The Interview UK
Cardiff University
Director of Student Life

Ben Lewis

Universities are unique institutions, but they also make up an essential part of the city or local area that they belong to. This is especially true of Cardiff University, which has changed over the years to reflect the diversity and vibrancy of South East Wales.

As Director of Student Life at Cardiff University, Ben Lewis is responsible for making sure that every student can access the support and opportunities they deserve. GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews asks Ben about what brought him to the Higher Education (HE) sector, and how the support he provides to Cardiff students has evolved over time.

Ben's Journey

Kira: What do you cover in your current remit, and what brought you to the student services field?

I’m currently Director of Student Life here at Cardiff University, where I look after all of the different services available to support students. I began my career as an elected SU officer right after being a student myself at Aberystwyth University — that was where I first encountered a lot of the issues that are still current in student services.

Unfortunately, sabbatical roles are term-limited, so at the end of that period I looked for other positions within the university sector. I went into a role within the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), looking at policies that widened access to HE for underrepresented groups. A role opened up at Cardiff while I was living in the city. I took it and never left!

Kira: You’ve been at Cardiff for some time now — what has changed at the university since you started in your first role there?

Cardiff as a city has changed dramatically within the last ten years: it’s now a very diverse and vibrant European capital, and the university has changed in response. The biggest change you can physically see on campus is our Centre for Student Life. It was completed recently, and visibly puts student experience at the heart of everything we do. 

We’ve also increasingly taken an evidence-based approach to updating our service provisions, and we pay a lot of attention to student feedback. On top of this, we’ve diversified our support offering, especially regarding mental health support. We have a unique intervention model, where our multi-disciplinary team respond to and triage cases where concerns about students are raised to us. 

On top of this, we worked with the University of South East Wales and Cardiff Metropolitan University to form a partnership with our local NHS services, to make sure that those professionals have a presence on our campuses, for when staff and trained peer support workers aren’t the appropriate respondents. 

Setting up our Student Futures service also reflects how the way we view career support has changed. We bring traditional careers support together with volunteering and global mobility opportunities, so that students can come and have conversations with us without having to discuss just their employment prospects. 

Cardiff University’s leadership has always been open to hearing suggestions — they’re happy for us to present problems and potential solutions to them as they arise, and to get on with our work with trust and respect for what we do.

Kira: Of all of the initiatives that you’ve implemented at Cardiff, which ones are you the proudest of?

I’m very proud of our focus on peer support to improve inclusion on campus, especially during the pandemic when so many students felt isolated. Quality peer support is built into everything we do in our department. 

I’m very proud of our focus on peer support to improve inclusion on campus, especially during the pandemic when so many students felt isolated. Quality peer support is built into everything we do in our department. 

I’m also very proud of the tailored support packages we offer to groups of students who are especially prone to mental health challenges: care leavers and LGBTQ+ students in particular are likely to have specific needs, which we’re committed to meeting. 

We also offer extra support to students during periods of transition, such as freshers week. Transition periods like this are the riskiest for everyone regarding what can go wrong, but they are also periods of opportunity. Making sure that everyone can get through these times smoothly is a crucial part of widening access, removing barriers and enabling student success.

Kira: How do you make sure that Cardiff students know about - and engage with - all of the support at hand?

We try to offer support in the format that suits students best. For example, some services work very well online, and the accessibility of remote support means that students miss their appointments less and reach out more in general. With know that with other services like counselling and careers support, students really want in person engagement.

We also put time and care into our pre-arrival messaging, to make sure that at every step along the way, students are hearing from us and know we are there to support them. On top of this, we take an evidence-based approach to providing solutions to our students, so that we can be sure our work resonates with them. 

3 Quickfire Questions

Kira: What advice would you give to anyone coming into the HE space now?

Be open-minded about your career options, but at the same time, move towards the direction that inspires you most. Being kind is also very important.

Kira: Who do you most admire in the HE sector?

I’m very inspired by student services leaders and by my colleagues at AMOSSHE, the UK Student Services Organisation, but I particularly admire Steve West, the Vice Chancellor at the University of the West of England. He speaks on mental health with real leadership and vision. 

Kira: Is there a book that you think everyone in the HE space should read?

I’m very interested in what Susan Cain’s book Quiet can teach readers, but I would really strongly recommend a TV show on Channel 4 called Big Boys. The plot revolves around a widening participation student on campus who is experiencing depression. I think that it’s very accurate, and it can show HE professionals what it’s like to be in that person’s shoes.

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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