Creating a thriving learning environment

London South Bank’s new Pro-Vice Chancellor Shân Wareing discusses her plans for the future with University Business

Why did you choose to join LSBU, how did the opportunity come about?

The energy and the ambition of LSBU really appeal to me. I like universities as communities where people cluster to think and learn, and collectively solve problems to improve the world. Changes in funding, policy, pedagogy, technology, employability and students’ expectations could be seen as challenges but if instead you see strategic opportunities and the possibility of doing things better, it’s a very exciting time for higher education. This is the approach LSBU is taking, which is why I wanted to work here.

Do you have any immediate plans for the university that you want to set in motion over the coming months?

I am already working with the LSBU leadership team to build our strategic and operational plans. I’ll be working with university staff and students to integrate students’ voices into course planning and design and other university decisions, increase work-related and work-based learning, and make sure courses are relevant, exciting and engaging, and that teaching is informed by research. I’ll spend the first few weeks talking to staff and students to understand what’s already in place and what are priorities for action.

Your overall responsibility will be on the student experience, what does that involve?

I’ll be taking forwards the University’s corporate strategy particularly around making sure students have a personalised, high-calibre education which equips them for employment and making a positive contribution to society. I’ll be working to make involving students as collaborative partners in planning, evaluating and decision-making part of the LSBU culture, and I’ll be the member of the senior team with overall responsibility for teaching and supporting services.

Why do you think student experience has become increasingly important in recent years?

Now students pick up the tab for course fees once they graduate and start to earn above a certain level, it really puts a clear bottom line to the commitment which students make to their university study. Of course students rightly expect an exciting relevant course, to be able to get support when they need it, and to have opportunities to build good relationships with peers, and to help them set themselves up for life after graduating.

Universities compete for students, and prospective students have a clear view of the current student experience through key information sets and league tables. But I think there are other powerful reasons too. The pace of change in the workplace has increased hugely with technology, globalisation and the ‘knowledge economy’ and universities need to prepare students for productive lives and careers in a world where knowledge, jobs and skills will all be different from how they are now. More people come to university, so universities have a bigger influence on society, making it more important than ever that we do a good job. Pedagogy has become a lot more sophisticated and professionalised so ideas about what is good teaching have become more complex. Progress in equality and inclusivity means we recognise that students are not all the same, and ‘student experience’ means creating an environment where all students can learn and thrive, requiring universities to build in flexibility for different life styles, appreciate different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and show sensitivity to the impact of gender and other characteristics on learning and participation in different contexts. So there’s plenty to do!

With other pathways emerging after A-levels and increasing competition from universities overseas, what can universities in the UK do to compete and become better value for money?

Universities need to get better at being consistent, we have to learn from developments and challenges in the UK and internationally; we also need to tell a very clear story about what we do well. While there is always room for improvement, UK universities have committed staff delivering stimulating courses, that are relevant to future employment and underpinned by world leading research, and this is a global success story.

What are your long-term goals for LSBU?

I’d be happy with us being London’s top modern university!




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