The best of the best?
Bre Edwards, Director of Student Life at University of the West of Scotland, talks student experience
What best illustrates the excellent student experience you are offering?
At University of the West of Scotland there is a real philosophy of student support, led by our Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Craig Mahoney. Pro-active support of students is the key driving principle behind the success of our student support services. Primarily, our approach aims to identify and offer support to students before they encounter problems and, of course, if and when issues do arise. This has helped ensure retention levels for our largely non-traditional cohort continue to rise, year on year. It recently resulted in recognition of the UWS Student Services team at the 2017 the Herald Higher Education Awards, where UWS won Student Support Team of the Year.
A strong example of innovation within our student service support is our work on financial capability. The UWS Funding and Advice Team, part of Student Development, recently won a NASMA (National Association of Student Money Advisers) award for their financial capability module which they developed to support students not necessarily used to managing finances and studies simultaneously.
For 2017-18, we are implementing a year-long induction programme, aiming to get students the information they need at the time they need it, rather than taking a ‘let’s cover everything in the first week’ approach which can easily overwhelm new students.
The approach UWS takes is that if we support students in their awareness of services at the point that it is relevant, as a result they are more likely to take advantage of the services we offer.
Furthermore, the student services team is strongly connected to a wider network of support organisations which allows us to identify those students who could benefit from the advice available within student services, before they begin their studies.
We also employ dedicated School Engagement Developers who help students in enhancing their study skills before university, alongside our Careers and Skills Team.
Overall, in Student Life, we pride ourselves on our focus on metrics to better understand the reach of our services. At the same time we continue to focus on offering a variety of services tailored to the specific needs of our students – needs which we identify by working with our partner networks and by engaging with students pre-university.
What recent developments at your campus best show your commitment to boosting student experience?
The investment in our support centre ‘The Hub’ which acts as a one-stop-shop for all student services, is a prime example of our commitment to boosting the student experience. Students shouldn’t need to understand our internal structures in order to effectively access support or have questions answered. From the Hub, they can book appointments with various services, get help with any queries and we also help guide them through, often complex, routes to the right support. The Hub is accessible virtually and the team successfully deal with most queries in less than an hour. The implementation of the service has increased the capacity of our professional advisors and enabled more 1-2-1 and group support sessions.
Are we doing enough to ensure international students have the best possible experience? Are the potential effects of Brexit for our European students any clearer now?
We could always be doing more to ensure international students have the best possible experience at University. Our central support team at UWS is constantly striving to improve and do more for international students. On inclusivity, we run special events for Passover, Easter and Purim across our campuses, and engage with the local community by contributing to ‘Grey Space’, an organisation dedicated to combatting hate crime and promoting inclusion.
As an institution, we expect the UK will become a less attractive destination for EU students due to negative sentiment surrounding Brexit. As such, we will need to find ways of positively communicating the benefits of studying in Scotland, and at UWS in particular, to continue to attract students from the EU. Our own diverse student population adds depth of experience for all of our students and provides our Scottish cohort with international exposure without leaving the country. It also supports the increase of cultural intelligence, which is hugely important in the context of increasing globalisation.
With tuition fees continuing to rise, how might students’ expectations change?
Student expectations should be high no matter how much they are paying in fees. Every one of our students deserves the best possible learning experience and this is at the heart of what we aim to achieve at UWS.
Finally, how would you sum up the best ‘student experience’?
Undertaking a degree is a journey. It should be challenging, supported, allow for self-reflection, and increase resilience. Any hurdles to a student, academically or personally, should not prevent success and achievement, but rather further increase their resolve. On graduation day, students should be proud of their accomplishments and know that they did what they set out to do, with the right level of support and guidance. That defines a great student experience.