The Interview UK
UWE Bristol
PVC for Student Experience

Jo Midgley

In the last decade, universities have seen a lot of changes in how they are regulated, as well as in the challenges that their students face. As a Pro Vice-Chancellor with a background in professional services, Jo Midgley has a unique insight into how change is made within Higher Education institutions.

GoodCourse universities lead Kitty Hadaway asks Jo about her journey from student to Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of the West of England (UWE), and the outcomes she hopes to deliver for her students in the next few years.

Jo's journey

Kitty: Jo, you started at UWE as a student, and you’ve spent over 25 years in your career at the same institution. What has that journey been like, and how did you get to where you are today?

I’m not an academic, and my journey to becoming Pro-Vice-Chancellor is somewhat unusual in that respect. I’ve always worked in professional services, starting initially in a temporary capacity before securing a permanent position in our business school – looking after students from abroad who were with us on Erasmus placements. From there,I kept progressing into more senior roles as time went on.

Coming from a non-academic background has however meant that at times I’ve experienced a degree of impostor syndrome creeping in at different points in my career. UWE have always been incredibly supportive and our Vice Chancellor, Steve West, has always spoken about the importance of team-building and making the most of everyone’s skills. I bring valuable experience to my role because of my non-traditional background, and at UWE I feel empowered to use that fully and be my authentic self.

Kitty: You were a student at UWE some time ago now. What developments are you proudest of, or perhaps would have most appreciated when you were studying there yourself?

Students at UWE now have so many opportunities – there are many more options open to them than were available when I was studying, because there has been a lot of investment in our campus and our spaces.

My job is to encourage students to engage with all of the opportunities waiting for them and embrace everything that they can.

But UWE has also stayed true to its roots. We’re an ex-polytechnic, and we’re still very focused on practice-led education and making our students ready for their careers ahead of them. My job is to encourage students to engage with all of the opportunities waiting for them and embrace everything that they can. A big part of that is creating personalised education that works for everyone.

Kitty: How did you maintain that personalisation throughout the pandemic, when students were often very isolated?

Throughout the pandemic, we had to focus on the fundamentals – maintaining good learning outcomes first and foremost, so that students could still progress in their studies despite all the upheaval.

Lots of our students lived alone on campus throughout the different lockdowns, so we were very careful to keep making sure that their well-being was maintained as far as possible. We partnered with UniQuest to reach out to every student and ask how they were doing, and we watched for behavioural changes that could indicate a student may be struggling.

We’re trying to move away from describing new kinds of learning as “blended” or “hybrid” because I think this implies a deficit. What we really want to do is hold on to the learnings from the pandemic and combine it with our campus-first learning system, which we know students expect from UWE.

Kitty: We’ve witnessed a lot of change in the last few years - not just because of the pandemic but because of the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, and increased discussion of sexual violence after the Sarah Everard case. How have you worked with students through all of that?

Throughout the last few years, students have rightly been asking if we have done enough to be inclusive and foster an open environment on campus. We’ve been working very closely with our Student Union on our Speak Up campaign, which encourages students and staff to report sexual harassment and violence, because we want to support them.

We have a number of exciting projects coming up too – such as rolling out our award-winning Equity programme more widely. This programme gives Black and other minority students the chance to connect directly with businesses and hear from Black leaders and role models. We always try to show students that they can achieve their goals, whatever those may be, and guide them to explore what is out there for themselves.

3 Quickfire Questions

Kitty: What advice would you give to anyone coming into the Higher Education space now?

Embrace every opportunity that comes your way, because you never know where they might lead. It’s so important to be yourself, too. Authenticity is the only thing that is sustainable in this kind of work.

Kitty: Who do you most admire in the Higher Education space?

Mark Lombardi, an American academic. His perspective on universities is that everything in the classroom should push and challenge students, but everything outside of it should not. This is a fantastic way to frame our approach to improving the student experience.

Kitty: Is there a book that you think everyone should read?

Brene Brown’s book Dare to Lead. Shame and fear often hold people back from leadership, and this book explains why it’s so important to get in the ring, regardless of how you feel.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Kitty Hadaway
Universities Lead
Kitty is passionate about using technology to create safer and more inclusive campuses, and is an expert on student engagement and delivering training at scale. Get in touch at to learn more.

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