Since she joined Ucas in 2010, Curnock Cook is proud of the work the body has done to be more responsive to the needs of students. “The easy short term for Ucas is that we’re the university admissions body, and I think it was very much seen as a cranking the handle of an administrative process,” she explains. “What I like to think it has become, and what it needs to be now, is something much more customer-focussed. It’s a service provider; people pay us to use our services. And we need to treat them like customers rather than assuming everyone will just fall in with what Ucas is able to deliver.”
And Ucas’ job could be about to get a whole lot bigger. The government’s industrial strategy green paper published in January called for a “course-finding process for technical education similar to the Ucas process”. In behind-closed-doors meetings to flesh out the proposals with ministers and Downing Street officials, Ucas has reportedly been keen to stake its claim to be at the forefront of any plans.
On the record, Curnock Cook is cautiously enthusiastic. “It’s very natural territory for us and we would like to be involved in whatever the government decides to do,” she says, stressing that a simple replication of Ucas for FE programmes and apprenticeships would not be adequate – not least given the necessary divergence from the predictable annual cycle of university applications.
So should Ucas be the ones to operate FE applications? “I think it would be quite extraordinary if the calls for a Ucas style system didn’t include the possibility of it being Ucas who delivered it,” she replies, before quickly adding: “But that’s not the only solution. We will support whatever decisions are made."