The Interview UK
Brunel University
Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education

Claire Turner

In an era where Higher Education is becoming increasingly commercialised, it’s more important than ever to remember that community lies at the heart of any university. To make sure that students reach their full potential, institutions have a responsibility to foster a culture which prioritises inclusion, well-being, and belonging. This understanding is central to the work of Claire Turner, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education at Brunel University.

In today’s discussion, Claire met with Chris Mansfield, GoodCourse’s Client Services Lead, to discuss topics including her career so far, the power of a diverse student body, and the importance of fostering a sense of community and belonging. 

Claire's Journey

Chris: Tell us a little bit about yourself and Brunel University. 

I started my academic career with a PhD in Biochemical Engineering at University College London. I spent the next ten or so years as a researcher, working first at UCL before moving to an agricultural engineering research institute. From there, I moved to Cranfield University, where I got involved in teaching for the first time, before taking a post with The Open University. I really enjoyed my time teaching, especially when it came to widening participation. It really makes you feel like you’re doing some good in the world. After about ten years in that role, I moved to Brunel University, where I’ve been ever since.

One of the best things about Brunel is our diversity; about 70 percent of our students are from underrepresented minority groups, and just under half are overseas students. We also have a lot of first-generation students, who didn’t necessarily grow up with the expectation of going to university. We have a huge focus on applied technical education, with a particular emphasis on vocational programs such as healthcare and engineering. As a result, we produce graduates who have highly sought-after skills and excellent employability. We’re also one of the most international universities in the world – we recently ranked #4 in the world in the Times Higher Education Rankings. Our university is based on a campus, which is almost unique in London. It’s a really vibrant place to be, and I’m proud to be working here. 

Chris: Academic engagement is a key challenge across the sector. What approaches have you tried to support students with things like time management and assessment preparation?

It’s certainly a real challenge. When I was at university, the student body was much more homogenous; now, students are much more diverse in their backgrounds, interests, and needs. Many of them have caring responsibilities, and others need to work alongside their students. So we need to adapt to better serve today’s students. It’s not enough to just dictate a timetable to students anymore – they’re paying a lot of money to study here, and they have other competing responsibilities. So we’ve introduced several measures to make our courses more flexible; for example, we record all of our lectures and upload them to the VLE, though ideally we still want students to come on campus so they engage in group learning and develop a sense of community with others in their cohort.

We have a new medical school, and we’ve adopted a new pedagogical approach called Team-Based Learning. That’s really driven engagement – students really work together, and no one wants to let their team down – and we’re now trying to roll that out to other programs. During the pandemic, many students began to study online, and not all of them came back in person. So we’re trying to find different ways of encouraging students who are able to come back on campus to return so that they can enjoy the benefits of collaborative learning.

Chris: Studies have demonstrated the link between belonging and academic outcomes. What’s the best way to help students build a genuine sense of connection with their learning community?

We have a key focus on helping students feel like they are active partners in their education, rather than passive learners. So we spent a lot of effort encouraging students to get involved, from providing opportunities to meet students in other cohorts to creating a two-way dialogue between students and staff. It’s challenging when you have such a broad spectrum of students – for example, some of our students live on campus, while others commute, and you need to think differently about how you engage those groups. We’re also trying to move away from traditional assessments and towards a more authentic model that is more relevant to student experience and the world of work. As part of that, we’re restructuring our credit system and driving our program teams to consider new ways of assessing students. 

Chris: Students have many competing demands on their time. How do you cut through the noise and make sure you reach everybody?

We’re working hard to help students understand what support is available. If students have queries about health and wellbeing, accommodation, financial problems, or visa issues, we need to guide them to the right places. But we also need to ensure students know what is expected of them. If they don’t turn up and invest the time, they are unlikely to be successful. Because of the marketisation of higher education, there can be an expectation that if you just pay the money you’ll end up with a degree. But that’s not the right mindset – you can’t get in shape by just buying a gym membership, you actually need to work out too! There’s also a responsibility on institutions: it’s not right for universities to accept students without giving them the tools they need to succeed. Now, we’re trying to coordinate our efforts across the institution, for example by tracking students’ attendance. That’s not intended to be punitive – it allows us to spot students who might be struggling so we can intervene early and offer support. 

Chris: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received in your career?

I can tell you the worst – I was told quite early on in my academic career that I wouldn’t be successful because I’m not an “alpha male!” But that led to the best advice I’ve ever heard – “You can’t be someone you’re not.” You need to be authentically true to yourself and overcome challenges in your own way. Embrace who you are. 

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Chris Mansfield
Client Services
Chris is one of the Client Service leads at GoodCourse, dedicated to helping institutions better engage their audience to create a more inclusive, safer, and more successful environment. To request to be featured on the series, get in touch at

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