Specialist agency director joins UCAS to lead strategy and public affairs

Education specialist John Cope has left his deputy director job at consultancy Public First to take up the role of director of strategy, policy and public affairs by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

UCAS has appointed John Cope to a new role, leading on policy and public affairs
UCAS has appointed John Cope to a new role, leading on policy and public affairs

The role is a new one for UCAS, reflecting its aim to engage with politicians, shape the policy debate and influence the direction of education reform in the UK.

The job

Cope will lead the organisation’s engagement with politicians across the home nations and oversee the publication of its research to ensure that education policymaking is evidence-led and based on data.

Cope will also bring the unique data it holds on students and education providers to bear on shaping policy and put forward policy ideas to ensure fairness and transparency in the admissions system.

In a stakeholder element of the role, Cope will build relationships with employers, universities, colleges, and apprenticeship providers.


Chaos over A-level and GCSE results this year led education secretary Gavin Williamson to back down on teacher-assessed grades for students in the face of public outcry, after their results were initially downgraded by an algorithm.

Setting out his priorities in the new job, Cope told PRWeek: “Education couldn’t be higher up the Government’s priorities, making it an immensely exciting time to join UCAS’ senior team. Seeing UCAS kick into action immediately around exam results this year to reassure and help students suddenly thrown into confusion demonstrated to me just how crucial and important UCAS is. Being able to now play a part in that will be a huge privilege.”

Cope said that UCAS, a charitable organisation, was already thinking about the practical steps regarding next year’s exam results and what its application process will look like, with COVID-19 “not going away any time soon”.

He added: “I’m personally committed to seeing how UCAS can do more to highlight that a degree isn’t the only option available – an apprenticeship or technical qualification is just as likely to lead to a great career. This will require UCAS to speak to employers, the heart of our apprenticeships system, more than ever.”

Cope also warned that the university sector should not take it for granted that it would continue to enjoy global dominance.

He said: “Our market share is arguably slipping. UCAS will need to play its part as the ‘window front’ of UK education more than ever and help attract students from around the world.”

Career path

Cope joins UCAS from Public First after less than a year. He had the job of expanding the agency's higher-education practice, whose clients include Oxford University and Universities UK.

He was previously head of education and skills at the CBI, leading the business trade association's policy and campaign work in this sector.

Prior to the CBI, Cope worked for the Education Policy Institute think tank as director of comms and external affairs.

He started his career as a researcher for former shadow secretary of state for universities David Willets and served as Conservative MP Pauline Latham's her head of office before becoming an adviser to Nicky Morgan during her time as Secretary of State for Education.

He has also been a political press adviser to the Conservative Party and head of policy at tourism body Visit England.

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