The Interview UK
Swansea University
Director of Academic Services

Adrian Novis

Universities are complex institutions that must meet the needs of a vast quantity of people at the same time. Adrian Novis, Director of Academic Services at Swansea University, believes that enhancing student experience needs to be at the core of everything that a university does to meet these needs, and this has driven many of the amazing initiatives that he has been a part of.

Adrian sat down with Charles Sin, Co-Host of The Interview, to discuss how to enrich the student experience for all and create a sense of community on campus.

Adrian's Journey

Charles: What brought you to your current role?

It has evolved a lot. Previously it was about quality assurance and regulation, but one of the things I was involved in very early was Student Experience, which only came to light as a concept in around 2004. Now, it underpins everything that we do here at Swansea. We are here to enhance the student experience in any way we can.

Within my remit, I have quite a diverse portfolio, which includes university libraries, timetabling, student partnership and engagement, postgraduate research, academic quality, the student journey from enrolment to graduation, and most key touch points in between. All of our staff are there to support the experience of our students; it has become increasingly central to what we do.

Charles: Swansea has been commended in the past for its student learning opportunities, but a lot has changed in the sector since then; how have you adapted to how student life has evolved?

It’s great to be commended, but I think within that, it’s a more nuanced piece, and my work continually evolves to meet the changing needs of students. To give an example, back in 2015, I led an initiative for the university to bring together all of the student-facing services at the front end, so students don’t have to bounce between departments. I centralised it and created MyUni, where we had a Hub (MyUniHub) that serves as a one-stop shop for any student need. 

Another thing I was concerned with was that surveys and feedback weren’t reporting what students were feeling in real-time, so I set up something that would be quicker. I partnered with a company called Unitu. We set up the Unitu Student Voice Platform for our students, which is primarily centred around non-academic queries — everything that makes a difference to students outside of the classroom. As soon as we got a query it would be immediately sent to the right person who would deal with it, typically within a matter of days. We have been able to fix many issues very quickly due to this, and it has transformed student satisfaction.

Charles: How do you foster a sense of inclusion and belonging on campus?

This is one of the biggest issues faced in the sector, especially after Covid. There are a number of things we are doing to cope with the changed environment. One of the key things students were asking us for was more group study spaces, so we adapted a lot of our learning spaces and created more agile teamwork spaces. Students were also asking for more social spaces, which we’ve been working on, particularly regarding events. We’ve introduced a mid-cycle ‘refreshers’ event at the end of January, which prioritises engagement in the middle of the year. We’re focusing on really listening to the student voice.

We also introduced a student portal to give students more information in real-time about what’s happening on campus, or if there is anything they need to be aware of. We’ve had a review of our student communications in general, too, using more social media and reinvigorating how we get messages across.

Then, we are working heavily with the Students’ Union to mitigate the impact of the cost of living crisis, creating opportunities for free and subsidised food, offering warm spaces in the evenings and weekends both for socialising and studying, and really working on the physical environment. We don’t have all the answers, but it’s a constant process of listening to student voices and making improvements all the time.

Charles: Discussions around EDI are becoming more prevalent in the sector; what are some of the challenges you have faced in this area?

We have done a lot of work in this area, and a big challenge was engagement in underrepresented groups. As a result, we look to pinpoint those less likely to engage and create more opportunities for them to engage. For example, in our January entry into the university, we see mostly postgraduate international students. We recognised that those coming into these programmes had very different needs to eighteen-year-old domestic undergraduate students, so it was about adapting to those needs and ensuring that they feel included. It’s also about ensuring that their experience isn't overshadowed by the dominant student experience in data.

Higher Education evolves very quickly, so a big part of it is about adapting how we include and how we reach out.

Higher Education evolves very quickly, so a big part of it is about adapting how we include and how we reach out.

Quick-fire Question

Charles: What is your top tip for engaging students on EDI topics?

Don’t assume that what works for engaging an eighteen-year-old is going to work for an international student, or an EDI UK student. Students have different needs, and it’s essential to find out what they are so that they can be met. Tailor your engagement methods to those you want to reach, and you will see much better results. One size certainly does not fit all.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Charles Sin
Charles works hand-in-hand with leaders and changemakers in higher education. If you want to join the next series of The Interview, or just learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

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