Providing all students with a successful and fulfilling university experience is the key focus of any Higher Education (HE) leader. It’s something that Monika Nangia, Academic Registrar at Durham University, has prioritised throughout her career.
GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews spoke to Monika about her work promoting inclusion and belonging in universities, her pioneering policies on gender-based violence, and the initiatives she is most proud of.
I arrived in this country as a PhD student at Goldsmiths. I fell in love with London and decided to make it my home, and began my career at Queen Mary University (QMUL) doing teaching and administration. I continued my professional administration journey all the way up to my last role at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), as Director of Student Services and Academic Experience.
This move has been a step out of my comfort zone, as well as London, where I’ve been my whole professional life. The student population is very different here, and County Durham is relatively deprived in comparison to the southeast. I think the journey is still sinking in, as are the cultural connotations — which are different to what I’m used to — but I would recommend it highly.
The highlight of my career has been my last couple of roles: I’ve been responsible for managing student, well-being and disability services alongside academic administration. At SOAS, I introduced one of the first sexual and gender-based violence policies in HE — the importance of recognising the need to address this issue had gone unnoticed and underreported for a very long time. That was a landmark initiative for the organisation and the students in the Bloomsbury community. Students got together and began a new initiative called Enough is Enough and mobilised universities to address this issue, so I led the policy development on that, which was a huge success.
The second area I’m proud of is addressing increasing mental health issues around the pandemic. I took on responsibility for academic aspects of this as well as wellbeing, disability, inclusivity and accommodation within student services.
We wanted to educate students on the journey they were about to embark on and the potential pitfalls, and also build bridges between teams in the sector and the student community. This was complex because we share accommodation complexes with different institutions — meaning policy-making wasn’t a straightforward process.
The launch of Report and Support, for example, was an interesting development across the institutions and reporting was encouraged more and more, but this was only one step. The big challenge was to build confidence in the community, and for students to use that and believe in the institution.
Learning about this has been a journey for me too. In a place like Durham, we are focusing on student communities, primarily mature students who face challenges to embark on lifelong learning, whereas at SOAS it was reaching out to students in other countries where they couldn’t access HE and secure funding to study at a world-leading institution.
At SOAS, I introduced one of the first sexual and gender-based violence policies in HE — the importance of recognising the need to address this issue had gone unnoticed and underreported for a very long time.
At Queen Mary, we were looking at social mobility in local communities in the area that didn’t have the initiative or the confidence to take up HE. Social mobility means something different in different institutions but for me, it’s about enabling students to have the confidence to make a career and a life and a future that is better than they can envision.
The challenge for me in my role was to ensure the safeguarding of our students who were confined to their spaces and subject to potential harm from various corners; personal, emotional, domestic abuse, and harm from substance abuse.
The general Covid response was more straightforward; we ensured that we were reaching out to every single student and that no one was left behind. If someone didn’t have equipment such as a laptop, we would make sure that they were sent one or that they had the money to purchase one.
Our technology was enhanced and the platforms for online learning on all programs were consistent in their delivery. We then began to look at the consistency of delivery of our learning and teaching experiences which varied a lot so we worked with the students to ensure their concerns were addressed.
Only consider getting into it if you have a passion for students and what they can achieve; it’s about inspiring the younger generation to be their best selves.
In this sector, there isn’t one person, but when I see a Woman of Colour in a leadership position I feel inspired, and I hope to be one of them because it’s important to lead by example and work to inspire those who don’t feel they can do it.
A book I’ve loved recently is The Beekeeper of Aleppo — it’s a lovely and simple book, it’s about the journey of an immigrant through very tough times, something we see laid out on our television screens a lot, unfortunately. But it takes us on this human journey that we don’t see, and it touched me deeply.