Celebrating Member Success

As part of the AHEP’s Student Experience and Engagement Special Interest Group (SIG), we’re conducting interviews with those who work in the field. A wide variety of roles and teams support the improvement of student experience and engagement within universities. Our interview series, ‘Celebrating Member Success’ helps to shine a light on those who are working in these roles, so that others can learn more about the many different ways that we’re approaching this area of work across the sector.

In this edition of ‘Celebrating Member Success’, we hear from Emily Maddock Khan, Head of College Services at the University of Nottingham International College.

Emily Maddock Khan

Head of College Services, University of Nottingham International College.

“You can only truly have the best experience in any situation if you are included, not harassed, not discriminated against, and your culture and experiences are welcomed and celebrated.”

What is your current role and what does your team do at the University of Nottingham International College?

I am Head of College Services, which is a title that probably doesn’t evoke an immediate understanding outside of the College, but it is essentially student services, registrar and compliance rolled into one. My team has a wide portfolio that includes Student Services, Academic Services, compliance, safeguarding and Prevent, events, social media, EDI, stakeholder and partner relationship management, operations, external visits, and communications management. Basically, every aspect of the college that isn’t teaching. We oversee the entire student journey from pre-arrival to progression from the College to the University of Nottingham. The college provides degree preparation programmes for students whose home countries’ education systems don’t allow for direct entry to the University or students who wish to increase their subject knowledge and English language level before starting their degree.

Please can you describe your journey in the world of Student Experience and Engagement?

My career spans admissions, widening participation, international development, teaching, compliance, registry and student support. Student experience and engagement have been key in every role. For teaching and compliance, the focus is on attendance and engagement with the aim of academic success. In admissions, you are often the first person someone speaks to from a university, thus, you are representing the start of their experience, which has massive implications.

In my current role, student experience and engagement are my key objectives – the College aim is to help students acclimate to the UK, the city, and the University, within a wider objective of satisfaction, retention, and success. It is also our mission to provide them with an amazing experience that squeezes every last bit out of the unique opportunity they have to learn from, make friends with, and meet students from around the globe. Student experience can mean all the obvious fun things like events and trips, but a huge part of it for me is wellbeing. We know that student mental health issues have increased in recent years, but sadly the NHS provision has not. My team are not trained counsellors, but we have built an excellent service that includes disability, neurodiversity, and LGBTQ+ support, and actively promotes the support of marginalised groups, creating a supportive, open environment in which they can thrive. It’s important to us that we benchmark our offering; our initiatives are validated by high satisfaction rates and the Customer Service Excellence Award. It’s good to know that we are providing an excellent student experience – although it should only ever be an iterative process. 

How have you had to adapt and change the support provision for international students during your time in this role?

There’s been a few changes over the last few years. I don’t know if some or most are due to the Pandemic, or some would have happened anyway, but the most striking is not just the increase in mental health concerns, but the willingness to talk about it and ask for help. Our students come from over 60 different countries, so you can imagine the range of understandings and acceptance of mental health, but there’s another layer on top of all that related to terminology. If a student doesn’t know how to tell you or their GP that they have bipolar disorder in English, there’s the risk of them getting the wrong treatment package, including medication. We’ve developed ways around this, including contacting our students pre-arrival and again in a welcome week to reiterate that in the UK, we have an open culture and open conversations about mental health, disability, neurodiversity, and any other additional needs. We encourage them to tell us what medication have been prescribed, what previous diagnoses they have received, and then contact them to offer a tailored support plan. We deliberately refer to ‘additional needs’ as a catch-all to increase the number of students who will tell us early on of any adjustments they may need (and not wait until exam season!) or medication they are bringing with them. ‘Additional needs’ gets around any bias, culture barriers or negative connotations that a word may have in their culture or home country. A doctor once told me about the ‘door handle moment’, where a person reveals with main concern just as they’re about to leave. We strive to pre-empt such moments by fostering openness and inclusivity from the outset, ensuring students feel comfortable discussing their needs early on.

What have you achieved in your career that you are most proud of?

I would say there are two things; I have witnessed and experienced barriers to career progression due to being a member of marginalised groups. We are raised in a society that still, regardless of change to date, has a dominant ideology that most of us don’t fit into. I’m not male, straight, able-bodied or neurotypical, yet we are encouraged to pretend that this ideology is the norm. When I started managing people, I made it a personal mission to ensure that I provided equitable opportunities, encouraged meaningful training, and sought out opportunities to engage with a wider network. The result has been happy and productive teams with many promotions. I’m a big believer in developing staff, even if it means they progress elsewhere. The second is founding and chairing my company’s first LGBTQIA+ Staff Network, Kaplan Pride. The membership response was overwhelming, and together we have implemented real organisational change, provided a safe space for colleagues and students across the globe, raised thousands for LGBTQIA+ charities, and contributed to implementing EDI in the curriculum.

Do you have any tips for others who might be keen to develop a staff network?

Yes! Definitely!

– First of all, think about what it is you want from the network or employee resource group (ERG) and check with relevant management, such as an EDI team or HR, that your objectives align with your institution’s, and if you have their support in creating a network.

– You’ll then need to either ask for, or think of a senior figure who can endorse or sponsor your network; this is crucial as it can set up communications across your institution, bring people together across different functions, and help you to remove barriers connected to authority and budget.

– I would also suggest that you don’t do this alone, so ask around for co-chairs or a committee – it is hard work running an ERG. Even though I was extremely passionate about our network, it was that early excitement that provided a lot of the energy to get things done until it was established. Realistically, networks and ERGs are a voluntary addition to people’s day jobs, and enthusiasm or availability may wane. Be prepared for that, and always make it easy for people to join your groups so the work can be spread and new ideas can be generated.

– Make sure you think about intersectionality – nobody is just one thing – and how you can utilise this in your group. At Kaplan we also have a parents and carers ERG, and this got me thinking that it would be good to do some internal comms around our staff who are LGBTQIA+ parents and their experiences.

– Depending on what you’re going for with your group, you could choose for it to be grass-roots and fairly informal, or you could build in a structure with clear governance, responsibilities, and terms of reference. Either way, you should measure your impact and perhaps consider changing or expanding your chairs or committees to ensure continuous improvement and purpose.

The EDI SIG formed recently, can you share a bit about the focus of the group and your involvement in running this?

The EDI SIG was started in 2017. We relaunched this year, and used the AHEP Conference as a mini launch, in that we announced the SIG and asked for initial expressions of interest. I joined as a Deputy Coordinator because EDI resonates with me personally, with my beliefs for staff experiences, for student experiences, and because I knew I could bring my experience within EDI to the group. We are so excited about bringing people together and seeing what we can achieve as a community. We have two launch events coming up – the first on 10th July 2024 (11.00am – 12.30pm) and if you can’t make that the alternative date is 21st August (2.30pm – 4.00pm). If you are interested please register your interest here. If people have any ideas they’d like to add or vote on, we would love to hear them – they can let us know here. We are located on MS Teams, LinkedIn and on JISC.

Based on your experiences, can your share you thoughts on the crossover between EDI and Student Experience and Engagement from a work context?

The crossover is everywhere; you can only truly have the best experience in any situation if you are included, not harassed, not discriminated against, and your culture and experiences are welcomed and celebrated.

In College, events like Lunar New Year, Eid, and Pride Month straddle both worlds. Students have wonderful experiences sharing their culture and events, and it would be a bizarre and sad environment if that wasn’t the case. There’s a long overdue movement to embed EDI in curriculums or decolonise the curriculum. How can all students have a rich student experience without feeling seen and valued? Without the broadening of perspectives and the encouragement to engage with other viewpoints from the UK or Euro-centric ones we are used to, how can a student be prepared for a globalised world and workplace? How would they have the enhanced critical thinking skills they need?

And your thoughts from your experiences as a student?

I have benefited from quite a varied range of courses and institutions at postgraduate study (from film studies to data analytics to business and management), and there have sadly been far too many times where my student experience has been so adversely affected by EDI not being considered that it has made it incredibly difficult to continue with the programme. Poor microphones were used in seminars of videos, there were no captions on videos (I am deaf), and slides have contained far too much text and people spoke over them at the same time as expecting you to read them (I have dyslexia and ADHD). None of these are difficult to amend, but the impact on students is huge. There have also been some really good practices that should be standard. I’m currently a doctoral student at the University of Bath, and they have been extremely supportive of my additional needs, including a scholarship which enabled me to buy screen reading and dyslexia software, as well as assessment extensions for my IVF treatment.

We’d like to extend our thanks to Emily for being so open in sharing her experiences with us. If you’d like to share your journey, tell us about a project you’ve worked on or nominate a colleague who has been working on something amazing and be a part of the ‘Celebrating Member Success’ series, then you can sign up here.

‘Celebrating Member Success’ interview conducted and written by Nissy Cheema – Deputy Coordinator, Student Experience and Engagement Special Interest Group

June 2024

The latest from AHEP: