A truly inclusive education system can help break down barriers, promote mutual understanding, and ultimately create a more equitable society. No one knows this better than Simon Wright, Academic Registrar at Cardiff University, who has been a champion of equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) since his days as a student leader.
Simon was joined by Charles Sin, Co-Host of The Interview, to take a look back over his unique career, discuss the importance of inclusion in education, and consider how to encourage open conversations about mental health.
I’m currently Academic Registrar at Cardiff University. My portfolio includes most of our student-facing professional services: student support, library services, and our learning and teaching academy. I also oversee education governance and our registry operations team, which supports our academic schools in the delivery of teaching and assessment activities. I’m also involved in educational governance, continuing professional development, and life-long learning. It’s a broad remit, and there’s always a lot happening.
There are two parts to that story: the motivational side, and the practical side. In terms of motivation, I wanted to be involved in an endeavour to change people’s lives. For me, that’s what education is all about. I love being involved in student life and making sure students get the best experience they can.
On the practical side, I got involved in student affairs when I was still an undergrad here at Cardiff. I volunteered and ran for office with the Students’ Union — I served one year as Education and Welfare Officer, and another as Academic Affairs Officer. That led me to work on the National Committee of Inquiry for Higher Education before I worked in campaigns for the learning disability charity Mencap before coming back to HE working again in campaigns and lobbying with Universities UK. From there, I moved into student support, working as Director of Student Services at Swansea University, then Deputy Director of Academic Services and College Manager at Exeter before taking up the Academic Registrar position at Cardiff University eight years ago.
It’s been a very interesting period, especially after the pandemic and returning to campus. We’ve been working very hard to help students and staff get back to campus life. At Cardiff, we benefit from an active and excellent Students’ Union, which brings people together through events and societies. Many students find a sense of belonging through societies or sports clubs — for me, it was volunteering. We also have a Residents’ Life structure for the 5,000 students living in our halls. It’s dedicated to supporting students to develop a sense of community, particularly in that critical transitional period when they first arrive at university. We have a busy schedule of student-led activities that champion our student body's diversity.
There’s so much to say; I could talk about it for days! Throughout my career in student services, I’ve always advocated for students’ mental health. At Cardiff, we have a clear model which incorporates a whole range of activities, from drop-in services to self-help resources for students facing issues like anxiety and depression. We run workshops, courses, and groups to raise awareness. We also offer one-to-one appointments with our counselling team to those who need clinical support, most recently we’ve established an innovative partnership with our local NHS Board and the other universities in Cardiff. This provides a specific pathway into NHS mental health services for HE students in Cardiff experiencing more serious mental health issues.
In addition, our student intervention team help to support at-risk students and works closely with our academic schools. There’s always a lot going on, and we work very closely with the Students’ Union to stay in touch with what’s happening on the ground. We use an app called Talk Campus, which lets students speak anonymously about their worries, connecting them with their peers from all around the world. Talk Campus has a 24/7 crisis line which connects directly to professional clinicians — that service is critical for students who may be experiencing suicidal feelings. We really stepped this avenue of support up during Covid and have continued with it since. The lockdown left many students isolated, and everyone was under a lot of pressure.
It was an incredibly enriching and unique experience. I arrived there as an elected officer within the Students’ Union movement. I was about 23 at the time, the youngest member of the committee and remember being described as the only member of the committee not to be a Sir, Doctor or Professor. The learning curve wasn’t just steep — it was vertical. But Ron Deering, the Chair of the Committee, always supported me and ensured my views and opinions were heard. There are parts of the report which were included because of my advocacy: for example, I lobbied hard for the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. Now, I always try to make sure student voices are heard. At Cardiff, we’re investing in a student voice framework: we still have some way to go, and there will always be more and better that we can and should do to ensure we are listening and responding to our students.
We’re aware we still need to improve. We’ve been looking across the sector to find the best practices. More specifically, we need to give more attention to the lived experience of students, especially those with protected characteristics.
At Cardiff, we’ve been taking the issue of sexual harassment very seriously. We were an early adopter of disclosure response, which allows students to report sexual violence and abuse in a safe and supported manner. We work closely with outside partners, including charities like Welsh Women’s Aid and White Ribbon. Recognising all forms of abuse — physical or mental, historical or current and across the spectrum of protected characteristics is important. We now have a team of four full-time professionals who directly support those affected. Our Students’ Union has helped to deliver bystander training, and we also provide ReAct training to our staff to help them identify and challenge inappropriate behaviour.
There’s always more you can do. There’ll always be others ahead of you: don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find the best, and learn from them. Finally, be genuine, and keep pursuing the things that need to change.