When it comes to delivering a quality student experience, hearing from current students as much as possible is key. As Vice Principal (VP) for Academic Development and Student Experience, Lynn Kilbride involves students in all of Robert Gordon University (RGU)’s decision-making processes, to make sure that their voices are heard and built into the student experience design.
GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews sat down with Lynn to ask about how she builds a productive student-staff relationship at RGU, and some of the initiatives that she has been proudest to work on to date.
I’m currently VP for Academic Development and Student Affairs here at RGU, where I work closely with our students to make sure that they co-create everything about their time at our institution.
RGU is a very vibrant and committed community with a reputation for transforming lives, through excellent student experience and learning opportunities. We know this from our high performance in league tables for student satisfaction, but also from the excellent rates of employment for RGU graduates.
We bring in a diverse range of students to RGU, often including lots of people from widening participation backgrounds. We support them by providing bespoke learning opportunities and personalising our learning experiences so that everyone gets the chance to thrive. We really pride ourselves on being a university that prepares people to become effective global citizens and top-quality employees.
There are quite a few Higher Education (HE) professionals who started their careers in healthcare first, and I think the unique thing we bring to this space is an understanding of how to enable others. We really appreciate how an individual’s background changes how they receive and understand information, whether that’s academic teaching or support for their physical or mental health.
That’s very much the case in HE too — everyone at RGU is here to learn and grow, but has different needs that need to be met in order to make that happen. On top of that, we’re all very much driven towards making the world a better place, and education plays such an important part in that.
The partnership between students and staff here at RGU is really central to everything we do, and students can see this from the moment they join us for welcome week. We co-create everything with students to make sure that we’re supporting their physical, mental and social well-being as effectively as we can. We want students to feel safe and looked after, but also challenged and stretched in a way that allows them to grow.
We co-create everything with students to make sure that we’re supporting their physical, mental and social well-being as effectively as we can.
We get students on board with our aims by ensuring that campus is a fun and vibrant place to be, as well as a centre for learning. Student participation is built into all of our governance and decision-making structures, which means that we get students’ perspectives on different issues at every level of the organisation.
We have a welcome week at the start of the academic year, as well as a welcome back week after the Christmas break. This involves introducing students to the university, but also to each other and the different clubs and societies they can get involved in. We want students to feel that being here is a good thing, so we have a welcome back week in place to help students feel excited to reintegrate back into our community after spending time away.
We also have just brought in pause and reflect weeks in the middle of semesters, to help students see how far they have come and identify any areas they need help with.
When it comes to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues, we don’t want to be tokenistic. It’s important to focus on EDI education as an immersive experience, rather than to think about it in terms of learning outcomes, to make sure that what we’re conveying really sticks. That starts with ensuring that our university’s values — like respect, care and tolerance — are embedded in everything we do.
At the same time, a heightened awareness of EDI issues over the last few years has meant that some students have a real fear of getting things wrong, so don’t want to engage with these topics at all. What students tell us is that in order to learn, they need to have a safe space where it’s okay to make mistakes.
That was one of the aims of our Human Library project, which aims to help students understand each other and the different cultures they originate from, by opening up transparent and constructive conversations.
Don’t see HE as an industry or a sector, but instead as an ecosystem of society that gives a transformational experience to students, and gives back global citizens and well-rounded graduates.
I really admire my previous line manager, Professor Nic Beach, who is now Vice Chancellor at Middlesex University. He has been an EDI champion for years, long before it was a trendy space to work in! I have so much respect for how he advocates for different people and causes — not just through sitting on committees and taking on work, but also role modelling and helping people feel welcome in his team.
A book that has transformed my outlook on life is Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, which shows how to use your difficult experiences of the world to improve it and create change for others.