Gender equality in Higher Education doesn’t just open doors for women: it brings a new world of ideas and perspectives for people of all genders. Professor Leigh Robinson, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Student Outcomes at Roehampton University, has led the way in this regard, consistently promoting a culture of equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) throughout her career.
Professor Robinson sat down with Charles Sin, Co-Host of the Interview, to look back over her illustrious career, discuss how to foster a culture of inclusion and assess the state of student well-being in universities and beyond.
Absolutely! I’m Pro Vice-Chancellor for Student Outcomes at Roehampton University.
Like many academics, I feel a responsibility to make sure students achieve positive outcomes. They invest a lot of time and money, so it’s up to us to provide them with everything they need to thrive. I was drawn to Roehampton because of its mission for social change through education: we work tirelessly to widen access. I’ve had the opportunity to accelerate and enhance that change, ensuring our academic schools and professional services align with the student experience. It’s not just about supporting students while they’re here, but also about helping them to succeed once they move on.
If I had the solution, I’d be making a lot of money! It’s a huge challenge for the sector, and the pandemic has only made it more pronounced. We’ve had students whose entire university experience was shaped by Covid. Now, students have returned to campus, and we’ve resumed face-to-face teaching: it improves engagement and attendance, but the most important thing is that students feel safe. Our Students’ Union has been bringing back its events, clubs, and societies, which have been integral to creating a sense of belonging.
Due to the pandemic, we’ve had to rebuild a lot of our community from scratch, and that calls for complex and multifaceted solutions.
We’re a faith-based institution, and our colleges have been working closely with the Students’ Union and academic schools to deliver well-being services. It’s not only vital for the campus to be inclusive but also to feel like a safe space: it lets students feel at home here and be themselves. Due to the pandemic, we’ve had to rebuild a lot of our community from scratch, and that calls for complex and multifaceted solutions.
My work with sports organisations focuses on institutional improvement, helping them to become the best they can be. It’s exactly the same approach I take to working with students: they come to university because they want to be the best they can be. University is really hard work — it’s a complete myth that students come here to try and avoid getting a job. Many of the skills I bring to my work in sports can also be applied to HE: sharing knowledge, facilitating learning, promoting self-belief, and implementing strategies. Students are no different from everyone else, and we need to stop talking about them as a different category of people. Whether it’s members of sports organisations, employees in a company, or students in a university, we need to treat everyone with the same respect.
Women’s Space is an organisation dedicated to progressing women’s careers — not just in education, but across every sector. We run seminars, help women with their resumes, and assist them in applying for promotions. We encourage dialogue about issues that affect women, especially things like menopause which can be difficult to talk about. I believe in Women’s Space because of their commitment to equity. I was fortunate to have excellent mentors early in my career, but not everyone has access to that. So Women’s Space helps to uplift all women — providing support and solutions to overcome structural barriers so that every woman can fulfil her potential.
Students deserve to feel like their possessions are safe, their mental health is safe, and they are physically safe. It’s a massive challenge for all institutions. We’ve been investing significantly in well-being to support students with their mental health, and we’re also working hard to improve physical safety. We take sexual harassment very seriously, running campaigns about awareness and consent. All those campaigns are student-led, and we also require consent training as part of induction.
Our Students’ Union has been crucial in delivering bystander training: it’s about giving the students the confidence to identify unacceptable behaviour, report it, and intervene if they feel safe. It’s important to look around the sector and learn from the best practices. For example, Stirling University has a groundbreaking campaign called “Is This Okay?” which has changed the conversation about consent. Over the last five or six years, the sector has come a long way, but there’s still a lot of work left to do.
Coming out of the pandemic, we’ve had to rebuild student engagement. I think across the sector, Students’ Unions are becoming less contested and less politically active. But we’ve seen a lot of engagement on social issues like harassment and the cost of living. We’re working with students and institutions to implement policies to support those causes. I think the hardest thing is to get students to talk about their courses — student feedback, workshops, assessment measures, and so on. Some students might not feel like their voices are being heard, so we must find a way to get through to them. The sector needs to convince students that their voices matter.
Be absolutely honest about what the problem is. Explain why we need to have these conversations. Only then can you work towards a solution.