The Interview UK
The University of Law
Pro-Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Inclusion and Students

Patrick Johnson

Ensuring all students feel supported at university is crucial to creating a sense of belonging and inclusion on campus. Whether it is hosting different events for diverse populations or fostering career networks for first-generation students, making measures accessible to everyone is important work. 

Patrick Johnson, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Inclusion and Students at the University of Law (ULaw), sat down with Co-host of The Interview Charles Sin to discuss the different initiatives he is working on, his extensive experience working in the Higher Education (HE) sector, and his tips for creating an inclusive environment. 

Patrick's Journey

Charles: Can we start with an introduction to your current role and institution? 

I am Pro-Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Inclusion, and Students. This means I am a member of the executive board and am responsible for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), widening participation, student support, the Students’ Union, and the overarching student experience. The University of Law is the largest and one of the longest-established specialist providers of legal education in the UK. We have eight campuses across the UK and offer a large online course provision. 

Charles: What brought you to this role? 

I have worked in education for over 30 years in roles that advise and support students. I started as a career advisor in schools, colleges, and universities. I wanted to make a difference and got more involved in D&I work. I am passionate about the student experience because I care about people and believe in fairness and justice. It’s quite simple — I want to ensure that all students, regardless of background, have a good experience and achieve to the best of their ability by removing barriers to their progression. 

Charles: What initiatives have you worked on regarding fostering a culture of belonging and inclusion on campus?

All students should feel included and part of the university, especially post-Covid. We have a host of different initiatives, so I can give a few examples. One is we have an annual Belong and Succeed conference where the aim is about bringing in role models from the legal profession to advise, network with and encourage our students — many of whom are first-generation. We recently held several events across our campuses for Ramadan, giving talks and guidance on Ramadan and what life is like as a Muslim student; we also had Iftar events where students and staff broke their fast together. We have a diversity calendar with different events related to each theme, which covers the whole range of diversity and inclusion. So it’s about raising awareness for our students and staff. Belonging is about seeing people who look like you teaching you and supporting you too, so we have been working on diversifying our staff. 

Charles: What initiatives are you most excited about developing at the University of Law?

There have been a few initiatives that are just starting. A big one is about having a whole university approach to mental health and wellbeing for students and staff. This will help everyone get the best of their time with us. 

I am also excited about the work we’re doing with law firms and businesses to help our students enter their chosen careers, especially those who don’t have existing access to networks. They can gain relevant experience through mentoring, experience, and volunteering opportunities. 

The biggest challenge for me is time. Lots of students and staff are keen and want to develop and support initiatives, but there are a lot of demands on their time, be it working while studying or having caring responsibilities, and so on. Trying to find the right balance is important. 

Charles: With over twenty years of experience in the HE sector, how has your work evolved during this time?

In some ways, it hasn’t changed because we are still battling the same systemic EDI issues. But I have seen better engagement and greater understanding and acceptance about how we need to do things differently. The HE sector itself has also changed, especially in terms of student profiles. There is more thought being given to what is being taught, how, and by whom. There’s now an appreciation that we all learn in different ways. 

Thinking about those who are trying to work and study at the same time, we must be sensitive in our styles of teaching and assessment, as well as with the support we offer. We used to just ensure we met legal and regulatory requirements, but now EDI is an essential part of what university is about. But I do think that things should be changing faster. 

Charles: What do you think are the catalysts for further accelerating this growth?

There is definitely a wide acknowledgement that this area is important and that we need to do more. What I don’t see is more action in terms of making that happen. Senior leaders have a huge role in this, looking at the evidence of issues and acting on them to make proactive changes. It can be easy to keep doing what you’ve always done, but we have to change our thinking on this. 

Charles: How has it been to be the first director of EDI at ULaw?

Exciting and challenging in equal measure. It has been great to build on my knowledge and experience. It must be said that although I was the first director of EDI, that doesn’t mean that nothing was happening before I arrived. A lot of great work was happening before me. But my role has been about bringing the different strands together to create an institutional strategy towards how we do things. I have tried to do more work with staff to encourage them to do more work with EDI. For example, I established staff networks, allowing them to develop their own initiatives and support each other. 

Charles: Student safety is a big concern for many leaders we speak to. What is your approach to tackling safety-related issues?

The safety of our students is a key concern for us. It’s a real topic of conversation across campuses throughout the UK. We have an initiative called the Safe and Inclusive Campus initiative, which covers things like our dignity at work and study policy, report and support platform, and student and staff learning. The report and support tool, for example, provides a simple reporting tool for students and staff and gives further information on resources and support as well. We have also, over the past 6 to 12 months, had more staff trained as sexual violence liaison officers to better support our students. 

Charles: If you had one top tip for engaging students on EDI topics, what would it be?

Raising awareness about why it’s important and what its impact is. Using evidence-based information that is bite-sized and can bring people on that journey. We should utilise the lived experience of students in particular. 

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Charles Sin
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