The Interview Australia
Victoria University of Wellington
DVC Students

Logan Bannister

Relationships are key, and this is especially true for student success. Students need good relationships with their faculty, first and foremost, but also with support staff, their peers, and even their families. All of these can help provide support and community, which results in better outcomes for the students. This is doubly true in academia, where there can be a tendency for various departments to silo themselves when they should instead be fostering cross-campus relationships, which will help them provide even better help to students. 

Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, spoke to Dr Logan Bannister, Deputy Vice Chancellor  (Students) at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, about how relationships are the building blocks to a successful university experience for all.

Logan’s Journey

Luke: What was the journey that led you to your current role?

My background wasn’t in universities but the vocational space, which we call polytechnics and Wananga which are Indigenous tertiary institutions. I worked for Wananga o Atoearoafor eight years as National Manager of Student Support at a time when the organisation was going through massive growth, huge change, and were quite new. My task was to design, build, and implement an effective a national student support model. I completed my PhD at that time on the retention of Indigenous students within an Indigenous tertiary context, so that continues to be quite useful in my work. 

From there, I went into the polytechnic sector, which is vocational education in New Zealand, at the Bay of Plenty Polytech, where I was charged with creating a different sort of student support model, under a traditional lens which needed to support students who transitioned quickly. We often only had them for a short period of time due to the nature of the curriculum. This taught me how to engage and support students really quickly and intensely to create an independent learner at the end of their time with us. Then, coming into this role, there was already a relatively new model in place after the university had been through substantial change, and my role is essentially to recruit and retain our students. Sounds quite simple and clear but it’s actually quite complex!

Luke: What are some of the things to get right when embedding a sense of inclusion and belonging across a whole institution?

That showed up very strongly in my Ph.D, and what I learned from that is that the teaching staff are the students’ most important relationship, and how that’s developed and supported alongside support staff is nearly as crucial. The second learning was that including the family is very helpful. The more you can integrate them to journey alongside the learner, the higher the chance the student will be successful. So we invite whanau and supporters to open days and inductions, keep them up to date with what the student is doing, and how they can support them. The third thing I learned is how students deal with pressures, which generally isn’t very well, particularly not post-COVID. Our students from high school tend a bit more sensitive, so what I’m looking for is to work quite heavily with the academic space and potentially look at assessment delivery in particular. My structure for student support models is that if a person at the first access point can’t solve the problem for the student, the next one has to. You need a heavily integrated support model where support staff know each other’s role and can always direct students to the right place if it isn’t them. And we measure the success of that through the student voice. Inclusion comes with that as well. You need a robust system, leveraging off multiple access points. We also have a strong health and wellness space here, which is also very important.

Luke: How do you best go about getting students to engage when it comes to these important topics?

We try to engage with them pre-enrolment, starting at open days and with our marketing team. Our marketing is heavily linked to our support model so our team can talk about what supports are available for people. Once they’re through the admissions stage, we start with communications, and that’s a mix of program and faculty-based, sprinkled with support comms, and it’s very well-mapped. The other critical thing is how we deliver messages. It needs to be in chunks, not too long, and via mediums that work for our current student demographic, so multi-modal. We also have to make sure we’re capturing the student voice, so we need to ask them at the start of the year what they want and how they want it. And by the end of the year, maybe they’ll have some more reflective ability to see what they need and what would be helpful for future students. 

Luke: How do you best go about getting everyone on the same page so there can be an institution-wide consistent approach to getting students engaged around these topics?

Universities have a tendency to gravitate towards being in silos, so the first thing is the leadership at the highest level needs to be committed to an integrated approach, and all be on the same path to put that into action. From there, we need to be very clear with what that looks like and how we might get there, and it will look different for different spaces. For my space working with support models, we need to heavily integrate, and work with the academic space, and that starts with me working with the Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic). From there, we train our staff, seek some expectations, lead from the front, and manage accordingly. A key mechanism of that is student surveys that run throughout the year and we use that data, alongside other information and discussions to create a cohesive, integrated action plan. It’s all down to providing the best student experience and student journey which is what we’re here for.

Luke: What is the best piece of advice that you have received over your career?

Relationships are key. If you don’t have deep, genuine relationships across the business, you’re dead in the water. So I spend a lot of time on and with my people and a lot of time on relationships in the wider business with key partners.

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Luke James
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