The Interview UK
Loughborough University
Associate Chief Operating Officer and Director of Student Services

Manuel Alonso

Synthesising different services is often the most effective way to make student support services more accessible and streamlined as they are used in the day-to-day running of a university. Manuel Alonso, Associate Chief Operating Officer and Director of Student Services at Loughborough University, has applied this logic to Loughborough’s student support environment to great success.

Kira Matthews, GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead, sat down with Manuel to discuss his journey into Higher Education (HE), his work overhauling sexual misconduct processes, and the initiatives he is most proud of to date.

Manuel's Journey

Kira: Could you give us an introduction to your current role and institution?

I’m the Associate Chief Operating Officer and Director of Student Services at Loughborough University. 

Once I finished my studies I did a PhD and a bit of teaching experience and was wondering what I wanted to do with my life. I worked a temping job at a Community Services team, doing some admin but I also got to meet a lot of the service users — largely adults with learning disabilities. As I did that, an opportunity came up at Loughborough College, and after that I ended up managing all the support services for students with additional needs. 

I saw the same job advertised at the university, and moved there. The common thread is that I’ve always worked in an educational environment.

Kira: You introduced a lot of new support around how Loughborough approaches disability. Can you talk a bit about that?

A lot of it was back of house — the nuts and bolts not visible to students, but I brought lots of disparate functions together. The services that now form our student services were dispersed: the disability team, the mental wellbeing team and the counselling service. 

We’ve also brought security into this, the rationale being we are a campus so 70% of their work is welfare related. Bringing these things together gave us a much better understanding of how we deal with needs that emerge. We have clearer referral routes now security are plugged into the service. 

We created a team of wellbeing advisors 5 years ago to be close to the students in the academic schools. They deal with broader concerns that students present — we want students to feel like there isn’t a threshold you need to meet to ask for help. Students don’t present in neat parcels — they don’t have parts that need financial support and parts that need academic support, it’s bundled together. So we tried to think about that. 

Kira: We often discuss student safety and welfare on and off campus. What does creating a proactive environment of education on these topics look like at Loughborough?

We did a lot of work on sexual violence which we’ve broadened out to other student safety issues. There are two strands of the work we did there; one being with disclosures and incidents (which I’ll come back to), the other being campaign and awareness-raising work around sexual violence. Our Student’s Union has input on how we roll out consent and healthy sex training, so every incoming fresher has transition content they do before they arrive at the university. We guide them through interactive material they can complete before they arrive — also on anti-discriminatory practice more generally. 

When they arrive in their halls of residence they will also have a consent workshop delivered by the SU. We try not to bombard people with information all at the same time, when there’s so much to take in.

Kira: What initiatives are you most proud of?

Our sexual violence work. When I first moved into the director role, we had no policy, strategy or process for dealing with complaints. We now have a duty team that deal with serious incidents and complaints. We’ve got a process and procedure that allows us to have good options conversations with survivors, allowing us to support them in the broadest sense possible, and a disciplinary process which means we take action against perpetrators as well. 

When people experience these incidences, it’s our job to make sure they’re well supported by the university and that we can take action, and demonstrate that we are in line with the values and standards we expect of our students. 

Kira: In terms of wider student experience, what does that look like on an operational level, especially to do with community creation, inclusion and belonging?

I work closely with our PVC for Education and Student Experience and we’ve just developed a new strategy around it. Loughborough is well known for student experience, it’s one of our strengths. We have a campus based experience here, so there’s lots of opportunities for students to build a sense of belonging. 

Post-Covid, we’re re-building opportunities for people to get involved. I see belonging as a prism. There’s a dominant culture of campus but there are a lot of other cultures too.

Covid presented a challenge because lots of social interactions ceased. Post-Covid, we’re re-building opportunities for people to get involved. I see belonging as a prism. There’s a dominant culture of campus but there are a lot of other cultures too. Our job is to not let the dominant culture crush everything else out of existence, but also foreground other cultures as far as possible so they’re visible.

If you’re a student that doesn’t connect with your halls, there needs to be ways to do this elsewhere, like student societies — whether this is to do with our international community, non-league sports of liberation campaigns. 

3 Quickfire Questions

Kira: What is your top piece of advice for anyone coming into HE right now?

Listen to students, engage and try to understand them. There is no shortage of assumptions around what students want and need. Talking to them reveals their passions and interests, and in turn what you need to do to support that. 

Kira: Who inspires you the most in HE?

Sabbatical Officers — they all have an amazing drive and ability to get stuff done.

Kira: What is the best book you’ve read?

The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus. Sisyphus was punished by the Gods to roll a bolder up a big hill, and had to start again each day. It’s about finding meaning in what you’re doing.

Much more recently, Vuelta Skelter. It’s about someone cycling the 1941 tour of Spain, telling the story of the Spanish civil war. 

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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