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Alumni of the month – June 2014

Roger Howard
Sociology, 1971

Robert Humphreys

Following a successful twenty-year career, Roger Howard has helped shape UK drug policy and encouraged a wider debate amongst society by holding high-profile positions such as Chief Executive of the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC). He has previously been Chief Executive Officer and Director of a number of drug and crime charities such as Crime Concern, DrugScope and Nacro.

In the late 1960s, Roger began his studies at LSBU (then known as the Borough Polytechnic) amongst a period of social change sweeping the nation and wider Europe. With demonstrations by students and workers in Paris, the global anti-Vietnam war movement, abolition of the death penalty, abortion rights for women and the legalisation of homosexuality, Roger was drawn to the social sciences: “All of these changes took place in a vibrant cultural atmosphere which everyone has now come to know as the "swinging sixties". At the time, changing the social order seemed entirely possible.”
The Social Sciences Department at LSBU boasted a talented group of sociology lecturers and Roger recalls the diversity of his fellow classmates: “The student group on my course was quite disparate in age and this provided for some rich, very serious but at times, amusing debates. Lectures and tutorials were stimulating and never boring as we were a diverse group of students.”
The UKDPC was an independent body that provided objective analysis of UK drug policy, as well as ensuring this was used by government. As Chief Executive, Roger was responsible for managing the work of the Commission and was its principle representative with the media and politicians: “One of the challenges of this role was getting to grips with the global reach of drug policy. Not many areas brought together such distinct interests as health care, education, policing and criminal justice. I needed to keep up-to-date with developments across all sectors to engage in informed dialogue with professionals from numerous disciplines.”
Encouraging informed discussion amongst professionals, the public and politicians about what works to address drug problems was a priority for Roger. An example is the misunderstanding about the nature of substance dependency and whether "addiction" is a legitimate disease: “In the UK this year, around 3 million people will try a controlled (i.e. illegal) drug at least once. Most will come to no or little harm but some become heavily dependent, both psychologically and physiologically. No one sets out to become an addict and many will leave their drug dependency behind, sometimes through a medical or social intervention and sometimes without any professional help.”
Having led some of the challenges to UK drug policy over the past two decades, Roger is proud to have facilitated public debate and illuminated how evidence-based analysis can inform programmes to tackle illegal drugs in practice: “Whilst policy change is slow and there are no simple solutions, the global response of governments and the United Nations to the existential and practical problems posed by illegal drugs is one that is slowly being challenged. Change is afoot.”

Roger attributes part of his professional success to the lessons learned during his studies at LSBU, such as the importance of having good knowledge and qualifications to progress one’s career ambitions. Now retired, what advice could Roger give to current LSBU students and young graduates? “Firstly, I would advise students to commit to achieving the best grades of qualification possible. Secondly, developing soft-skills such as volunteering, team-work and campaigning will add breadth to your portfolio. When recruiting graduates, I look for qualities that set one person apart such as leadership of sports teams. These are skills and experiences that employers look for in addition to the necessary baseline qualifications. Finally, remember that many recruiters make up their mind in the first few minutes of an interview. Complacency and "winging it" are the enemy of success!”