As technology continues to evolve, education must adapt to keep up with the pace of change. This understanding is at the heart of the work done by Matt Brindley-Sadler, Academic Registrar at the University of Winchester, who is striving to enhance the student experience through digital innovation.
Matt sat down with Charles Sin, Co-Host of The Interview, to discuss his varied career in industry and education, the challenges and opportunities posed by new technology, and the importance of community and belonging.
I’m the Academic Registrar at the University of Winchester. My role encompasses records, policies, and regulations, and I also oversee onboarding, graduation ceremonies, and quality assurance. But it’s more than that — it’s really about supporting students, all the way from enrolment through graduation and beyond. We’re here to advise, guide, and remind students that they’re part of a larger community.
I’ll try not to give my whole life story! I haven’t had a traditional journey, in or out of education. After I left school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I took a couple of gap years. Then I went to university, but it wasn’t for me. As a young adult, perhaps I wasn’t quite ready. So I started working in industry, and over 20 years I did a bit of everything — even setting up an airline in the Caribbean! Those experiences taught me that people work best when they trust and respect the people around them.
So then I felt ready to go back to university — I returned as a mature student, and I never left. I studied Law at Staffordshire University and ended up getting a job here too, eventually taking over as programme leader for the course I’d studied. After working in professional services and academia, I realised we often tend to overcomplicate things. I wanted to streamline systems: keeping the positive aspects of the university experience while maintaining professional standards.
Everyone tries to find their own tribe. Everyone wants to feel like part of something. I don’t think isolation is a part of our nature. At Winchester, our focus is to help all members of our university community to find a place where they belong. For some, it will be the classroom; for others, it might be a sports team. Everybody is different, and we should respect that. One of our core values as an institution is the idea that through transformation everyone can make a difference. To uphold that, we’ve developed a five-year strategic plan to transform how we work, communicate, and educate. We recognise everyone has a right to education, but there is also a collective responsibility. As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you tell me, I’ll forget. If you teach me, I may remember something, but if you include me, I’ll learn.”
At Staffordshire, I was in a hybrid role that bridged professional services and academics. About 18 months before I joined, the university launched a new Digital Institute on its London campus. It was a golden opportunity — we not only had the chance to expand the space physically but also to rethink how it was used. Everyone talks about a digital revolution but they can’t always articulate what that means to them or their stakeholders. For me, it’s about changing the culture around technology so that people can apply it in their own way. If you just try and impose it, people become disconnected.
Here at Winchester, we continuously strive to improve our processes in order to enhance both the work experience of staff but ultimately focus on enriching the student experience. Complexity is oftentimes a vice in education, and part of my role is to remove barriers. There are huge advances in technology right now — just look at ChatGPT, for example — but we need to analyse more closely whether new advancements are actually opportunities instead of obstacles. As a university, we’re moving away from traditional assessment forms and towards authentic practical and applied learning. Allowing students to recognise their capability and reassure themselves of their knowledge is not always tested best via traditional exam formats.
I’ve been an EDI lead for many years, and I also used to teach equality law. If you have a large group in a single place, there will always be friction. It’s human nature: it happens in all organisations, not just universities. It’s important to prevent toxic behaviours from becoming normalised because of a lack of action.
Now we’re dealing with cohorts of young people whose education has been severely disrupted by the pandemic. They missed out on a lot of socialisation during their formative years, and that can have a huge impact. So we need to set high standards of personal responsibility: remind students to respect each other, that everyone is equal, and that they’re all part of a community. We can’t prevent every problem, but we can make it absolutely clear that abuse and harassment are completely unacceptable.
When there is an issue, we need to be open, honest, and transparent. Solutions aren’t found by individuals: we have to come together. I’m a bit of a consequentialist; I believe in creating the greatest positive outcomes for the greatest number of people.
I think students engage the most when they recognise themselves — in their peers and other members of the university community. If you can see that your identity is respected and represented, it goes a long way. We do a lot of work, raising profiles of students from underrepresented backgrounds. Under the Equality Act, there are nine protected characteristics — every single person has at least seven of them. So we need to understand the people we’re talking about aren’t minorities — they are the majority.
When I see students become disengaged, it’s because they feel isolated. I’m a White, middle-class man who was privately educated before attending a post-1992 university; I also happen to be a married gay man. So I understand that identities are complicated. I feel that students want to feel like part of a community. With better communication, we can help students to find where they belong.