University campuses are vast and expansive places, which means it’s easy for many lived experiences to get lost or overlooked. This is why it is essential that we have Higher Education (HE) professionals who are passionate about listening to students and making sure that every voice is heard, both educationally and socially.
GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews spoke to Emma McCoy, Pro-Director for Education at the London School of Economics (LSE), about the importance of creating a sense of belonging on campus, valuing student safety, and creating a safe and valuable social experience for every student.
I am currently the Vice President and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education at the London School of Economics and Political Science. I've been in leadership roles in HE for around 15 years, previously at Imperial, and when I saw a chance to do the same job at a social science institution rather than a STEM institution, I thought it would be a great experience.
It's such a fundamental discipline; I think a big problem in the UK is that it's perceived as a difficult subject, and people don’t think they’re good at it. I’ve always been interested in shifting those cultural perceptions. I think the issue often lies in the curriculum and assessments at the secondary school level, which leads to pupils losing confidence in their mathematical ability. For me, it’s about highlighting what students can do mathematically rather than what they can’t.
There’s a lot going on around this at LSE, namely our strategy LSE 2030, where we are prioritising educating for global impact. Looking at an inclusive educational and social experience is key here as well as having multiple ways of carrying it out. For one, we’re implementing a more inclusive curriculum, which begins with decolonising it but then spans more broadly. It’s about how we make the curriculum more inclusive and develop a sense of belonging and inclusion, which is essential for students to thrive.
I’m really excited about how education is moving and the ways in which students are increasingly taking ownership of their journey. We’re here to facilitate that exploration.
I think more students should have the agency to empower their own learning rather than being recipients of knowledge. I’m really excited about how education is moving and the ways in which students are increasingly taking ownership of their journey. We’re here to facilitate that exploration.
The journey is about so much more than just what we learn in the classroom — it’s about who we speak to and engage with, as well as activities students can partake in. We have LSE Life which offers lots of additional courses to help support our students through their journey. These aren’t necessarily directly linked to their course but supplement their experience with outside learning.
We have a real emphasis on critical thinking here, so there's a deep disciplinary understanding from courses, but we also look to produce really innovative graduates — those who are generating knowledge rather than consuming it. We also encourage all voices to be heard and respected and have a very international student body and faculty, which enables a global teaching perspective with a real emphasis on cultural awareness. Students develop leadership skills through this environment.
All of the departments run community-building events, and we recently appointed a Director for Student Experience who specifically focuses on this. He has been looking at belonging, community, and the student voice — all of which are interrelated. We need to look at students and what they require to support this community building. We have some incredible social events that happen in more relaxed environments where students have the chance to form friendships, an area that was severely impacted by the pandemic. There has been a real buzz around campus since being back, and we can see that students are happy to be talking and gathering together again.
However, there is no doubt that re-socialising is more difficult for some students than others, so it's also about ensuring everyone feels included and invited now that we’re back in person. This is particularly true of the undergraduate cohort; university can be an intimidating place, and we need to create an environment where students feel safe, and they can have their voice. We do have more work to do there, especially in terms of finding activities that support less extroverted students and those of different backgrounds.
It’s difficult; we’ve seen mental health issues rise post-Covid, and we need to tackle that from both sides. That means having support in place for students that need it but also putting pre-emptive intervention measures in place. I think social safety in general is really important and we need to focus on that. We’ve focused on sexual harassment and violence at LSE, which I know is hugely important to students, and the Student Union has been very engaged on that piece as well, including introducing an in-person consent training programme, which is run by the Student Union. This is mandatory for our first-year undergraduates, and because it’s run by students, we see better engagement than we perhaps would with a top-down approach.
Put students at the heart of every single decision you make.
Conrad Wolfram for his amazing work on mathematical technology and education, and also Ken Robinson for highlighting the importance of creativity in education.
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. She exposes many of the endemic data biases that exist and the disadvantages that women have because of that.