The Interview UK
Leicester University
PVC for Education

Liz Jones

With intake demographics changing every academic year, it’s important that universities are agile in responding to the needs of individual students. Higher Education (HE) professionals often aim to achieve this by making sure that staff and students have as many opportunities to meet and share their points of view as possible.

As Pro-Vice Chancellor (PVC) for Education at Leicester University, Liz Jones is responsible for making sure that every student at her institution can thrive academically. GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews asks Liz about her move from being an academic in French Studies to Higher Education leadership, and some of the initiatives that she has been proudest to deliver.

Liz's Journey

Kira: What does your current role involve, and how did you get to where you are today?

I’m currently PVC for Education at the University of Leicester, where I’m responsible for all things teaching and learning. This involves interacting with students directly, sitting on the executive board and being strategic about delivering the best learning experiences that we can.

I completed my PhD in French literature at the University of Birmingham, and was lucky to get a lectureship at the University of Leicester. My thirst for knowledge brought me to postgraduate study, but once I started teaching, I found that I loved helping students become the best that they could be. I got to my current role by following that passion, even though it’s more conventional for HE professionals to put their research first.

My drive to support students is an integral part of my work today. When it comes to making decisions and implementing new policies, I am always thinking about how students will be impacted on an individual level. I work closely with our Student Union — the energy, enthusiasm and intelligence of the student officers really inspires me.

Kira: With so many students needing your support, how do you make sure that certain issues aren’t deprioritised?

Our student body is very diverse, and so are the needs of our students. I’m very proud of the fact that 64% of our students are from Black or other minority ethnic backgrounds, which has been a big change over the last few years and reflects the diversity of Leicester’s local population. Many of our students are also from lower socio-economic backgrounds, or are the first in their families to attend university. Living and working in such a diverse area is a huge privilege.

Things like universal learning design and good assessment practices benefit all students, no matter what sort of background they are from. A key priority for me is to demystify the ‘rules of the game’, such as assessment rubrics, so that all students know what they need to do to succeed.

We have also set up specific initiatives that empower students from minority ethnic backgrounds to make the changes they want to see. Our Curriculum Consultants programme is led in partnership with our Student Union, to give students the skills they need to start a dialogue with their academic departments and to lobby for changes they want to see implemented.

Kira: What have you learned from new programmes like this?

Each project in our Curriculum Consultants initiative is small, but we always learn a lot from them — whether it’s about making images lecturers use in PowerPoints more inclusive, or widening the scope of reading lists.

This is true even where we might consider our take on a subject to be objective. For example, when teaching the history of STEM subjects, it’s important to note why so many leading figures are White and male. Similarly, when it comes to offering placements and career advancement options, we need to make sure that there is something appropriate for every student, regardless of their commitments and backgrounds.

Kira: Leicester’s Aim Higher campaign is very central to its outreach work. Why is widening participation so important at your university?

We’re just finishing celebrating our centenary here, because Leicester University was actually founded in the aftermath of the First World War, via crowdfunding, with the aim of giving local young people new opportunities. Those roots are very important to us when it comes to considering what the purpose of education is and how transformative it can be.

Kira: Your Stand Together campaign has been designed to enable collaboration between staff and students. Why have you chosen to implement this campaign in that way?

Our Stand Together campaign has been running for quite a few years now, and I’m proud of how we have taken a university-wide approach to its roll-out. We’ve involved academics, students, sports teams, accommodation managers and wellbeing services, among others. It was important to us that people know they can report inappropriate behaviour no matter who they are.

Things like universal learning design and good assessment practices benefit all students, no matter what sort of background they are from.

I’m also very proud of how we have incorporated training and awareness into this campaign, through education like active bystander sessions for all new students, to make sure that everyone knows what sort of behaviour won’t be tolerated.

Contact Kitty Hadaway to hear about how GoodCourse is helping universities.

3 Quickfire Questions

Kira: What advice would you give to anyone coming into the HE space now?
Be prepared to persevere — a career in HE isn’t easy, but it is worth fighting for. It’s also important to follow your own passions and interests, even if this isn’t conventional for someone with your career goals. Just do what makes sense to you, even if it takes you off the beaten path!

Kira: Who do you most admire in the HE sector?

Professor Alex Hughes, my PhD supervisor, who works at the University of Westminster. She had a huge impact on my life, because I studied her undergraduate module as a final-year student, which made me want to pursue postgraduate studies and later a career in HE.

Kira: Is there a book you think everyone in the HE space should read?

Fiction-wise, I have to recommend The Colour Purple. In terms of non-fiction, I would suggest Gloria Steinem’s Revolution from Within. I found that this book articulated so much of what was happening around me in an insightful and empowering way.

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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