For students to feel valued and included at university, they need to be shown that their institution really cares about them. This can be done in a multitude of ways, from small acts of care to large-scale initiatives such as inclusive curriculums and hiring. For Nikki Pierce, Registrar (Academic) and Secretary to the Board of Governors at De Montfort University, all of this plays an essential part in her role.
Nikki sat down with GoodCourse to discuss the initiatives she has participated in throughout her career.
In my role, I look after Student and Academic Services, Library Services, and some of our corporate services, such as Legal Services and Information Governance. I am also Secretary to the Board of Governance.
I've always worked in Higher Education (HE). I really enjoyed going to university, and I didn't really know what I wanted to do when I left, so I thought I’d try working in one. I began by working in what was then called Personel, which is now VHR. I've always preferred my roles working with students or managing services that directly benefit students. I love meeting different people; students are amazing and always being so much creativity and energy. More recently, I have come to understand how transformative HE can be for some people, ensuring they have opportunities that might not otherwise be available. I think it's so important that everyone has that chance.
We have to acknowledge that students joining us now missed a lot of school due to Covid, as well as our current students having lost a lot of their university experience. That social experience is such a big part of growing up, and missing it has a huge impact. We also have a huge international population that was impacted by Covid in terms of social experience.
We’ve always been aware of the importance of belonging and feeling your institution is meant for you, and that you are part of a community. We have a quote on our website from one of our students that reads, “I didn't leave home, I found a new one”, and that sums up how we want students to feel. We have a lot of students coming from other places, and we want them to feel this is their home. Our overall approach is to think about that in everything we do, showing students we care about them.
We are in the process of tweaking our current policy, which I weigh in on. I’m particularly proud of our work on decolonising the curriculum and race equity — we have a focus on that to ensure we have an inclusive curriculum. We also focus on ensuring students are cognizant of the issues that are going on and that we all have a mindset of inclusion.
It's the content of the curriculum, too; making sure the content is relevant to the people it is being taught to. For example, an engineering course we were getting ready to have taught overseas in Mauritius wasn’t as relevant in its original form because it focused on the natural conditions we see here in the UK; it simply was irrelevant to their lives. The curriculum needs to be right for those learning, and the same goes for international students who come here to study. It’s also about ensuring we fully represent our student population, so students can see themselves in those teaching and working here. That’s about looking at diversity on our board.
There are a lot of parallels between De Montfort and my previous university, Bradford, in terms of the demographics we are recruiting for. It’s groups from whom HE can be absolutely transformative. The effects of growing up in a disadvantaged background stay with you for your whole life, but the one thing that can really change your whole life is HE. So we have a lot of different ways that students with potential can come and study here, trying to widen that access as much as possible and offer that support when students arrive.
This is a topic that students really care about, and I think students have so much creativity and so many ideas; they want to change the world. There is a lot of activity through our Students’ Union where students show how much they care; there has been a lot of emphases this year on the cost of living crisis, for example. Students have been giving us ideas of how we can support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are also very hands-on when it comes to decolonising the curriculum.
I think students have so much creativity and so many ideas; they want to change the world.
They also contribute in different ways; we do a lot of work to support students if they want to get more involved in these topics. A few months ago, we had some awards for students who had been engaged in entrepreneurship, and what struck me was that the kinds of businesses they were setting up were all doing more than just trying to create profit. Their businesses were aimed at doing something to do with equality, sustainability — anything about improving the world. We see so many different kinds of engagement, alongside a focus on studying, which is inspiring.
The fundamental thing is that no one can achieve their full potential if they do not feel safe, and it’s our job to ensure they do. We make it clear that we have no space for hate; anyone who experiences this is encouraged to come and report it to us. It’s not just about supporting those who experience it but supporting perpetrators, too, to contribute to a positive campus environment in every way.
We are currently looking at how we can support all our students more in this area, right from when they arrive with us. This includes having them think about respect and dignity in everything they do.