Higher Education (HE) is not just about acquiring knowledge; it serves as a launchpad for students to shape their futures and become more well-rounded individuals. This understanding is at the heart of the work done by Matthew Andrews, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Governance and Students Affairs at the University of Gloucestershire, who has worked tirelessly to empower students from all walks of life.
Matthew sat down with GoodCourse to discuss issues including the challenges facing international students, tackling harassment on campus, and helping students to plan for life beyond university.
I’m Pro Vice-Chancellor for Governance and Students Affairs at the University of Gloucestershire. We’re a comprehensive university offering a wide range of subjects across several campuses in Cheltenham and Gloucester. We’re very proud of our proven track record of innovation around sustainability in our curriculum and operations. We’re a smaller university, which means we can benefit by focusing on building closer relationships with our students. Though we only gained university status in 2001, our roots stretch back to the establishment of our teacher-training college in the 1840s.
As Pro Vice-Chancellor, I am part of the university’s executive team, and my portfolio includes human resources, student services, academic registry, collaborations, and sustainability. In my role as Secretary of the University Council, I am also responsible for institutional governance.
Fundamentally, it comes from a desire to spread joy. I don’t think it’s something we talk enough about, especially in leadership. It’s easy to get caught up in metrics and forget that this work is about people. Education is supposed to be transformative, and we need to provide the experiences and opportunities to enable that. HE is such a brilliant and engaging place to work, so promoting happiness should be at the heart of what we do. And it’s not just about students — it also benefits the community and society as a whole.
During the pandemic, blended forms of learning became more common. That has brought a lot of benefits for students and allows more opportunities to engage in study. But we were still keen to bring students back to campus, and we noticed that our students wanted that too. They thrive from personal engagement with each other, the staff, and the learning community. People can mischaracterise HE as the acquisition of credentials, but it's really about relationships. It’s not just about bringing students to campus but keeping them there: we want our campus to be a magnet, offering all kinds of spaces and activities to students.
Internationalisation includes transnational education — allowing students to earn a Gloucestershire degree by working through one of our partners in other countries. It also includes international recruitment and looking after our international students. In terms of EDI, our focus is on belonging: creating an environment that allows all our staff and students to flourish, regardless of their background. There is some overlap between internationalisation and EDI, but it’s important not to conflate them. Our greatest challenge is the awarding gap, a problem which is prevalent across the sector. Our approach is to research and engage with the issue: in particular, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on talking with students to find out how we can help. We’ve developed an innovative mentoring scheme, and our academic colleagues have conducted extensive research into the experience of minoritised students at our university. We’ve recently implemented our Decolonising the Curriculum programme: I understand that title might be controversial, but it’s important to question our assumptions and where they come from. There’s growing uncertainty about the state of political polarisation, especially around immigration, and some of our international students are deeply concerned. So we’re doing everything we can to support them, ensuring an adequate supply of housing and ample access to employment opportunities.
Engagement can be challenging. Students are interested in planning for the future, but they also have busy and complex lives. A fundamental part of our approach is going to where students are instead of asking them to come to us. So we’ve embedded employability into the curriculum, with the collaboration of our employability experts and our academic colleagues. One example of a successful initiative is a Level 5 Module in our Biomedical Sciences programme which was co-designed by our colleagues and staff from Astra Zeneca. If we can bring real-life challenges into the curriculum, it allows students to demonstrate key competencies which will help them find employment. We’re also prioritising peer support: we’ve trained students to act as coaches and provide front-line support to their peers. Students need to be at the heart of our approach in terms of both target and delivery.
Collaboration is key. We work closely with our Students’ Union on campaigns against harassment. Sexual assault can occur in all contexts, but it’s important to recognise there are areas like sports that are more at risk. We’ve recently appointed a new Director of Sport and Physical Wellbeing, and a key part of their remit is to change the culture of our sporting teams. Reporting is essential: we’ve introduced a new referral mechanism that allows students to make complaints, whether named or anonymous. We’re making sure our leadership is actively involved, and we’re also partnering with specialist organisations such as the Gloucestershire Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, our Chancellor’s Charity, to support students who have been affected by harassment.
Transparency. We need to have open and honest conversations about what the issues really are. EDI should not just be a topic of interest for people from minoritised backgrounds — it’s something everyone should have an interest in and can benefit from: we all have a part to play.