Keeping communication channels strong during Covid was a challenge for all Higher Education (HE) institutions. Taking innovative approaches to keep connections alive, like incorporating personal touches to emails, is one way that this was achieved at Liverpool Hope University.
Dr Penny Haughan, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost at Liverpool Hope University, sat down with Kitty Hadaway, GoodCourse Universities Lead, to discuss how to foster relationships with students, how the university adapted to change during and post-Covid, and more.
I’m Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost at Liverpool Hope University. I spend a lot of my time representing the Vice-Chancellor, in terms of attending events, working strategically with partners, and dealing with internal matters.
I also have a particular responsibility for the student experience. I work with student groups to look at what it’s like to be a student here at Hope and make sure they’re properly looked after. Lots of my previous roles have involved this focus as well.
Provost is on my job title because I spend a lot of time travelling in the US, so that’s a phrase they understand better in the context of their HE system. I visit a lot of our partner institutions across America, to have conversations about how we might move students between institutions, collaborate on research projects and more.
I joined Hope twenty-seven years ago as a very junior lecturer on a temporary contract, and I never left! I felt at home and built a career here, beginning as an academic. I was Dean of Science for a while, and then I realised what I was really passionate about was the experience of students.
I was offered an opportunity to become the Dean of Students, so that was my first move out of the academic world, and I had the most enormous surprise about what that meant! It was a big learning curve, as I’d previously been focused on what happened inside the classroom.
The most important thing a university can do is get students in a position where they’re ready to learn when they walk into a classroom
I’ve realised now the most important thing a university can do is get students in a position where they’re ready to learn when they walk into a classroom. My mission over the last few years has been exactly that.
Every institution stopped and looked at itself during Covid — that was one good thing to come out of it. We’re a relatively small university, so we’ve always thought about ourselves as a learning community.
In our halls of residence, we have staff that live alongside students. We also have a system where every student has a tutor, and there’s a non-negotiable requirement to meet with their tutor in a small group every week, which is robustly tracked.
It’s a big concern and we’re very vigilant about it. We have various reporting systems, which can be used anonymously, or tutors can be used as the first port of call. We have a range of student engagement officers that students are able to talk to at any point in the day. We’ve also introduced a counselling and mental health drop-in, and try to deliver strong messages throughout the university.
I really hate the use of the term ‘student experience’ — everyone has a different one. There are a number of ways in which students can engage with us, which means everyone has an opportunity to do so. Student engagement officers are used the most, as well as tutors in the halls. They’re young and mostly fresh graduates, so they are accessible for students.
I learnt a lot through Covid, particularly with respect to what I’d do differently: it was an opportunity to have a fresh look at processes. I’m deliberately very visible to students as my office is mainly glass and in a busy part of campus, which I love. During Covid, I didn’t have that and it was a real loss because my relationship with students became very different.
During Covid, I started a daily email to students and made it very personal, and it really helped students get to know me. So my advice is, to take time to build real relationships with students.
I’ve done a lot of work on women in leadership in HE, and I’ve been inspired by Prof. Monica Grady — she’s a female professor of Astrophysics and she’s relentless in pushing us forward.
Another inspiration is one of our mature students. She’s got a disabled child, worked her way through a 3-year degree to come out with a first, and was a student ambassador alongside that! She’s just registered now for a PGCE.
I’ve tried to focus my reading on stories about women. I’m reading The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff. It’s about the history of the Mormons, and women’s position in Mormon society.