When running a global university, it's essential that an institution is able to provide the same support and services to students across the globe, while also adhering to cultural and social differences between campuses.
Paul Travill, Academic Registrar at Heriot-Watt University, sat down with Charles Sin, Co-host of The Interview, to discuss his proudest initiatives to date.
I'm the global academic registrar at Heriot-Watt University. The global part is the exciting part because Heriot-Watt is an institution like very few others in the world. Many universities have campuses in different parts of the world, but we've moved to a single operating model. So as Global Academic Registrar, I'm responsible for all the registry services on our campuses in Scotland, where we have three campuses, and then in Dubai and also in Malaysia.
I've worked in Higher Education for most of my career. I worked initially in Admissions, then moved around institutions, picking up bits of registry functions as I went. I joined Heriot-Watt eight and a half years ago. Here I do everything I did as an Academic Registrar in other UK institutions, but with all the challenges of working across time zones, other cultures, and other quality processes; the whole infrastructure is challenging, interesting and different.
We definitely have a lot to think about as a single operating university in three countries. The pandemic, for example, posed unique issues. Different countries had different views on when students should be returning or studying at home. So that added a few challenges but also gave us a real opportunity that we grasped for our students.
Starting with administration support, we had registry colleagues in each of our campus countries working at home, but with the support networks and our systems in place. Therefore we made the same support available across the globe.
Then, from an academic point of view, we were operating far more shared teaching across the campuses. Students were allocated into project groups that historically would have been a group of people on one campus working together to do a project, but during this time, we moved students into project groups across the different campuses in different time zones. This created a vast online community and is something we have continued since.
Since then, we've identified, in every country, that students still need far more support and guidance depending on where they were in their education during the pandemic. For example, some of our first-year students need additional study skills and support.
The Students’ Union always has a University Representative to ensure the links between the university and the Students’ Union are maintained. We also have a Student Council that runs in Dubai and a Student Association that runs in Malaysia, and each has a full-time President in their own right. All three representative bodies are on the University Senate, and their voices are equally powerful, representing the students on campus around the world.
As part of our induction processes every year and refresh induction, we have lessons and training sessions around behaviours, expected behaviours and norms, topics such as gender-based violence, giving sexual health awareness, and training on consent. This is to support students moving from home for the first time.
Of course, we have to deliver those in different ways across different countries, depending on the expectations and the norms of those countries. As our students at Heriot-Watt can move from one campus to another to do at least one year of their programme in a different country, we also then do inductions for students coming to the UK from Malaysia or Dubai, or, importantly, from the UK going to Dubai and Malaysia. This concerns legal positions, social norms and other ways to ensure they're prepared as they move around the world.
We have our Student Partnership Agreement, which is an annual agreement that the university has with the student representative bodies. So that’s the Student Union in the UK, the Student Council in Dubai, and the student association in Malaysia; it's a four-way signed partnership discussing what is important to students locally and globally.
It's through the community and the well-being and welfare elements of the Student Partnership Agreement that we can link inclusion and understand cultural norms and differences around the world.
We work in partnership in trying to deliver some of the things that the students feel are important. Some of them are academic, but a lot of them are related to community activities, well-being, welfare, and sporting activities. It's through the community and the well-being and welfare elements of the Student Partnership Agreement that we can link inclusion and understand cultural norms and differences around the world.
Over the last eight years, we have become very much the integrated university that we are. When you walk onto the campus in Malaysia, for example, it looks different, but you walk into the library or the student service centre they have the same feel. You can get the same support and engagement. And that's important to us because we have students moving around the campuses to do a semester or a year-long experience somewhere else, and that familiarity is really important.