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5 questions with: Adele Browne

Meet Adele Browne, our Director of Student Experience as she shares her thoughts on how to enhance the student experience at Warwick.

Welcome to Warwick!

What will you be doing as Director of Student Experience?

My role is to take a detailed view across the many services and opportunities offered t our students, outside their core study or research activity, and to address central questions such as:

  • How effectively do the wider aspects of the Warwick experience contribute to building community and belonging?
  • How are we including all students – or aren’t we?
  • Are we leading and responding in light of what students, at different levels of study and from different backgrounds, genuinely want and need?
  • If not, how can we improve the quality of dialogue to devise better provision?

I aim to work with students and colleagues across the whole University to explore these questions at a deep level and put in place practical and innovative changes that make the Warwick student experience, in its entirety, truly pioneering and exceptional.

What makes a good student experience?

It seems needless to say that a good student experience will be different things to different individuals and groups. Home undergraduate students still tend to get the lion’s share of attention across the sector, while universities have generally been poorer at listening to, and providing for, their postgraduates, international students, commuter students, mature students, and many groups from “non-traditional” backgrounds. It’s exciting to have the remit to transform this picture and to make Warwick a sector leader for doing so.

As well as the importance of recognising diversity and striving for inclusivity in everything the University does and offers, for me it is fundamental also to start with the commonalities between us.

The question I go back to is: What kind of experience would any of us want if we’d made a decision to invest our time and money in a place-based course of study - even a conference? It is possible to take a mental walk from end to end of such an experience and consider what most of us would generally expect, what might delight us, and what disappoint us – aspects such as: A well-organised welcome, well-pitched content at a manageable level of stretch, the sense of being individually valued by the hosts, access to food we like, opportunities to socialise, and so on.

While there is certainly a real need for innovation in the student experience, adapting to changing societal, personal and political pressures, there are also more straightforward improvements we can make, in my view, based on not over-mystifying how students act and respond.

How does wellbeing play a part in student's experience of university?

Students’ core university activity is to study and gain a qualification, but this is interdependent with their life and financial circumstances, network of family and friends, and feelings of self-confidence – among multiple other factors.

While dealing with all of the changes that come with the practicalities of starting university, being alone, managing their time and meeting new people, they want to perform well and keep up with expectations for their academic learning. It is easy to see how students can find themselves in a downward spiral with all these aspects to cope with at once. In this way, wellbeing is intrinsically connected to a student’s ability to study at their best, and perhaps the greatest risk faced is that students who feel they are failing perceive that others around them are managing better, and keep their worries to themselves.

That’s why recognising and giving central focus to wellbeing continues to be so important in the culture we create, the ways we interact with students and the demands we make of them.

Collectively we need to know and care for our students as individuals, recognising that academic learning is their primary purpose, but cannot be treated in isolation of the wider student experience.

Will you be involving students in the student experience journey?

Yes, this is fundamental to my role and ambitions for the student experience at Warwick. We need to genuinely talk to and listen to students as collaborators, taking into account their widely varying backgrounds, needs and preferences, in order to deliver services that are fit for purpose for all.

In my role, I work closely with the Dean of Students and the Market Research team to jointly oversee what is working well in terms of student insight and to ensure we take a cohesive approach as this evolves.

Students I have worked with, throughout my career, have always been more willing to share their feedback if they are also asked for their ideas and solutions. The part we have to get right is how to set up meaningful dialogue that it is two-way and co-creative, adding this as standard practice in the mix with feedback surveys and other methods.

I see a particular opportunity to involve students in communities of practice linked to institutional strategic projects, from estate development to digital architecture. My aim would be to transfer successful models for working with students as partners in the academic space, tried and tested at Warwick, to other areas of the University activity.

I have found a strong appetite among Warwick professional services to engage students' views and perspectives in that they do and deliver; a model for facilitating this would ensure students' views and perspectives in what they do and deliver; a model for facilitating this would ensure students' contributions are representative and inclusive.

How can we help students make the most of their time at university?

By helping students to start from a viewpoint that there are lots of different ways to be a student, and that making friends and joining new activities goes on all through the year. We should encourage students to get organised with practicalities, such as keeping a simple daily to-do list, so that they feel reasonably on top of study and life tasks and everything doesn’t mount up.

Students should also be strongly encouraged to take time finding out about the many opportunities available to them as part of the Warwick experience, offered by University teams and the Students’ Union.

We can tend to collectively bombard students, and there is work to do to streamline both the opportunities on offer, and our communications; nonetheless, students who take notice of announcements can discover so much to get involved with, and we, of course, are eager for their participation.

I'm also determined that students, at all levels, should consider themselves as participants in the University’s development and not passive recipients of a fixed offer. In whatever respect a student has something to say about their experience, especially something lacking, they should be enabled and encouraged to do so, and have our assurance this is valued.

Ultimately, there is something for everyone at a vast university and a richness of student and staff communities to be part of. It is our job to create the conditions for a brilliant student experience for every individual, and it is students’ job to be courageous, self-aware and open-minded in defining their journey.

Bonus questions

Pets or plants?

This question is almost too difficult!! If only one, for the rest of my life, it would have to be pets. I have a cat and a dog and they give me daily entertainment, appreciation and are beautiful to have around.

Where is your happy place?

A house by the sea, such as the Norfolk or Devon coasts where I go on holiday. I’ve lived in the Midlands for 9 years now and only wish it was quicker to get to the coast! For now, I’d have to say my happy place is my garden on a sunny day, with all my family home, and the woods and fields around.

What’s in your travel mug, tea or coffee?

Coffee, but only instant I’m afraid due to ineptitude making good-tasting ‘real’ coffee!

If you weren’t working in a university, what would you be doing?

If not in a university, I’d see myself working for a local authority such as a city council, doing my best to shake things up!