Former universities admissions service leader made a dame

Former Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said she feels “hugely privileged” to be given a damehood in the King’s Birthday Honours.

Dame Clare, who led the universities and colleges admissions service during the Covid-19 disruption, has been recognised for services to higher education.

The 51-year-old told the PA news agency she was still in “disbelief” after finding out the news.

Dame Clare, who is now vice-chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire, left Ucas in September last year after more than six years in charge.

During her leadership, the higher education admissions service introduced personalised digital tools, such as Clearing Plus and the Ucas Hub, to help young people considering their post-18 choices.

Dame Clare was at the helm in August 2020 when the fiasco around grading led to thousands of A-level students having their results downgraded from school estimates by an algorithm, before a U-turn was made.

Reflecting on the period, she said: “We had to effectively re-run results day. In England and Wales, we went to effectively centre-assessed grades.

Students in their graduation robes and mortarboards
Dame Clare said talking to students every day was ‘an absolute blessing’ (Chris Radburn/PA)

“So we had that whole week where it was quite uncertain for students and talking to them about their options on results day 2020 was particularly difficult.”

Dame Clare told PA that she was most proud of her work at Ucas on putting apprenticeships on an equal footing with traditional undergraduate degrees.

Last year, Ucas announced plans to allow applicants to use its website to search and apply for apprenticeships alongside degree courses.

She said: “I think just giving students data-led solutions that are easy to understand, that help them navigate those choices – and particularly around apprenticeships – I think is the thing I’m most proud of.”

Prior to her 2017 Ucas role, Dame Clare did not have a background in higher education.

She started her career in manufacturing, before moving to management consultancy with Deloitte, then central and local government, latterly as chief executive of Worcestershire County Council.

On her decision to embark on a new role in the higher education sector as a vice-chancellor, she said: “I’ve always been attracted to a challenge, so that’s probably why I’m still here.

“Plus, I just love that each and every day I come in and I talk to students and that is an absolute blessing.”

On being awarded Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, she said: “I’m just in disbelief and hugely privileged.

“It’s all about team at the end of the day, so there are a load of people to say thank you to when the time is right.”

Dame Clare added: “It’s just a huge honour. I gave my everything to Ucas for over six years and am really proud of what I’ve achieved there.”