The Interview UK
Edinburgh Napier University
Deputy Vice Chancellor and Vice President for Learning and Teaching

Nazira Karodia

Education has the power both to include and exclude, and the effects it has are down to the Higher Education (HE) professionals working in institutions and taking responsibility for what the student experience looks like.

Nazira Karodia, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Vice Principal for Learning & Teaching sat down with GoodCourse, to speak about the power of education and the many ways it can be life-changing for students. 

Nazira's Journey

GoodCourse: Can we begin with an introduction to your current role and institution?

I am Deputy Vice Chancellor and Vice Principal for Learning & Teaching at Edinburgh Napier University, with responsibility for education and students. I lead in shaping and influencing University strategies, policies and practices in learning and teaching. We are the second-largest university in Edinburgh. I work closely with my counterparts in research, innovation and internationalisation, as well as the five Deans and Professional Service departments to support our students. We are interested in our students as future citizens as well as highly educated in a specific field. 

GoodCourse: what brought you to this current role, and your work within Student Experience at Edinburgh Napier?

I am motivated by a vision of equity in society, a belief that opportunity in education can help transform society into a more equal community.

From the beginning of my career, I have been very involved in two aspects of university education; researching my own discipline and the process of education. Apart from my chemistry work and research, I was once the Associate Dean for Student recruitment of a science faculty. This forced me to study how students come to university, how they cope, and how they succeed. I passionately believe we can take such students through an immersive university experience which they enjoy and through which they succeed. It is a complex journey for our students, and I appreciate that the scaffolding needs to be in place throughout their journey. Perhaps even before and post-graduation. 

GoodCourse: What initiatives have you been working on to foster a sense of belonging and inclusion on campus, and what challenges have you faced?

Inclusion and belonging have come to the forefront recently. Here at Edinburgh Napier, we balance both the students' education with the other things that they need. Increasingly, we encourage students to come to campus because the atmosphere and social world of the campus are essential for growth, maturity and developing a sense of belonging. We learn a lot through interaction in real time and in a real shared physical space. Of course, we have attentive support for transition to campus learning and counselling for any student facing difficulty balancing campus presence, online learning and interaction.

We learn a lot through interaction in real time and in a real shared physical space. Of course, we have attentive support for transition to campus learning and counselling for any student facing difficulty balancing campus presence, online learning and interaction.

Our students need to feel accepted and valued, we need to make sure that we work with them and not decide for them what this might mean in practice. Part of this work on belonging and inclusion is knowing who our students are. I need to know where they come from, their concerns, what inspires them, and their ambitions; therefore, I must create and align resources. 

A lot of our work around this has been in co-creation with students; working with them, and listening to them. Surveys and focus groups have their place, but we have taken a dialogic approach. So both staff speaking to students while they are in social spaces, and students speaking to students to encourage dialogue. In essence, if our students feel comfortable, accepted and valued in the community of the university, they may carry that confidence into their adult lives. 

GoodCourse: I understand that you have studied internationally. How has your international experience influenced your work with students at this university right now?

An international experience is always an enriching experience. The terrains were very different. Growing up under apartheid in South Africa meant experiencing more social prejudice and educational inequality. I studied for my doctorate at St Andrews and spent time in the USA as a research fellow. My first experiences were in South Africa under Apartheid, experiencing that awfulness in my growing up, my schooling and early university education. That was fascism which intended to keep some people excluded from education and opportunity.

My experience in the UK and the USA showed me that education can give hope for opportunity and possibility in society. This comparison has given me a lifelong impetus to strive for equality and equity in education and society. Education, especially university education, can be used to exclude, and it can also include. 

GoodCourse: I understand that you are part of the EU-funded Genovate project and received a commendation from NEON in 2015 for your outstanding contribution to widening access as well. Can you tell me some more about this work?

Genovate was a very exciting project to work on. It was led by my former colleague, Professor Udy Archibong, who's such an inspiration to me. Women academics in leadership positions are in the minority at academic institutions. Clearly this is the result of prejudice and discrimination and this has been acknowledged by universities.

Genovate was a project to empower women academics and researchers to succeed in their fields. It is the striving and action of women that is important in engaging the intuitions and the leadership to change perceptions, practice and deeply entrenched prejudice. The path is still not clear and hard work waits for a successful outcome.

This award was in recognition of my leadership of a regional programme to widen access and participation in STEM HE. The outreach programme was grounded in the values of social improvement and focussed on both aspiration raising and curriculum support. This programme is still ongoing and remains a success for that university. The success of this kind of work is dependent on strong partnership working (schools, colleges, and other agencies in the community, e.g. museums). STEM Capital concept can help us to understand why some young people have a science identity, seeing science as being ‘for me’ and others do not. The more Science Capital a young person has, the more likely they are to continue with science post-16.

I’ve been so excited to receive recognition for this work in widening access to Chemistry, including receiving an MBE for that.

GoodCourse: What is your top tip when engaging students on EDI topics?

It's a multi-pronged approach. We designed a curriculum framework where inclusion is one of the key themes, but the conversations are not just restricted to the curriculum. This is the exciting bit, our Enhance framework reaches out to, and includes, our student support work. This gives our staff and students a common language and a shared understanding on EDI topics. 

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