The chief executive of the admission body for universities, Ucas, has announced plans to step down after serving seven years in the role.

Mary Curnock Cook said that she will leave the position that she originally accepted in January of 2010 this coming April.  She is responsible for leading the organization during a period of extreme change within the UK higher education sector.  Under her leadership, Ucas became a digital service capable of serving over four million applications each year, in turn helping close to 600,000 students obtain either degree, postgraduate, or teacher training places.

“Our unique centralised service means that the UK has the fairest and most transparent HE admissions system in the world,” Ms Curnock Cook commented at the time of her announcement. “It has been an immense privilege to have been able to build on the extraordinary vision of the vice-chancellors of the early 1960s who saw the benefits of a single application process for students and universities.”

In her role as chief executive, Curnock Cook was responsible for overseeing a high volume of large-scale technological changes within Ucas while at the same time increasing the number of services and information available for students to access at, which currently hosts more than 220 million page views per year.  The website also offers students information concerning the application process as well as advice on how best to prepare for higher education, reports John Elmes for Times Higher Education.

Curnock Cook was awarded an honorary fellowship of Birkbeck College, University of London in 2015.  She also became an Academic Visitor at Hertford College, University of Oxford in October 2015.

Prior to her role with Ucas, Curnock Cook spent seven years as Director of Qualifications and Skills at the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency.  In that role, she worked with qualifications policy and development.

Chair of Ucas and vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter Sir Steve Smith noted that the organization was “genuinely very sorry” to see her leave her post.  However, he added that a great deal of respect was held for her in terms of her desire to “move on to another challenge.”

“She has been an exceptional chief executive, and it is going to be very difficult to replace her,” he added. “She goes with our sincere best wishes and our profound thanks for all that she has done to enhance our outstanding admissions service for students and universities.”

Curnock Cook has not discussed any future plans for after she leaves her position, writes Eleanor Busby for TES.

Ucas stated that a search to replace Curnock Cook will begin shortly.

The main function of Ucas is to operate the application process for universities across the United Kingdom.  The organisation is an independent charity that receives funding from the fees that are charged to applicants and universities, as well as from advertising income.  Ucas was created in 1992 when the former university admissions system, UCCA, merged with the former polytechnics admissions system PCAS.

Ucas is responsible for a number of services, including a number of online application portals and a variety of search tools, as well as free information and advice for a number of people, including students who are looking into enrolling in higher education, students with pending applications, parents and legal guardians, school staff members who help students apply, and providers of higher education.

While Ucas primarily focuses on undergraduate application services, the organisation also works in a number of other admissions services capacities, including for performing arts at a UK conservatoire, postgraduate teacher training programs, post-16 education and training, and a number of additional postgraduate courses.