The Interview UK
University of Salford
Pro Vice Chancellor for Education and Student Experience

Claire Hamshire

Beyond academic studies and extracurricular engagements, the heartbeat of any university is the sense of community it fosters among its students and staff. This understanding is central to the work done by Claire Hamshire in her role as Pro Vice Chancellor for Education and Student Experience at the University of Salford.

Claire met with Max Webber, Co-Host of The Interview, to share her insights on everything ranging from the role of communication in creating a safe campus environment to the importance of embracing diversity within a student body.

Claire's Journey

Max: Can we start with a quick intro to yourself and your institution?

I'm the associate Pro Vice Chancellor for Education and Student Experience at the University of Salford. Our institution is located in Greater Manchester. It has four schools and a diverse portfolio, offering everything from health through to business and engineering.
 We have a very diverse student population and a fantastically vibrant student community.

Max: What inspired you to pursue a career in Student Services?

My first career was in physiotherapy, working within the NHS as a physiotherapist. To improve patient care, it became apparent that we needed to start by making sure that staff had the right skills, and so I became involved in education. My first job in higher education was as a lecturer in physiotherapy at Manchester Metropolitan University. For me, it's always about asking: How can we do things better for our students?
 How can we offer the best student experience? Ultimately, what we’re doing at university is preparing students to be outstanding graduates, to go out into the world and make a difference in people's lives. We’ve got thousands of alumni from Salford who are doing fantastic work all over the world.

Max: What are the key things to keep in mind when creating a sense of belonging and inclusion for such a diverse student body?

I've actually done quite a bit of work on belonging as part of my day job. I'm a professor of higher education, and all of my research has been around student experience. I've been looking at that process of becoming and belonging that's essential when students come into new learning spaces, whether it's a six-week course, a four-year undergraduate, all the way through to PhD. They're in that general process of transitioning and developing through time and it's a long and ongoing process. I think, fundamentally, the starting point needs to be listening to students and that's what I do a lot of – I'm not a student, so I don’t really know what it’s like to face these challenges. We can only develop our provision if we focus on listening and making sure that we hear what is the real lived experience of students.

You have to distil it down, and when we’ve done that, we've identified two things students need to feel a sense of belonging: firstly, that they are valued for what they bring; and secondly, that they matter to us and that we are absolutely invested in them.

A student once said to me that the most important thing about belonging is for an institution to offer small acts of kindness. If somebody knows your name, if you get a kind email, if you walk down a corridor and people smile at you – all that makes you feel like you're part of a community. So I think we always need to consider space and place and how welcoming we are, by always listening to our students and ensuring that they feel valued.

Max: Students have many demands on their time. How do you cut through the noise to ensure that your key messages are heard? 

Again, it comes back to people feeling valued within an institution. It’s pivotal that everyone feels valued for who they are, that they matter, and that we have respect for what they bring as individuals. We need to make sure not to treat our student body as a homogeneous group because they are all unique people with their own complex lives. Being a student is only one element of who you are, whether you're a parent, a carer, or anything else outside of your studies.
 So we need to be aware that there is great diversity within just one person.

Fortunately, we've got a great equity, diversity, and inclusion team at the university.
 They do a lot of work listening to both staff and students and making sure that we are constantly asking ourselves if we are an inclusive community. We need to make sure that we always focus on inclusivity.

Finally, if something is intrinsically valuable to our students, we need to make sure it's embedded within a curriculum and not treated as extracurricular. Extra-curricular offerings are not always an option for students who may have families or jobs. I’ve made it a fundamental principle that if I want students to work with me, they will be paid for their time.

Max: What’s your approach to creating a safe student environment, particularly when it comes to preventing harassment and sexual misconduct?

I think the question here is about communication.
 Using only one form of communication is never going to work.
 But we’re fortunate to have an outstanding marketing and comms team here who help us identify the best opportunities to communicate with students. The first step is always raising staff awareness, so we’ve done a lot of work around improving internal communication with staff.

Then we need to think about student communication, and our approach spans across a range of media. So we have a weekly newsletter, where we publish our more formal plans, and we have some fantastic social media accounts – which are more informal. I think being able to have a tone that is right for students is really important. But it’s crucial to remember that no one tone is right for everyone because we haven't got a homogeneous student body, so we need to speak with a diversity of voices.

Max: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Find your community. You're always part of a team wherever you work, and I think being able to work effectively with a team is hugely important.

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