ve seen how we can experiment with novel approaches in some situations. Even if the experiments don’t always work, we learn quickly from any misjudgements and may be better off for being brave and challenging established ways of doing things in the long run.

How do you see your new role?

Council is the governing body of the university. Constitutionally, the buck stops with us. In practice, Council’s most important role is probably to ensure we have the right strategy in place at all times and, equally importantly, that the strategy is being implemented and is bringing about the progress we all want to see. Council has a regular set of meetings throughout the year, and can meet quickly on an ad hoc basis when the need arises; but I see the role of Chair as being the permanent representative of Council to the Principal and her team at all other times.

What are your priorities for St George’s now and in the future?

Well, as I have said, there are plenty of challenges for us, as well as all other universities, which we need to address. I’d also like to see us make more progress in fundraising from our alumni which is a long-term project and, because I have some relevant background knowledge, I’d like to see what we can do to improve our enterprise activity.

But the most important priority has to be to continue to improve the student experience and for that to be reflected in the National Student Survey (NSS) and the league tables. Student satisfaction is rightly becoming increasingly important in terms of funding and reputation.

I recognise that league tables have to be treated with some caution and that, as a specialist institution, we are often disadvantaged by the methodology used in compiling them. But, being slightly OCD myself, I can never look at a league table without feeling that St George's is not in quite the right place and wanting to do something about it.

How do you find the staff and students at St George’s?

Tremendous: friendly, enthusiastic and high quality. Whenever I have had to liaise with any members of staff or students, I have always received a very positive and engaged response. It’s very impressive.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My wife and I share a fairly wide range of cultural interests, but our biggest passions are art, which determines the destination of many of our holidays, and classical music including opera.

I am also a lifelong Nottingham Forest supporter which, these days, I wear as a badge of integrity and emotional depth!