arrow-down arrow-leftarrow-rightUPP-Foundation-Logo-AssetsUPP-Foundation-Logo-AssetsUPP-Foundation-Logo-AssetsUPP-Foundation-Logo-AssetsInstagram Facebook Instagram Instagram Linkedin Linkedin Instagram twitter twitter video-play

Meet the Commissioners

Mary Curnock Cook CBE

Chair of the UPP Foundation Student Futures Commission

Mary Curnock Cook is an independent education expert serving in a non-executive capacity on a number of Boards.

From 2010-2017, Mary was Chief Executive of UCAS. Earlier in her career she held executive and non-executive positions in the education, hospitality, food and biotech sectors.

Mary chairs the governing body of the Dyson Institute, and the Access Project, a charity which helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds progress to selective universities.  She is a Council member at the Open University, and a non-exec Director at the Student Loans Company, the London Interdisciplinary School, the Student Room and Education Cubed.  She is also a Trustee at the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).  She has the role of Network Chair for Emerge Education, the leading edtech investor in Europe.  

Mary has an MSc from London Business School and was awarded an OBE in 2000, and a CBE in 2020 for services to further and higher education. She is an honorary Fellow of Birkbeck and Goldsmiths and has an honorary doctorate from the University of Gloucestershire.


Richard Brabner

Director, UPP Foundation

Richard Brabner was appointed Head of UPP Foundation in July 2016 and was promoted to Director in 2018. Working with the trustees, he sets its strategy and leads on all aspects of the UPP Foundation’s activities. Richard joined UPP in 2015 as Business Development Manager and his responsibilities included setting up the UPP Foundation.

Prior to joining UPP, he was Head of Policy at the University of Hertfordshire, advising the Vice-Chancellor and senior management team and leading the University’s public affairs function. Before this, he worked as a researcher for two MPs in Parliament. He graduated from the University of Essex in 2007 and holds an MRes in Public Policy and Management from Birkbeck, University of London.


Professor Colin Bailey CBE

President and Principal, Queen Mary University of London

Professor Colin Bailey began his career as an apprentice draughtsperson after leaving school at 16.  He worked for a number of construction and consultant companies before being accepted, through their widening participation programme, to study for a degree in Civil and Structural Engineering at Sheffield University.  Following his PhD studies, he returned to industry where he published a number of design guides, which are used widely by industry.

He joined the University of Manchester in 2002 as Professor of Structural Engineering, and became Head of the School in 2007. He was then appointed Vice-President of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, before becoming Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 2014.

In 2017 he became President and Principal of Queen Mary University of London, a UK leading global University, highly rated for its research and innovation, teaching and learning, and wide-ranging public engagement, with a history dating back to 1785. The University has 28,000 students, over 4,600 staff, and a current turnover of c£500m. 

Over his career he has gained significant non-executive experience, including as a non-executive chair, sitting on the Board of a number charities and organisations.  He is currently a member of the Independent Expert Advisory Panel advising government on building safety following the Grenfell fire.

Mark Blythe

Founder and Chairman, Group GTI

Mark set up Group GTI in 1988. GTI’s mission is to help young people make better decisions about their future. Over the past thirty years, Mark has driven GTI’s strategy in a rapidly changing world and works with education providers, employers and policymakers in delivering successful student outcomes at scale.

An area of long-term interest for Mark has been blending technology, data and human psychology specifically for the student career journey from disengaged through to successfully employed. Mark has been product lead for the UK’s leading career discovery and management platform, TARGETconnect, which is now used by the majority of the UK’s HEIs with well over a million students, 5,000 career professionals and 50,000 employers making regular use. 

Mark has a particular passion for developing solutions that work at scale and help all students.  Covid has validated much of the thinking and technology that drives our work, but the challenge facing students and HEIs as they enter a transformed labour market should not be underestimated.


Anne-Marie Canning MBE

Chief Executive, The Brilliant Club and Independent Chair of the Bradford Opportunity Area

Anne-Marie is from Doncaster, was the first in her family to go to university and has dedicated her career to opening up educational opportunity to the next generation. In 2018 she was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to higher education. Anne-Marie holds a public appointment as independent chair of the Department for Education led Bradford Opportunity Area. Opportunity Areas support social mobility in the 12 areas of the country where it is most challenged.

Anne-Marie was the Director of Social Mobility and Student Success at King’s College London between 2012 and 2019. In this role she founded an award-winning parental engagement endeavor called Parent Power. She has also served as a member of the Universities UK Ministerial Social Mobility Advisory Group and as the elected Chair of the Russell Group Widening Participation Association. 

Anne-Marie has previously worked at University College Oxford and holds a University of Oxford Teaching Award. She studied at the University of York and served a sabbatical term as the president of the students’ union.  Anne-Marie is a trustee of the Bridge Group, a policy association researching and promoting socio-economic diversity and equality.


Professor Juliet Foster

Dean of Education, King’s College London

Professor Juliet Foster is Dean of Education at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London. She is also Academic Lead for Student Mental Health and Wellbeing at King’s, and co-chairs the university’s Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Steering Group. 

Juliet is a social psychologist, and her research interests focus on understandings of mental health and ill health. She also works on projects related to curriculum-embedded approaches to student wellbeing, and is particularly interested in interdisciplinary research on the ‘whole university’ approach to student mental health.


Professor Becky Francis

Chief Executive, Education Endowment Foundation

Professor Becky Francis is Chief Executive Officer of the Education Endowment Foundation. She was previously Director of the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), and prior roles include Professor of Education and Social Justice at King’s College London, Director of Education at the RSA and Standing Advisor to the Parliamentary Education Select Committee. She is the inaugural Yidan Global Fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Throughout her career, Becky has sought to maximise the impact of academic research by working closely with teachers and policy-makers. She has spearheaded high-profile research programmes assessing the impact of major reforms in the English school system on educational inequalities.

Becky’s academic expertise and extensive publications centre on social identities and inequalities in educational contexts. She is best known for her body of research on social identities and educational attainment, including gender, race and social class.


Hillary Gyebi-Ababio

Vice President Higher Education, National Union of Students

Hillary is NUS Vice President for Higher Education. She was previously the Undergraduate Education Officer and Chair of the Widening Participation Network at the University of Bristol Students’ Union. A champion of students, Hillary has worked on many projects that have looked to support the most marginalised students in education and beyond.

Stephen Isherwood

Chief Executive, Institute of Student Employers

Stephen Isherwood was appointed Chief Executive of the ISE in June 2013 following seven years as Head of Graduate Recruitment UK & Ireland at Ernst & Young, one of the largest recruiters of graduates in the UK.

Prior to EY, Stephen managed graduate recruitment and development programmes in both the private and public sectors. Stephen has extensive experience in the recruitment and development of students, both graduates and school leavers. He has worked closely with Higher Education throughout his career and is focused on the career development and employment of students.

In addition to his current role, Stephen sits on several steering groups related to higher education and employment and was recently a special advisor to Dame Shirley Pearce’s TEF review. He is a member of the Jisc Student Services Advisory Board, a trustee of Ashorne Hill Management College. Stephen also works with the charity Speakers for Schools and has also recently teamed up with Roding Valley High School as an Enterprise Advisor through the Careers and Enterprise Company. He has presented to various committees in the Houses of Parliament and often appears in national and local media.


Smita Jamdar

Partner and Head of Education, Shakespeare Martineau

Smita is Relationship Partner for Shakespeare Martineau’s education clients and advises on strategic, regulatory, constitutional, governance and student matters. Her approach is best summed up by Chambers & Partners: “She is very knowledgeable about the sector, very well informed about the challenges the sector faces, and insightful about how we could change and adapt.” 

Smita is a member of the Higher Education Commission and an enthusiastic contributor to sector debate through the firm’s education blog, Going Further & Higher and her Twitter feed. She has an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree for services to higher education from the University of Warwick.


Alistair Jarvis

Chief Executive, Universities UK

Alistair Jarvis was appointed Chief Executive of Universities UK in 2017. Leading the representative body for the UK’s 140 universities his primary focus is on influencing policy, political engagement, relationships with members and organisational leadership.

Universities UK (UUK) is a both a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity. In addition to the core membership body, six smaller subsidiary or related charities and companies are part of the UUK Group. He has been a member of the senior management team at UUK since 2013, previously as Deputy Chief Executive and Director of External Relations. Before joining UUK, he was a Director at the University of Birmingham and has previously held communications, campaigning and political relations roles for national organisations in both the public and private sectors. Alistair has been a member of government taskforces focused on research and knowledge exchange sustainability; EU exit and universities; and addressing the challenges of covid-19 for universities.

He has previously held voluntary roles as Deputy Chair of the board of Wonkhe, a higher education policy media company; a member of the Financial Services Skills Taskforce; a steering group member for the Industrial Strategy Council prosperity mapping project; as a Commissioner of the UPP Civic Universities Commission; and a member of the judging panel for the Times Higher and Guardian University Awards. 

He was educated at the Universities of Kent, Leicester and the Institute of Education, UCL​. Alistair is a fellow of the RSA.


Dr Omar Khan

Director, TASO

Dr Omar Khan joined TASO in June 2020. Omar will lead TASO’s transition into an independent charity, developing its team and strategy to widen participation in higher education and eliminate equality gaps between students.

Omar joined TASO from race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, where he had been Director since 2014. As Director of the Runnymede Trust, Omar grew the organisation and increased its profile. Prior to this, Omar was Head of Policy at the Runnymede Trust and led its financial inclusion programme. Omar holds several advisory positions, including chair of Olmec, chair of the Ethnicity Strand Advisory Group to Understanding Society, chair of the advisory group of the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity at the University of Manchester, Commissioner on the Financial Inclusion Commission and a member of the 2021 REF and 2014 REF assessment. Omar was previously a Governor at the University of East London and a 2012 Clore Social Leadership Fellow.


Nikita Khandwala

Strategy at LinkedIn and Co-Founder of Unbox

Nikita Khandwala works in Strategy & Analytics at LinkedIn Learning, is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, and co-founded Unbox, a digital platform on a mission to empower all young people to design impactful and fulfilling careers. A University of Oxford graduate, Nikita previously scaled and led the 50+ team of Project Access UK, a social enterprise that aims to widen access to higher education for underrepresented students. With education and empowerment as her true north, Nikita has been selected as a Founders of the Future Fellow, was invited to mentor young BAME entrepreneurs as part of the Oxford Foundry’s Entrepreneurial Fellowship, and is an UNLEASH global talent, working on scalable solutions to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Having immersed herself in the education and startup ecosystems across four countries, she writes a weekly blog–Inklings–on the intersection of education, the future of work, technology, and people.

Mark Leach

Founder, Editor in Chief and Chief Executive, Wonkhe

Mark Leach is the founder, Editor in Chief and CEO of Wonkhe. Mark worked in policy, politics and public affairs in and around UK higher education and founded Wonkhe in 2011 while working as a jobbing policy wonk in the sector. The first part of his career took him to the National Union of Students, HEFCE, University Alliance, GuildHE as well as a stint in politics as a special adviser to the former Shadow Minister for Universities & Science. Mark began full-time work on Wonkhe in mid-2014 growing it into a thriving business. As CEO, Mark is responsible for running and developing Wonkhe and as Editor in Chief oversees Wonkhe’s editorial platforms.


Kate Owen

Chief Marketing Officer, UPP

Kate leads UPP’s marketing and communications strategy and is responsible for corporate affairs and public relations, sector engagement and employee communications,

Kate has a wealth of experience across multiple sectors and has previously worked in business leading roles across major brands for over 20 years. She is a highly successful marketing leader with a strong track record of designing and implementing award winning marketing and communications strategies and transformation initiatives delivering significant growth. Prior to joining UPP in 2021, Kate was Marketing Director at Capita plc, and has also led teams across brands such as NHS Property Services and Thomson Reuters.


Meg Price

President, Worcester Students’ Union

Meg is the outgoing President at Worcester Students’ Union – in her role she represents students on a wide range of topics including welfare, sustainability and equality diversity and inclusion. She is a trustee for the Higher Education Statistics Agency where she provides a student perspective to the board. Alongside this she has worked as a University Mental Health Charter Assessor for Student Minds. She was also an author on the recent proposals on Freedom of Speech in Students’ Unions published in Wonkhe.


Professor Lisa Roberts

Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, University of Exeter

Professor Lisa Roberts took up her post on 1 September 2020.  Prior to this, Professor Roberts was Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation at the University of Leeds where she led on the development of the University’s research and innovation strategy. During this time she led significant increases in the income, quality and impact of research at Leeds. 

She also led a major step change in how the University worked with business, from start-ups to large corporates; launching a new innovation hub and leading a city-wide team of senior city stakeholders through the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (REAP). Before joining Leeds, Lisa was Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Surrey, leading the Schools of Bioscience and Medicine, Psychology and Health Sciences.  During this time she also developed and launched only the 8th School of Veterinary Medicine in the UK and developed a successful One Health Strategy with external partnerships being key to its success.

Professor Roberts is a Professor of Virology, having studied for her PhD at the BBSRC Institute for Animal Health (now the Pirbright Institute) and the University of Kent. Earlier in her career, she worked as a Product Development Manager for Procter and Gamble in the UK and Belgium.

She is a Board member of the Russell Group and of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership and Chair of the GW4 Council.

Professor Mary Stuart CBE

Vice Chancellor, University of Lincoln

Professor Mary Stuart is Vice Chancellor of the University of Lincoln.  She is a graduate of the University of Cape Town, SA and the Open University, UK where she obtained her Doctorate in Social Policy in 1998.  Her research interests are focussed on social mobility and higher education, Life Histories and Civic Engagement and Leadership in 21st Century organisations.

Mary has a strong track record in all aspects of university leadership, having worked in senior roles in three different universities. 

Since joining Lincoln she has developed the University significantly, including growing Science provision and establishing a new Medical School and developing a strong research base centred on local to global activities including the Lincoln Institute of Agri-Food Technology and the Lincoln International Institute for Rural Health and Care and the Centre for Culture and Creativity. Mary has driven local and regional engagement highlighting Lincoln’s role as a 21st century Civic University, to enhance the regional economy and to connect the global challenges with local need.  She has recently worked as a Commissioner on the Civic University Commission to develop national policy guidelines on Civic Universities. She is the founder of the 21st century Lab examining higher education’s response to changing society in our time. 

Passionate about the student experience, Mary seeks to continually drive change and improvements in partnership with students, alumni and the academic community promoting the traditional concept of a community of scholars. Mary was named as the Guardian’s ‘Most Inspiring Leader in Higher Education’ at their HE awards in 2018.  She was also awarded a CBE for her services to Higher Education in the same year. This year the University of Lincoln was named as Modern University of the Year in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide and this year Mary was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce.