The Interview UK
The University of Stirling
Dean for Teaching, Learning and Student Experience

Alison Green

When developing an inclusive environment on campus, it’s crucial that Higher Education (HE) leaders listen to the needs and demands of their students. Alison Green, Dean for Teaching, Learning and Student Experience at the University of Stirling, recognises and prioritises this when developing new teaching strategies. 

She sat down with Charles Sin, Co-host of The Interview, to discuss her career in corporate law and HE, how she is helping students feel a sense of belonging on campus, and the initiatives crucial to positive change post-pandemic. 

Alison's Journey

Charles: Let’s start with a quick introduction to your current role and institution. 

I’m Professor Alison Green, and I’m the Dean for Teaching, Learning and Student Experience at the University of Stirling. This is a campus university based in the middle of the central belt of Scotland.

Charles: What brought you to student experience?

I haven’t had a standard academic career — I was a lawyer first and then changed career some twenty years ago. I became very interested in pedagogy, learning and teaching, and see student experience as going hand in hand with that. I have progressed through institutional roles, to reach my current role.  

Charles: Some recent guests have spoken about the need to foster a sense of belonging and inclusion on campus. What initiatives have you been working on to this end? 

We think it is important for students to be together on campus to foster a sense of belonging. Recently we have been very clear with the students that our predominant delivery is on campus and that we expect them to come there — because we think that gives them the best opportunity to have a sense of belonging and engage in their studies. We have facilitated that by offering cheap parking and making it easy for them to come onto campus. We do have hybrid delivery options, but primarily we expect them to attend in person. That clarity has helped. 

During Covid, we rapidly developed an online student life programme to try to keep the community together. We ran community-building events and online exercise classes, which were appreciated by those in isolation. We have now developed this further on campus and have a very colourful, exciting series of intercultural, sporting and other events both online and in person. Recent events have included Diwali, Chinese New Year, Burns Night and Eid — our students enjoy celebrating and learning about each others’ culture.  

Having give-it-a-go type events, especially in sport — since we’re a university very focused on sports — is a great way of getting people involved. We also have a large central social and informal study hub on our campus, which is a great way for students to meet people or study, particularly if they don’t have somewhere warm to study at home. 

Charles: Stirling has a programme called Stirling Essentials which helps incoming students transition into student life. Can you talk to me about why inclusion and belonging work is especially important for incoming students? 

Students may well have left a very remote home, so we want to give them the tools to navigate their new environment, so they feel safe, and in control. Ultimately, students are finding a new family when they arrive on campus, so we also give them opportunities to forge friendships and connections with other people. 

Stirling Essentials is an orientation information package that students can dip into, a one-stop shop for all of the information an incoming student might need. We also run workshops alongside it so students can talk to staff, existing students and each other before they arrive. It’s optional, but we have some essential activities we encourage students to do as part of orientation which includes developing basic library, digital and academic skills.

Charles: I understand that prior to working at Stirling, you started your career in corporate law. How has this helped you navigate the challenges of working in the student experience? 

I was a corporate lawyer for about fifteen years; I worked as a firm's deputy managing partner, running the corporate team. I was always passionate about sharing knowledge with staff and clients. I think probably more than the law itself, the experience of managing and developing a team is important. One of the key things I liked to do was to develop new members of staff and empower them to expand their experience. For example, I encouraged our trainee lawyers to go back to universities to tutor and interview aspiring solicitors. This made them feel valued and confident, but it also demonstrated to students the value we placed on our junior staff.  

I bring the lived experience of managing a business and professional life into the classroom and incorporate these skills into the curriculum — both in my own teaching and also institutionally. 

Charles: I understand that you’ve been at Stirling for about twenty years. What kind of EDI initiatives have you seen develop during that time? 

In my opinion, EDI has very much come to the fore in the last ten years. We now have extensive measures around EDI to support both staff and students. 

I think we also have seen a change in students’ expectations. Students expect their diversity to be recognised, supported and celebrated, so we are happy to work with them to achieve that. Within learning and teaching, we have also been developing our curriculum and assessment strategies to make them more inclusive, breaking down barriers for our students. In conjunction with student societies, we also celebrate culture and diversity so much more than we used to, using those opportunities to educate others on campus.

Charles: We have been speaking with a few different guests about the challenges around raising awareness on topics such as harassment and inclusion to improve student outcomes. What are your thoughts on this?

We need to put ourselves in the student’s shoes to see what barriers they’re facing to improve student outcomes. Part of this is developing all staff on campus to be more aware of the cultural backgrounds and needs of a range of student demographics, including those with specific learning difficulties or non-traditional backgrounds. We are beginning to do so more systematically, building understanding and empathy and breaking down barriers. It’s also important not to generalise  — not to make assumptions about a student’s life — it’s about recognising that different things work for individuals. 

We have a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and expect our students to undertake bystander training. We try to ensure our students are well-informed and clear about where boundaries lie. 

We have a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and expect our students to undertake bystander training. We try to ensure our students are well-informed and clear about where boundaries lie. 

As a campus university, we offer a relatively safe environment for our students, which they value, but we also offer practical steps to keep our students safe such as a safe taxi scheme if they find themselves with no funds and no way to get home. Also, we have recently introduced the Safezone App, through which students can seek help, no matter where they are in the world. 

Charles: Student engagement is another huge challenge. Where do you currently see students engaging the most and least? 

The sector as a whole is reviewing what good engagement looks like, post-pandemic. What level of engagement offers students enough support, community and learning to support their well-being and successful academic outcomes? Previously, if students turned up, they were seen as engaging. Now we know that that isn’t the case, there are many different ways to engage. So I think that, as a sector, we need to work with students to work out what good engagement means. 

Quick-fire Question

Charles: If you had a top tip on engaging students on diversity and inclusion topics, what would it be?

Just listen to them. We don’t need to force them to engage, the students are ahead of us. They expect it and embrace it. 

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Charles Sin
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