The Interview UK
University of the Arts London
Director Library and Student Support Services

Juliette Sargeant

Universities can often have multiple sites or campuses, and striking the balance between each one taking its own approach to Student Experience and creating a culture that spans across them all is vital.

Juliette Sargeant, Director of Libraries and Student Support Services at University of the Arts London, sat down with GoodCourse to discuss her current role, the challenges and initiatives surrounding student experience, and her insights on engaging students on important topics. 

Juliette's Journey

GoodCourse: Can you please kick us off with a quick introduction to your current role and your institution?

I'm Juliette Sargeant, and my current role is Director of Libraries and Student Support Services at University of the Arts London. University of the Arts London is one university made up of six colleges, each of which is over 100 years old. We've got over 22,000 students, and we're in the top two in the world for art and design.

GoodCourse: I'm curious to know a little bit more about you. What brought you to this role and the wider field of student experience?

My current role means I'm responsible for library services, and that's six sites of libraries, our archives and special collections, and the full range of student support services, ranging from disability services, student advice on funding and immigration, counselling, health advice, and chaplaincy, all the way through to academic support and language development. 

I've been working in HE for over 30 years, and I started in quality assurance and policy development and moved into specialising in further education and art and design qualification development. I then moved into international collaborations and partnerships, which was quite a big leap. And then, in 2020, I moved into this role. So, while they all seem really different, ultimately, you could say that the student experience is still at the heart of all of them.

In each of these roles, my driver was and continues to be, ‘what do my actions and initiatives mean for the student experience? And how can we enhance it?’ 

GoodCourse: Is student experience something that's overlooked over all six campuses from the wider institution, or is it individualised per campus?

Regarding leadership structures, we don't have one single point of leadership for student experience. The commitment to student experience runs through the whole university and strategy. That said, we have just introduced a new student experience framework that really is about understanding what constitutes a really great, excellent student experience, and that is run through the Deputy Vice Chancellor for education. So it is a coordinated effort. But because the individual colleges do have their own identities, they will also have their own individual bespoke initiatives that reflect the disciplines that they offer. 

GoodCourse: What sort of initiatives have you been working on in creating a sense of belonging on campus?

Fostering a sense of inclusion and belonging on campus is a particular challenge for a multi-site university. There's no central campus where you can hold events and run initiatives. A key initiative we have is called the Big Welcome, which is UAL's version of the Freshers Fair. That's a series of events and workshops, both online and in person, and it's now run for students at each stage of their student journey, so at the beginning of each year. We treat each year as an opportunity to reconnect students with other students and remind them about the services and support available. 

We treat each year as an opportunity to reconnect students with other students and remind them about the services and support available. 

We also have a strong partnership with our Students' Union, and clubs, societies, and sports play a huge part in well-being and inclusion, bringing students together from across the disparate colleges into those networks. Last year, the university funded them to provide free memberships because we recognise the importance of club societies and sports to student wellbeing. We also fund the sports kit. So thereby, we've removed any financial barrier to participation, and it's been really successful — we've seen membership quadruple.

GoodCourse: How has your role in the Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre informed the student support services work that you do?

I became a trustee at OSARC in 2022, and they are a hugely impressive organisation that delivers incredible support services to survivors across Oxfordshire. One particular initiative I am interested in exploring and potentially applying at UAL is the independent sexual violence advisor role. OSARC have that as a joint role with Oxford University and has just started it with Oxford Brookes University. They work alongside the team of specialist caseworkers within student support services and provide independent emotional, practical advice and support to survivors. I think it's a fantastic initiative and would really like to explore how that might work at UAL.

GoodCourse: Where do you currently see students engaging with the most and the least?

We have just started a really interesting pilot project looking at student engagement, and it's focused on a small group of courses where we have noticed issues around attendance and engagement. Attendance is very different in a creative arts and design institution because we have a lot of studio practice. But we've identified a small group of courses where we're running this pilot project. The question really is, what are the indicators of poor engagement? Where do we find them? And how do we intervene early to reengage students and improve retention and attainment? I mean, what we notice, which is common across the sector, is that once students disengage, it's really hard to reengage. So the important thing is to really get in early. 

GoodCourse: what is your top tip when it comes to engaging students on EDI topics?

We have a really engaged student body when it comes to EDI. They're often leading the conversation. The reason for that is I think because art and design students are often reflecting their identities in their work. So it informs the work they produce. That leads to much discussion and debate around identities and EDI issues. And we want our students and graduates to critique society and critique structures and critique us. So they're often leading it. 

My top tip would be, if we are doing a campaign around an EDI issue, to platform our student and staff voices in any campaign so that we are speaking from a place of authenticity and authority. So when we are doing campaigns around particular issues, we will ask our students and staff to speak to them and speak about their experiences.

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