The Interview UK
Solent University
Secretary and Registrar

Jim Irving

Over recent years, universities have been working closely with their students to redevelop curricula, and support the development of diverse social spaces. In the aftermath of the pandemic, many institutions are now also considering how to reform administrative processes with the needs of students in mind.

As University Secretary and Registrar at Solent University in Southampton, Jim Irving is constantly looking for new ways to help students engage with administrative processes in ways that work for them. GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews asks Jim about how he came to his current role, and some of the initiatives that he is proudest of to date.

Jim's Journey

Kira: What has your journey been like, and how did you get to where you are today?

What I love about my job is the opportunity to help protect the interests of students who are studying at Solent now, and that will study at Solent in years to come. I’ve been working in Higher Education for almost two decades now, and honestly, I fell into this career path by chance.

When I was at school, I wanted to be an architect – but my teachers were honest with me that my skills never lay in technical subjects, so I went on to study English Literature as an undergraduate instead. I wanted to go on to research and teach, and I was lucky to gain funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to study a masters in Film, but I wasn’t able to work during this period – for the first time since being around fourteen years old – and found that I really missed being in employment.

Wanting to leave academia, but not being sure where I wanted my career to take me, was what led me to my first role as a course administrator at my undergraduate university. I found that I loved working with students, and that getting to interact with young people was a great way to create meaningful change.

I found that I loved working with students, and that getting to interact with young people was a great way to create meaningful change.

I’ve never planned out my career; lots of people in this field don’t, which is something I’ve learned by running aspiring academic registrar workshops with the Association of University Administrators and the Academic Registrars’ Council. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with some inspiring female leaders, who have really challenged me to think flexibly and overcome my impostor syndrome. This prepared me to put myself forward for opportunities as they arose and recognise the skills and experience I can bring.

Kira: In your previous role at York St John’s University, you worked with students on LGBTQ+ issues and the topic of mental health. Why do you think it’s important to be outspoken on these discussions as a Higher Education professional?

I feel that I’m in a position of real privilege and responsibility as a Higher Education professional, which makes me feel a duty to give back to students in any way I can.

During the pandemic, our Student Union president at my previous institution came up with the idea for his Boys Don’t Cry podcast. I felt I couldn’t bring any unique expertise to this area, but when I was asked if I wanted to feature on the podcast, I did know that I could support this work by being open and candid about my own experiences with my mental health.

It’s very common and normal for students to experience periods of mental ill health. This was especially true during the pandemic, but it remains true now that national lockdown has ended. To really support students to be as healthy and happy as possible, universities need to consider how their structures impact on how they engage with people and services within their institutions.

In my role, for example, I’m thinking about how our extenuating circumstances processes could be adapted and simplified to become more accessible. This is an ongoing effort, and one that I’m hoping to focus on increasingly in my new role here at Solent.

Kira: What are some of the initiatives that you’ve been proudest to deliver in your career?

Often I find myself more proud of other people’s work than of my own! I was very impressed by how my colleagues at York St John University responded to the coronavirus pandemic, very swiftly adapting how they worked to support students to continue to engage with their teaching and learning during lockdown.

Here at Solent, my colleagues have just launched an excellent new EDI plan, which has at its centre an inclusive curriculum framework which has been developed with the support of students as curriculum consultants. This is an approach I really want to mirror in my own work in student and academic administration – I want to hear from students about which university processes present barriers to them, and what I could do to make that less difficult in the future.

I’m very proud of what our students achieve for themselves, too. One of the best parts of my job is getting to celebrate with students and their families at their graduation ceremonies.

3 Quickfire Questions

Kira: What advice would you give to anyone hoping to come into the Higher Education space now?

Be flexible – there are so many routes into Higher Education, and you can find the one that best suits your skills if you’re open to new experiences.

Kira: What advice would you give to anyone hoping to come into the Higher Education space now?

I admire so many of my colleagues, but someone who really stands out to me is Smita Jamdar. Smita specialises in constitutional governance and regulation, and thinks and speaks so insightfully on how government policy impacts students.

Kira: Is there a book that you think everyone in the Higher Education space should read?

I Refuse to Condemn: Resisting Racism in the Times of National Security, which is a collection of essays by people who have experienced pressure to condemn their cultures or in-groups because of tragedies like terrorist attacks. This book has really opened my eyes to a facet of being a marginalised person, especially a person of faith, that I had never considered before.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Kira Matthews
Community Engagement Lead
Kira leads our community outreach team working hand-in-hand with changemakers on both sides of the pond. If you want to join the next series of The Interview, or just learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

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