For universities with high proportions of commuter students, the challenge of belonging takes a novel form. Not only do Higher Education (HE) practitioners need to account for more diverse demographics, but they also work even harder to create a sticky campus, where students can partake in a range of activities to enhance their studies.
The University of Westminster’s Director of Student and Academic Services Caroline Lloyd hones her passion for student experience in the provisions she has facilitated for Westminster students. She sat down with Kira Matthews, GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead, to discuss social mobility, how to best signpost support, and the post-pandemic initiatives that have enhanced students’ welcome back to campus.
I’m the Director of Student and Academic Services at the University of Westminster. My remit is a large one, it brings together a number of teams that support the student academic journey, like libraries, technology-enhanced learning, as well as student well-being teams — counselling, funding, international student support, careers and employability and halls of residence.
Also part of SAS is the Research and Knowledge Exchange Office. At Westminster, we want to make links between research, knowledge exchange, employability, learning and teaching and more.
The University of Westminster has campuses in central London and a site in Harrow, with around 19,000 students in total. We have a very diverse student population, representing 169 countries. We’ve also got a high percentage of commuter students. We were London’s first polytechnic, founded in 1838 and began as an institution for the public understanding of science.
I’m a librarian by profession, and during my career I ran a lot of enquiry desks and help points. They tend to be open long hours and they’re seen as a fairly neutral space. People talk to librarians about things they might not otherwise talk about.
Students need to be signposted to all sorts of support — and the quicker you can do this, the better chance they have of getting back on track and succeeding. It really did come from enabling students to do the best they could. I’m first-gen and Free School Meals, so I’m part of that demographic that found university daunting. It’s about minimising barriers.
Post-pandemic, we’ve had two years where students haven’t really been able to be on campus in any meaningful way. We have a brilliant relationship with our Students’ Union. We’re currently training students who will buddy new students at the beginning of the academic year — called FANS (Friends of Arriving and New Students). They go through intensive training and proactively work with new students. My team are partnering with our Students’ Union to grow this into a year-round peer support scheme.
Pre-pandemic, students came to campus, the library, and then went home. Now we’re thinking about a sticky campus — what we can do to keep people here, because it’s the extracurricular activities students participate in that really add value to a degree. This has involved a lot of refurbishment and funding the Students’ Union to waive membership fees for clubs and societies in the coming year.
It really stepped up over the pandemic, and we put a great deal of value into it. In 2021, we were ranked 2nd for social mobility in a Sutton Trust IFS report and we’re really proud of that.
We’re currently training students who will buddy new students at the beginning of the academic year — called FANS (Friends of Arriving and New Students). They go through intensive training and proactively work with new students.
We’ve always focused on EDI because of our demographic — we have lots of first generation, Free School Meal students, a lot of racial diversity and all of the intersectionality around that. We’re wanting to do things in a more visible and explicit way. For example, we partner with an organisation called Employing Autism, who work with universities to set up internships for students with autism.
Do anything and everything that you can. I started my library career doing project work, you never know what skills and connections you’ll get.
Jim Dickinson, who writes for WonkHE. He’s doing all the legwork when it comes to breaking news, and he makes it very accessible.
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Susan Jeffers. I really identify with imposter syndrome and experience anxiety, so it’s been a really important book for me. Also the Finn Family Moomin Troll, by Tove Jansson. It’s a children’s book, but there’s a lot of philosophy about being kind and living at one with nature.