The university experience is about a lot more than learning and obtaining a degree — for many students, life-changing experiences come in the form of extra-curricular activities, community bonds and more. It’s the job of Higher Education (HE) practitioners to connect students to everything university has to offer them.
GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews speaks to Jo Coward, Academic Registrar at the University of Bedfordshire, about the ways in which student satisfaction and belonging are instrumental in academic achievement and success, how this ties to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and more.
My responsibilities include student registration, assessment and exams, timetabling, graduation, quality and standards, student records and student systems. This is the seventh university that I've worked at, so between them all, I've covered most areas within the student journey.
I’m here because of my passion for education. It’s life-changing when students are viewed as individuals, with special attention paid to their background, families, and where they go on to work. It's something I feel very strongly about, and see it as a form of public service.
The primary focus of a university is the pursuit of knowledge through teaching, learning and research, and I see my role as enabling that function to work at its best, minimising complexity and bureaucracy and maximising opportunity.
For us, it’s a whole university approach that is happening as part of our new university strategy which we’ve called Transforming Bedfordshire. Every objective is working in collaboration with students, either through student representatives or the SU, who are part of everything we do. We have four super-KPIs which are focused on employability and attainment.
We also have one about EDI which ensures that irrespective of a student’s background, they can achieve their full potential. The fourth is then on student satisfaction because we want them to have a great time while they’re here and to feel they have benefited from their experience.
We've just launched a registration and timetabling initiative which doesn't seem extraordinary, but it enables students to register and access all facilities with a full timetable before they begin their studies. This enables students who have other commitments like work or caring responsibilities to know their timetable and plan around it ahead of time, as well as be able to engage in university life before they begin. We also have a student rep system to put emphasis on student voices — we are very open to new ways of engaging different kinds of students such as those living on campus and those who are not.
We are very open to new ways of engaging different kinds of students such as those living on campus and those who are not.
Because I've been able to use what I learned in a number of universities, I've seen how the same approaches are carried out differently in different places. It has also given me an invaluable network where people are willing to share their knowledge and expertise. It has helped me to ask the questions: What do you say you do? What do you actually do? How do you know you're doing it? How do you know it's any good? How are you going to make it better?
It's crucial because everyone wants to feel like they're part of something. Primarily we want students to feel they belong to their course, understand what’s expected of them, know their tutors, and meet outside of the classroom. The way in which we organise our campus also fosters a sense of belonging in that we strive to make it easy for them to meet up outside of class.
Ultimately we let them know that we want them to succeed, and that helps too — it doesn't matter who they are, we are going to work hard for your success. Sometimes this also means working harder for some students who have had more obstacles in the way of their success than others.
Look, listen, read, and ask questions. HE changes all the time, so it’s important to absorb everything. Also, don’t be afraid to apply skills you have from past experiences because it might work well; it’s just about getting involved.
My current colleagues are amazing because of their openness, we’re all going in the same direction but with different skill sets and approaches. This lets us build on those and work together.
I read Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem in my mid-teens and life took on a whole new meaning. It’s a collection of articles that she wrote and it's very relevant to women all over the world.