The Interview UK
University of Bath
Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience)

Cassie Wilson

Higher Education (HE) students today face a combination of long-standing and unique challenges, from mental health struggles to the cost-of-living crisis. Universities’ Student Experience teams are often on the front lines when it comes to tackling these issues, responsible for ensuring students get the most out of their time at university. 

Max Webber, Co-Host of The Interview, sat down with Cassie Wilson, Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC) of Student Experience at the University of Bath, to discuss how she and her team are working diligently to enhance and safeguard the wellbeing of Bath’s student body. 

Cassie's Journey

Max: Let’s start with an introduction to yourself and your institution. 

I’m Cassie Wilson, the PVC of Student Experience at the University of Bath, as well as a professor of sport and exercise biomechanics. I’ve been in the PVC role for two and a half years, but I’ve been working at the university since 2008. 

Max: What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on since you last spoke to us?

Since I last spoke to you during the pandemic, the most exciting project I’ve worked on has been our Be Well initiative, a strategic, proactive, university-wide approach to improving mental health and wellbeing communication between staff and students. Through the Be Well initiative, we’ve introduced mandatory pastoral support and safeguarding training for personal tutors and doctoral supervisors, ensuring they have the skills to respond to students who come forward with issues. The training covers student wellbeing, responding to student disclosures, safeguarding, professional boundaries, and effective signposting. The focus of the training is very much on listening to students and then referring them to appropriate internal and external services. We’ve already had positive feedback that staff feel much more confident talking to students about mental health, so it’s been very exciting to be a part of that. 

Max: How has the University of Bath been tackling student cost of living struggles?

We’ve taken a very broad approach to the cost-of-living crisis. The most important thing is to ensure we’re listening to students and their needs, so we’re working closely with our Students’ Union (SU), giving us access to our students’ voices. From that, we’ve set up the Task & Finish Group that runs a wide variety of initiatives, including offering £1.50 hot meals on campus and laundry credits for those in student accommodation. Two years ago, we doubled our hardship fund and have made significant efforts to promote it, making it clear that it’s for everyone and anyone who’s struggling. For us, it’s very much about communication, so our comms team has been working hard to show students that we want to hear their cost of living concerns, and we’ll always take them seriously. 

Max: When it comes to student safety, how are you tackling sexual harassment on campus?

It’s always a focus at the University of Bath, but especially now since this week [5th-11th February 2024] is Sexual Abuse and Harassment Awareness Week. We run mandatory harassment prevention training for staff, and our students are asked to complete it during their induction. Alongside that, we’re continually looking at how we can promote our Support and Report tool. Supporting students is the primary focus, and then we work with them if they want to report sexual harassment, so it’s a conscious decision to place the support aspect first. We also have a great security team who work 24/7 on campus and around the city, and students can call them for much broader issues than simple security because they’re mental health first aid trained, and of course they’re training in harassment prevention too. With a combination of those touch-points, we can focus on education, prevention, and supporting all students with regard to sexual harassment. 

Max: What have you found is the best mode of engaging with students on these topics?

We have a very strong relationship with our SU, and we’ve found that SU student reps have a much higher engagement rate through social media. There is still a place for formal emails from the Student Experience team, but we recognise the need to find more creative and relatable ways of engaging students. The student societies are important too, especially in terms of co-creating initiatives. One of our Policy and Safeguarding staff members worked with our lacrosse team to co-design a workshop on consent and bystander intervention, and it was really powerful because it came from students who wanted to make a difference. It’s best when students themselves are running these initiatives because there’s a much higher chance that other students will engage with someone on their level.  

Max: How do you handle fast-paced change in the dynamic HE landscape?

Universities are not really known for fast-paced change, but COVID-19 demonstrated to us that we’re capable of moving quickly when we need to. Since then, we’ve created the Student Experience Advisory Board and all its sub-groups so the right people can come together, discuss relevant issues facing our students, and make improvements in good time. We’ve learned a lot of lessons during the last few years, most significantly that having the right structures and systems in place is vital for developing and implementing necessary changes.

Max: What are you currently working on with regard to the attainment gap and social mobility?

The University of Bath’s attainment gap is relatively small compared to the sector, but we still need to understand its nuances, so we’re improving our data to look at intersectionality, with intervention then targeted based on that. We’re also going through a curriculum transformation across all subjects – redesigning our assessments to be more inclusive – which is having a positive impact on our attainment gap.

In terms of social mobility, our Gold Scholarship program accepts 50 students from disadvantaged backgrounds every year. These students obviously get financial support, but they also receive mentoring, attend networking and workshop sessions, take part in volunteering, and have access to a comprehensive support structure throughout. Those students often go on to have incredibly successful careers, and then they come back in to mentor other students on the scholarship. We try to roll out the most successful parts of that program more broadly, creating those critical opportunities that promote social mobility. 

Max: What is the best piece of advice you've received during your career?

It might be quite general, but ‘be yourself and be authentic’. Keeping this in mind has been very useful throughout my career.

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