The transition from school to university can be tricky for even the most well adjusted students — so it’s important that institutions ensure support is accessible. Moreover, support must be adaptable and applicable to every student’s needs.
GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews spoke to Kirsty Palmer, Director of Student Services at Cardiff Metropolitan University (CMU), about how her previous experience has shaped her current role, what brought her to student experience and the importance of fostering a sense of belonging on campus.
I’m currently Director of Student Services here at CMU, where I look after all of our support offering including our disability services, mental health services, chaplaincy, money advice, careers support, and all the other programmes we have on offer to support students in their welfare and success.
CMU is a two campus university, and although we have over twelve thousand students enrolled on our courses, we’re a very tight-knit and friendly community. We offer all kinds of study, including practical and vocational courses as well as more traditional desk-based modes of study.
When I arrived at CMU in 2015, it was to work as Director of Employability. Then in 2017, CMU chose a new Vice Chancellor, who decided that employability should be combined into the same department as student support, and I took up the new challenge.
I was quite nervous at first, as I didn’t have experience in supporting students with their welfare, but my job has been so rewarding — I love getting to follow students throughout their journey at CMU, to see how they develop as learners, especially where they have overcome barriers and challenges to complete their qualifications.
Because of my experience in helping people back into work, I really believe that everything is an employability skill. Everyone needs to be able to advocate for themselves and to feel capable of solving the problems that come their way, in life, and in their careers.
This is why it’s so important to me that we think of students as people first, and as whole learners. I want students to know that they can bring their whole selves to their studies, because attending a Higher Education (HE) institution can be a transformative moment, and we need to provide them with the skills that will serve them best in the lives they really want to have.
Making sure that we reach the right people in the right ways is a constant challenge. To do that, we’ve adopted a single-door policy where students only have to make initial contact with us, and then our team will triage their case and respond with the appropriate support.
We refined this process over the course of the pandemic, based on evidence about how students are reaching out and using the services available. We have also partnered with our local NHS services alongside the other universities in Cardiff, to make sure that we know if a student is referred to them or needs their help. For me, it’s all about making students feel that they are valuable to their university, and not expecting them to know how to navigate these complex systems — especially if they are coming to us in a crisis.
Our Students Union is key to helping us build an inclusive university, especially when it comes to supporting mature students and commuter students. As a university, we are constantly looking for ways to throw the doors open and make sure that students know they are welcome no matter who they are.
I want students to know that they can bring their whole selves to their studies, because attending a Higher Education (HE) institution can be a transformative moment, and we need to provide them with the skills that will serve them best in the lives they really want to have.
In March, we held our first community Iftar, led by our Chaplain who happens to be Muslim. Over 150 students attended, as well as senior members of staff. We’re hoping to roll out a whole series of events like this next year, aimed at different communities within our university, to show students that their identities are not just welcome here but also celebrated and paid attention to.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to say the phrase “I don’t know”. It’s also important to recognise your own capacity and get comfortable saying “no” to things, too.
I really admire Prof. Shân Wareing: she has really demonstrated that it’s possible to be a brilliant HE leader while remaining compassionate, human and authentic.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens really kicked off my love of reading and of human stories, but I would also recommend Range by David Epstein, which shows the value in refusing to specialise early and of having a wide horizon and perspective in your work.