University is about academia, but it is also about realising that with every academic student, there is a unique and personal set of experiences and needs. What Higher Education (HE) should seek to do is have a team who takes the time to learn about those needs and take the steps to meet them.
GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews speaks to Tracy McAuliffe, Director of Student Services at the University of West London, about the incredible multifaceted department that she has created for students, and the importance of listening to what they need in order to find a solution.
I was asked to go into it—when I started working here I was a senior administrator because I love customer service and understanding people’s needs. I then became Deputy Manager of Student Records and Data which is a behind-the-scenes position. Here, I helped to introduce the online enrolment system.
Then, when Student Services were facing a major restructure incorporating various departments to being a one-stop shop for students, I realised I was better suited to being in a student-facing role, and I was then asked to be head of the new department. I didn't know how Student Services worked at that time, but I knew all of the other aspects of how the university worked, and from there I was able to manage a team to become specialists within their Student Services area.
I also created some of the areas of student services myself, such as the welfare team and the placement and employment centre, and we made some major changes to the department as a whole. I began Student Services with thirteen staff and we've grown with the body of students and their needs—that's what we always strive to do.
It did inform my insight; I became a student here when I was already a member of staff and had been for a long time, and it allowed me to inform my team about what was and wasn't working for students. It opened up my eyes about how to become a good leader and manager, as my postgrad was in management, and it allowed me to encourage students around me to achieve more for themselves, instilling in them that it's always worth trying. That's what our university is about. We have a lot of first-generation students that don't have the social capital behind them that others do and don't necessarily know how to approach things, so it's all about confidence and encouragement.
For one, we have a quiet welcome day for disabled students so that they feel they belong to the university before they even start, so they know the kinds of support on offer and what the environment is like through spending a whole day with the disability and mental health team. We also do a quiet enrolment for students that are anxious about starting at the same time as everyone else. They have their own enrolment so that they can settle in their own time.
We’ve also started an initiative called People Like Us, which addresses cultural barriers for students and is aimed at diverse students with the purpose of students connecting with those who understand their experiences. This is also tied in with the NHS, where we focus on mental health and coping with university, showing students they are never alone and that there are always others who understand what you are experiencing.
Finally, we offer a Graduate Internship Scheme, where we pay companies to take graduates who are underemployed or unemployed to give them an opportunity in terms of careers, so we help both with transitioning into the university and also transitioning out. It's all about instilling confidence that helps students to progress further.
We work closely with our student union and always have, so they are involved with everything from policy making to enrolment. On sexual assault, we have a cause for concern policy including flow charts which map out very quickly the process you can go through if you have seen or heard something, and it shows who you can go to and how we can help. We also have a consent video that is sent to every student at induction to ensure that everyone knows what it is and how it works, and we reinforce this each year when they come back.
We make sure we listen to students about all of these issues because it’s their voice that is important.
We also have a platform where students and staff can report any kind of harassment, either anonymously or with their names to seek out support. This is an online cloud-based platform so there are no opening hours, it’s always available. We are also in the midst of writing a sexual misconduct policy covering everything that we need to be aware of. We make sure we listen to students about all of these issues because it’s their voice that is important.
You need resilience, you need to adapt to change quickly, and you need to be supportive to each other—not just to students but to other staff on your team.
I would say Rosie Tressler who runs Student Minds; I admire her as a CEO because she created the mental health charter and she is so passionate about student mental health.
A Manager’s Guide to Self-Development. You don't read it front to back but you refer to it as you need to, and I always feel I need to continue to evaluate myself to keep improving.