The Interview UK
The University of Bedfordshire
Academic Registrar

Joanne Coward

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.

Joanne’s Journey

Kira: Could you give me an introduction to your role and what led you to it?

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.

Kira: A couple of your focuses are student engagement and achievement, what does that look like in practice?

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. 

Kira: What initiatives have you been involved with in student satisfaction?

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.
Kira: You've worked as a reviewer for the Quality Assurance Agency — how has that experience informed your approach to students?

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?

Kira: What does the role of belonging play in the student experience and the KPIs you have?

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.

3 Quick-fire Questions

Kira: What is your top piece of advice for anyone getting into HE right now?

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.

Kira: Who do you admire the most in HE or EDI?

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.

Kira: What is the most important book you have read?

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.  

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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