The Interview UK
Bath Spa University
PVC for Student Experience

Rebecca Schaaf

Every student has different needs, and every degree programme is different too. This became increasingly obvious throughout the pandemic, as universities grappled with making remote learning fit every area of study. Ensuring that every student has the best experience possible – regardless of their chosen subject – is still a challenge after the upheaval of the last few years.

As Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Student Experience at Bath Spa University, Rebecca Schaaf has been working closely with students to develop styles of delivery that work for everyone. Kitty Hadaway, GoodCourse’s universities lead, asked Rebecca about how she has transitioned her university out of remote-first teaching, and her ambitions for the years to come.

Rebecca's journey

Kitty: Rebecca, what has your journey been like, and how did you get to where you are today?

As someone with a background in geography, I’ve always been very interested in helping people reach their potential and approaching problems from lots of different angles. That made moving into the area of student experience a natural step.

Some of the workshops I’ve had access to have changed my perspectives and helped me to grow at important points in my career. One was a Kaospilot workshop that looked at different ways of learning. I also attended a leadership session run by Andy Cope from The Art of Brilliance, which made me think more deeply about the role of leaders in the Higher Education sector.

My journey to the role of Pro-Vice-Chancellor was not a deliberate one, but I kept taking different opportunities as they arose, and I’m glad that I did.

I’m proud of how we kept listening to and working with students throughout the pandemic, to assess their needs and deliver the best solutions we could.
Kitty: What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced while working in this area?

There have been a lot of different challenges along the way, but each one has been helpful in that it has taught me something new, and built my confidence in tackling new things.

As anyone in the Higher Education sector will say, the coronavirus pandemic and the various lockdowns involved have been very difficult to navigate. But from the very start, we made sure that we had the right people in the room to take on the problem, including representatives from our Student Union.

I’m proud of how we kept listening to and working with students throughout the pandemic, to assess their needs and deliver the best solutions we could. Honestly though, this was very challenging, because every student and subject area has different needs and requirements. It’s a process that we’re still working on getting right for the post-pandemic landscape.

Kitty: How have you approached the move towards blended learning now that lockdown has ended?

When the pandemic started, there was a huge rush to get everything online – we had maybe a week in all to sort that out. So now, we’re learning from the last few years, to find a way of delivering teaching that works for every student.

Some elements of online teaching have been really good for students, and have broadened access. But other things, like seminars, really do work better in person. Both students and staff feel very anxious about returning to campus, so we are trying different things to make that transition easier, like having summer campus tours to refamiliarise staff with their teaching environment and to share with them the work that has been done to the campus over the past two years.

Kitty: Aside from adapting to blended learning, what are your current ambitions?

Currently, we’re focusing on student engagement and learning how to support students effectively in different ways. This involves thinking about how to build and maintain connections with students when they apply to study here, right through to graduation and the beginning of their careers.

We’re also working to offer more sports activities to students, and encourage them to be more active and use our on-campus spaces creatively – I have a background in dance, too, so this is something that I’m excited about.

What I enjoy most about my job though, is seeing how everything comes together to support students as whole people, not just as learners. For me personally, it’s all about joining up those dots to create the best student experience possible.

3 Quickfire Questions

Kitty: What advice would you give to anyone hoping to come into the student experience space?

Be open to new ideas, and keep going out of your way to speak to people that you normally wouldn’t interact with – that includes working with students to co-create new things.

Kitty: Who do you most admire in the Higher Education sector?

Sue Rigby, Bath Spa University’s Vice-Chancellor. She has had a transformative effect on our university, and at the same time always works in a very calm and measured way.

I also really admired Sir Ken Robinson, who has sadly passed away. He always inspired me to rethink what we’re doing for students and why.

Kitty: What is the most important book that you’ve read?

I would say Complex Systems Theory and Development Practice, by Samir Rahani – I read it while I was completing my masters, and it inspired my PhD proposal, which took me on the journey I’ve been on up to today.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Kitty Hadaway
Universities Lead
Kitty is passionate about using technology to create safer and more inclusive campuses, and is an expert on student engagement and delivering training at scale. Get in touch at to learn more.

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