The Interview UK
Swansea University
PVC for Education

Martin Stringer

Good Higher Education (HE) practitioners are all too aware of the importance of student-led approaches to course design and campus initiatives. For Martin Stringer, Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC) for Education at Swansea University, this is essential to his work putting students in conversation with university administrators, who are all too often out of reach.

GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews sat down with Martin to discuss his journey into the HE world, how he promotes collaboration between disparate functions of university administration, and the strategies he’s most proud of.

Martin's Journey

Kira: Your career illustrates a devotion to teaching and HE. Could you tell me what you set on that journey?

I’m PVC for Education at Swansea University. I come from a family of teachers, but I progressed as far as a PhD, so pursuing a career in a higher education setting seemed most appropriate, and I was excited about the prospect of it. I came in from a teaching side rather than a research side.

Kira: You’re responsible for learning and teaching. Are there any initiatives you’ve led that you’re proud of?

There’s quite a few! The one that has had the most impact was something we put in place when I first joined Swansea — Steps4Excellence. We asked a group of academics, students and professional services workers what would transform the student experience at Swansea, what extra steps could we take to enhance our institution and what kind of work that would require.

We identified a series of initiatives across different areas — some were actioned immediately, others have taken years to embed. One strand of our work was changing the tutorial system into the learning and mentoring system. We also looked at the experience of learning itself and the broader student experience. Each strand of the project was jointly run by an academic and senior member of the students union; it was a true partnership that enhanced the student experience at Swansea.

Kira: Can you give examples of what was borne from that initiative?

One impact was amplifying the student voice. Before the programme, we had about 30 student representatives across the university, we now have 400 very active student representatives, and students are present on almost all committees across the university.

We had a look at our tutorial system and put more emphasis on mentoring, and also built a student life network that picked up a lot of welfare work. We made sure that welfare and academic support were seen as equally important, but handled by different people.

We also developed a process of looking at ways that students could be involved in designing their learning. This was vital going into covid, as we had already done a lot of the foundational work which made the adjustment process easier.

We’re currently undertaking a race action programme, which involved a staff-student survey. Though we received lots of positive responses, we had to listen to what was underneath that — the stories of racism and the issues many People of Colour are facing.

It’s still ongoing — but once we’ve brought it together we will set out an action plan for the university.

Kira: Swansea has always scored highly for student satisfaction and experience. What do you think makes your approach so unique?

I’m not sure what we really do differently — ultimately it’s the attitude of staff and the partnership we have developed with the students: we all work closely and properly engage. Our students are committed and go the extra mile — and some — to support students. It’s been this way for a long time, and this attitude has maintained our strong scores.

Kira: You have responsibility for widening participation and supporting the student journey. What is your approach to supporting students, particularly those in widening participation schemes?

There’s not one thing we do. It’s about listening, recognising needs, and recognising the diversity of needs that exist; making sure people are available to make adaptations in regards to what the students actually need.

We’re currently undertaking a race action programme, which involved a staff-student survey. Though we received lots of positive responses, we had to listen to what was underneath that — the stories of racism and the issues many People of Colour are facing.

It’s important to analyse and monitor data. In regards to actual delivery, I’ve always been pleased that people volunteer to run initiatives where we have gaps. I’ve always encourage people to come forward to lead projects and run pilots.

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

3 Quickfire Questions

Kira: What would your top piece of advice be for those entering the industry?

Ensure you have a commitment to the student experience and a passion for teaching and research. Also, recognise it’s tough work, but if that’s what you’re passionate about, then there are incredible rewards.

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

Difficult question! I gave a presentation a number of years ago about leaders I admired. The first 3 leaders I had at Birmingham University were all women at a time when women in leadership roles were uncommon. Each one of those has been inspirational to me. Shearer West, now VC at Nottingham, is the only one still in the industry.

Kira: What would you say is the most important book you’ve read?

Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man by Michael Taussig. It’s an anthropological book, writing about the way in which people talk about terror. He looked at both the contemporary situation in Colombia, as well as the colonial situation, when the British were running rubber plantations. Taussig asks how best to talk about terror, whether through the presentation of hard factual data, or through novels such as those by Joseph Conrad.

How you use language has been useful to me, in the HE context — recognising what we don’t say, as much as what we do say has been thought-provoking.

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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