The Interview UK
Aston University
PVC for Students

Alison Levey

Students are not a monolithic group — those joining university campuses come from a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences. The job of an astute Higher Education (HE) practitioner is to accommodate this variety and ensure that all needs are met.

Alison Levey, Associate Pro Vice Chancellor (PVC) for Students at Aston University spoke to Kira Matthews, GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead, about her time at the Office of Fair Access, improving student experience and the initiatives she is most proud of.

Alison's Journey

Kira: Could we get an introduction to your current role and institution?

I’m currently Associate PVC (Students) at Aston University, based in the centre of Birmingham. It’s a vibrant space, with 18,000 students from all backgrounds. We’re very employability focused, and keen for students to get out into the world of work.

My career has been a journey into student experience and success. What I really care about is enabling students to reach their full potential. It’s a cliché but it’s true! When people ask me about the student services work we do here at Aston, for me it’s about removing the barriers as much as we can to enable students to show what they’re academically capable of. We’re trying to help with the bits of life that get in the way.

Kira: I spoke to the PVC of Student Experience at the University of West London and for their students, the ‘bits of life’ are often jobs, caring responsibilities etc. Is that mirrored at Aston, and how do you support this?

Our students have complex lives. Like everyone else, they’re carers for older relatives, siblings and children, living in multigenerational households, some don’t have income, but really need to take the life-changing opportunity of studying. We have a variety of initiatives and hardship funds. We also focus a lot on the placement year. We want students to have employment experience integrated into learning because for many, it’s difficult to seek it out separately.

We have a Student Project Office where we employ students to run student experience projects within the university. They fit it around other commitments, but it gives them real employment experience.

Kira: That sounds like a great initiative — what else are you most proud of?

It’s definitely one of the things I’m most proud of, particularly because we set it up really quickly. If you’re used to working in a university, you’ll know that speed is not always the strong point. I was proud from how proactive the process was and how it got everyone working together as a team — as well as the tangible benefits for our students.

Kira: You worked at the Office for Fair Access. I would love to hear how this inspired your approach to supporting students?

Compliance isn’t the type of thing that gets people excited — but it keeps us on our toes and ensures that we know we’re doing the right thing.

We have a Student Project Office where we employ students to run student experience projects within the university. They fit it around other commitments, but it gives them real employment experience.  

It’s really important that we get those basics right. When it was the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), it was very much focused on the access and participation agenda, which is deeply embedded into what we do. I was able to bring my day-to-day working experience into OFFA, which was useful for both parties.

Kira: We hear from a lot of universities about the importance of inclusion and belonging. I’d love to hear about your approach to that post-Covid?

After two years, it’s been a delight to have so many students back on campus. This cohort of students has been impacted so much by Covid. We’ve been including students from previous years that were impacted too. We’re doing a lot of work on trying to get them socialising, and learning how to be together on campus.

Kira: Student safety, especially preventative work around consent and harassment is really important for student leaders. I’d love to hear more about how that works?

We speak to our students a lot about this, and encourage them to talk to us. Like many universities, we use Report and Support, and we provide pastoral support if needed. We also use an app called Safe Zone which gives students an emergency button when they need help now. They can report through that too. If we know, we can hopefully do something to support them.

Kira: In terms of providing support, does that look like counselling services?

We’ve got a full range of counselling staff on campus. We also have mental health support and general advisors. We work incredibly closely with our Students Union — another point of contact for students. Sometimes, students want to talk to the SU and not us — which is fine, as long as they’re talking to somebody.

Kira: What does your collaboration with the SU look like?

We do all sorts of things with them. At the moment, we’re just about to start refurbishing the ground floor in our main building. It’s a 1940s building but it hasn’t been refurbished in a few years. We’re talking to students about how to go about this — especially on issues around accessibility.

Contact Kitty Hadaway to hear about how GoodCourse is helping universities.

3 Quick-fire Questions

Kira: What advice would you give to someone entering the HE industry right now?

Understand your motivations, and why you want to make a difference. I care deeply that we get our services right for students, because it makes such a difference.

Kira: Who do you admire the most in HE?

Hard one. We have a new VC who’s only been with us for a couple of weeks, but I’m really optimistic for where that’s going to take us as an institution.

Kira: What is the most important book that you have read?

Most recently, High Performance Habits by Brendan Burchard has really helped focus me, and think about how I do things.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Kira Matthews
Community Engagement Lead
Kira leads our community outreach team working hand-in-hand with changemakers on both sides of the pond. 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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