After a diverse career in industries spanning childcare to accounting and financial services, Ian Foster entered the education sector more than 14 years ago. He explains that schools in his native Australia, whether government (public) or private/independent, don’t operate within districts, but rather under the structure of a school principal who in most cases also serves as the chief executive officer.
Since 2012, Ian has served as director of business operations and company secretary at The Knox School, an independent co-ed school serving approximately 800 K–12 students in Melbourne, Victoria. Australian public schools educate approximately 60% of Australian primary and secondary students, with the remaining 40% in private or independent schools.
“In Australia, there is a significant difference between the role of a business manager within a private/independent school and one in a public school,” Ian says. “This is because government-run school budgets are determined by government hierarchy, which ultimately drives a lot of business structure decision making. Private and independent schools that get some federal and state government revenue must determine school fees to complement government funding in order to fund their overall operations and have full independence in overall decision making.”
About 18 months after joining The Knox School, Ian was joined by a new principal, who came on board at a time when the school had experienced declining enrollment. Ian saw his role as a challenge to use his experience and skills to influence and drive improvements.
“We have experienced significant staff changes, invested in information technology, reviewed major service/supplier contracts, and developed a new master plan,” Ian says. “I am proud of what I have been able to contribute to the changes over the last 3-4 years in restructuring the school for its future. We have kept school fee increases to an absolute minimum as compared to our competitors and seen increased enrollment for the 2018 year.”
An ASBO International member for the past decade, Ian is also active in the Association of School Business Administrators (ASBA), an organization serving Australia and New Zealand. He recently completed five years of service on ASBA’s national board of directors and is in his 12th year serving on the state chapter/committee of ASB Victoria.
Outside of his school business role, Ian’s interests are varied. From golf and soccer (for which he played semi-professionally) to following American sports teams (Dallas Cowboys, Boston Celtics, and Texas Longhorns) to traveling, Ian stays active! He has visited the U.S. a couple of times and hopes to attend an ASBO Annual Meeting in the future.
“Working in this sector is by far the most enjoyable work I have undertaken,” Ian says. “This is partly due to the nature of my role, but more so because it is an industry about people and not just driven for financial outcome—we are helping make a difference for our young people.”