Policies are much more effective when they are developed to address the specific student needs at a particular institution. That is why it is critical for institutions to get to know their students. Otherwise, they risk missing the mark. For Tenia Kyriazi, Interim Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC) for Education and Student Experience at Middlesex University, fostering excellence in teaching and learning and creating policies to support students throughout their university journey has laid the groundwork for what she does.
Tenia sat down with Charles Sin, Co-host of The Interview, to discuss her current role in Higher Education (HE) and proudest initiatives to date.
My role is dual; I am the Deputy Director of Academic Operations at Middlesex University Dubai, which is the first and largest overseas campus of Middlesex University, established in 2005. At the same time, since October 2022, I am serving as a joint Interim PVC for Education and Student Experience at Middlesex University in London.
My contribution to the University is a multidimensional one; I teach across various programmes and levels (my background is human rights law), I lead professional services and academic departments, and I work closely with academics, representatives of professional services and the Students’ Union. My role at the University involves both strategic and operational responsibilities.
Teaching. That is at the heart of everything I do; it is common for colleagues in HE to take a break from teaching when they take on senior management roles, but I decided not to do that. Teaching keeps me grounded and in touch with students; I can appreciate the students’ needs, hopes and concerns, and this informs my work in my leadership role. Teaching drives my focus on Student Experience because I have the opportunity to know what matters to students and how their experience can be enhanced inside and outside of the classroom.
I think HE has an important role in developing active citizens through raising awareness of social and global issues and helping students to grow their whole personalities and make an impact on their lives and the lives of those around them.
I feel strongly about preparing students for success not just in their studies but also in the workplace, the community and the world. I think HE has an important role in developing active citizens through raising awareness of social and global issues and helping students to grow their whole personalities and make an impact on their lives and the lives of those around them.
Students’ sense of belonging and connectedness to the University took a hit during the pandemic. However, at the same time, because of Covid, we developed systems that widened students’ access to University services. We were able to provide a lot of opportunities to students and staff who couldn't previously access everything that a university had to offer. For example, we adopted a blended learning approach that better addresses the diverse needs of our students. We use technology to create a more inclusive campus, and we are continuously updating how we do this.
We also proactively monitor engagement levels, so that we can help students that are at risk of non-continuation, or who are struggling with progression. If we can target these students early on, then we can look at ways to enhance their sense of belonging and engagement with us, through specific interventions, such as Academic Advising.
The cost of living crisis is one of the biggest challenges at the moment. Many of our students have to work to be able to pay their fees or have to undertake caregiving duties. This inevitably undermines their ability to attend classes and co-curricular or extra-curricular activities. We support our students through comprehensive policies for academic and non-academic (financial and wellbeing) support.
My engagement with the Professional Standards Framework (PSF) started when I applied for my Senior Fellowship in 2018. I really enjoyed the journey of the application because I felt the significance of the impact I could have on students and faculty. So even the process of applying for the fellowship was a huge development exercise for me, allowing me to reflect and look back at my practice and assess what I do well, how I can improve, and how I can have a greater impact to allow more colleagues to grow and develop. I was subsequently appointed as the Chair of the Teaching and Learning Committee in the Dubai Campus, and I introduced a number of initiatives to promote the PSF and foster excellence in teaching and learning.
I established a network of mentors to provide support to academic colleagues and help them improve their practice, and this has had a significant impact on the number of my colleagues who have been awarded fellowships. In 2021 I was awarded the Principal Fellowship, which was incredibly important for me and a recognition of my contribution to fostering teaching excellence.
EDI is clearly articulated in the Middlesex University Strategy 2031. We promote student engagement with EDI through our curriculum and through our student experience strategy. We have adopted an Inclusive Curriculum Framework that informs our academic provision to ensure that all our students engage with EDI topics across all levels of study. Beyond the classroom, we undertake a range of initiatives to promote awareness of EDI topics, through on-campus events, as well as through our staff research and community outreach.
Our Students’ Union is very committed to EDI principles and offers incredible support in fostering student engagement with EDI through in-class and extracurricular activities.
This is another important priority, particularly in the UK. HEIs are required to have strong safeguarding policies that take into account the specificities of their student body. Our interventions have to be data-driven, providing solutions to the specific challenges that our students face.
However, having a policy isn’t enough, we need to raise awareness of available support services and provide specific training to our staff, so that they know how to deal with any issues that arise and support students effectively. At the same time, we need to ensure that students are aware of what services are available to support them, so that they can fully benefit from them. Developing policies has little impact, if students do not know what kind of support is available and how to access it.
Integrating EDI into the curriculum is critical. As mentioned earlier, at Middlesex, we have developed and adopted an Inclusive Curriculum Framework that integrates EDI into the curriculum. This has been the product of 18 months of work with 70 staff and over 20 students working together to co-design a framework that is implemented across the university. This means EDI principles are reflected at every level of study and within every service — by doing so, we integrate EDI into our culture.