“Student engagement can take many forms, and can be as simple as attending a lecture or speaking with a tutor,” says Mel Joyner, when asked about the University’s approach to engaging with its student body. “It’s a choice, but also part of the lived experience, and varies from student to student.”
The University’s new Director of Student Services has formally been in post since November 2015, and the former Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Health and Human Sciences is under no illusion as to some of the challenges that lie ahead for higher education over the coming years. But, with her teams in Careers and Employability, Complaints and Appeals, Learning Support and Wellbeing, and the student-facing elements of Residence Life, she is focused on creating a culture of engagement that is both enabling and inclusive.
“We start off from the principle and ethos of care,” says Mel, who joined the University as a lecturer in social sciences in 1996. “What we want to do is contribute to the University environment and student experience so that students feel cared for and safe in order that they can take ‘academic risks’. And within that, we need to both support the student but also the faculties, which have the primary responsibility of delivering that academic experience.”
The ‘joint challenge’ for Student Services and the Students’ Union, with whom they work closely, is to build upon the success they’ve had in engaging with the 18- to 21-year old undergraduates, and look to improve in areas that have typically proven more difficult to reach.
Mel says: “If you have a timetable that dictates 30 hours per week of lectures, and you’re commuting in from Cornwall, you’re probably not going to spend a great deal of time in the Students’ Union. One of the challenges we face is accessing those marginal voices.”
Providing new ways to engage with the University, and broadening choice in terms of the range of services offered, has been central to addressing that challenge. For example, confirming the feedback provided by the UPSU Pre-Freshers’ Survey and freshers’ feedback, Residence Life has introduced the option to request ‘quiet’ accommodation (with up to 220 beds available), and alcohol-free events have also proven to be a very popular addition to the calendar.