The Interview UK
The University of West London
Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor

Sara Raybould

Providing open forums for students to discuss what would enhance university environments is a key part of implementing effective initiatives — whether this is curricula decolonisation, or developing more social spaces on campus.

GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews speaks to Sara Raybould, the Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor for the University of West London (UWL), about making the student experience the best it can be, how to develop bespoke support, and her commitments to closing UWL’s awarding gap.

Sara's Journey

Kira: How did you get into student experience? 

I started as a teacher and then worked as the Director of the London College of Music. I have always been passionate about students having the experience that’s right for them — not a preconceived notion of what they need to do to succeed. 

Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is not just a banner at UWL, it’s an active thing that we pursue every single day. We’re number one in the country according to the National Student Survey, so I’m incredibly proud to be working here.

Kira: UWL is known as a careers university — what does that mean in practice, and how does it differ from other institutions?

We think about our students’ careers from the beginning. I’ve developed a campaign called Future You, where we talk about our students’ futures and check whether the trajectory they decided upon is one they’re still interested in, whether they’re prepared, and also whether they’ve changed their mind.

Nearly every subject has a forum where people from different industries discuss what skills graduates need, which we then embed into the curriculum. We invite peer mentors, enable work placements, and offer work experience. We aim to future-proof our students. 

We also employ a lot of students. I have twenty working for me — it’s empowering and valuable for their CV. If we have one job as a university, it’s to help students build confidence. 

Kira: Why do you think the student experience at your institution is so highly rated?

It’s really important to know your demographic and not overgeneralise. You need to look at your students subject by subject, because every area has a different community base. Student support should be bespoke, not holistic — not everybody needs the same thing. 

Community is at the heart of everything we do. Whether it’s an academic community, or our volunteer community with the Student Union (SU), we do a lot of community-based activities. For example, many of our students are parents or carers, so we might organise an activity where we can arrange for children to play a game while the students get academic advice. 

Kira: What initiatives have you led to close or narrow the awarding gaps between certain groups?

We got funding to do something with the Office for Students (OFS) called the Student Attainment Project, in which we looked at the unexplained gap between Students of Colour and White students. We did this scheme for two years, adopted various interventions, and had some success in raising the attainment of our Students of Colour. 

We invited students and staff to ask questions to a key panel. They could ask anything — questions they were normally scared to ask — to understand the lived experiences of their peers. I introduced this to other universities and collected amazing stories. My acting students produced a short drama piece from it, which we staged at an OFS meeting. There were two-hundred universities there, and it moved people to tears! It was a really impactful piece of work. 

We need to understand what our students need — it’s not just about decolonising a library, it’s also about restoration. Redressing that balance helped us reduce our awarding gap by 6%, where the sector at its best managed 4%. 

We need to understand what our students need — it’s not just about decolonising a library, it’s also about restoration. Redressing that balance helped us reduce our awarding gap by 6%, where the sector at its best managed 4%. 

Kira: How do you promote allyship at the university and what does that look like? 

Allyship can span many topics, but the main one is LGBTQIA. We have a student society and a staff forum. We’re rolling out rainbow lanyards to show anyone who feels nervous that this university is safe. 

We don’t pretend we’re in our students’ shoes; it’s insulting to say ‘I know how you feel’ — because you don’t. But we can say that we’re trying our best, we’re stepping forward and saying ‘I’m next to you.’

You can roll this out in any direction. For example, allyship for Russian and Ukrainian students is incredibly important right now. I can’t understand how they feel because they’re facing deep emotional challenges, but as a university we want to work out how to stand with them and help them. 

3 Quickfire Questions

Kira: What is your top tip for someone getting into the Higher Education (HE) space right now?

Find out who your students really are. Aim your teaching, learning and communication to the type of student you actually have, not the one you thought you were going to get when you were being trained. Understand the industry and profession that your students want to go into, give them soft skills and prepare them to be flexible and diverse in their choices. 

Kira: Who do you admire most in the HE space?

Apart from my senior colleagues, I hope soon I’ll be able to say James Cleverly. He is Secretary of State for Education. He’s an alum of this university so he should know that not every university is full of 18 year-old private school students who can afford every opportunity that comes their way. 

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

The Class Ceiling. It shows that the world is not classless, no matter how much people try to tell us otherwise. It demonstrates that the class system does matter, because if you want an elite job, you will struggle if you’re working class. Crucially, it demonstrates that even if you end up in an elite job from a working-class background, you will still earn 16% less than somebody who came from a higher class background. It shows that there’s still some way to go in levelling up. 

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Kira Matthews
Community Engagement Lead
Kira leads our community outreach team working hand-in-hand with changemakers on both sides of the pond. If you want to join the next series of The Interview, or just learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

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