16 Dec 2021

Interview with Sandra McLoughlan, New College Lanarkshire

In this interview, we talk to Sandra McLoughlan, Dean for Student Recruitment and Experience at New College Lanarkshire. Sandra was recently appointed to this post, having worked in European funding, student guidance and then latterly recruitment and admissions.

1. Firstly, how would you define student engagement? And has your sense of it changed over the years you have worked in the college sector?

Student engagement is about the amount of attention and interest that a student shows in their learning. Inevitably, this leads to the level of motivation that they have in actively pursuing their learning and reaching to progress in their studies. It is widely recognised that student engagement is a shared responsibility - what staff do to engage students in their work and students in their engagement in college life is of equal importance. Colleges have adapted their approaches over the years to student engagement, reinforcing the vital role that students play in shaping learning and teaching and the student experience. College leadership must recognise student engagement to ensure that we continue to improve student outcomes and experience and enhance change within the sector.

2. We talk a lot about how students should be shaping and co-creating their learning. How important is it that students and students’ associations also work in partnership with colleges on the recruitment and admissions process? What should that process look like if it is co-created?

Students would be invited to proactively work in partnership with college staff to help reimagine the recruitment and admissions process identifying students as partners. Co-creation brings together the perspectives of students and the SA with the expertise of staff. Running joint workshops exploring how students and the SA can be involved in this process is key to allow students an understanding of how they can work alongside staff confidently in the process. Participants would be encouraged to focus on the key issues that we are faced with and identify actions and events to strengthen admissions and recruitment. The SA should play a vital role in recruitment activities with peer-led events for recruiting students and building relationship with schools in the community.

3. It is perhaps tempting to imagine recruitment and admissions as the annual repetition of exactly the same process, but given you talk about reimagining that process with staff, and the idea of co-creation, it raises the prospect of each new cohort bringing a new perspective. So, do you have any examples of what you’ve learned from students over the years about recruitment and admissions?

Working with students in the past has allowed us to refine and simplify the process, making it easier for them to engage and make informed choices. It can relate to any part of the process, even down to what is contained within the marketing material. It is important to me that any service is designed around the student.

4. And what about your current priorities in recruitment? We understand you are at the early stages of a plan to improve the recruitment process, so what improvements are you seeking to make and what are you looking for students to bring to this?

In line with our strategic vision, New College Lanarkshire is motivated to “Bring Education Closer”. To realise this, we must ensure that we have listened to our student voice. The changing landscape, in terms of digital learning and meeting the needs of our students, needs to be at the forefront of our vision. Students need to be able to access education at a time that is right for then, whether this be on from school, part-time CPD or retraining in a different sector. We will be focusing on simplifying the way we work and putting our resources closer to the student.

5. Your mention of digital learning and the diverse ways in which students learn are very important, given the changes we’re going through as a sector. What do you think that means for the future? What might recruitment and admissions look like a few years from now, and what do students need to keep bringing to the conversation to continue to shape that?

I see greater partnership working with schools and HEIs to ensure that the students are on the right course, at the right level, at the right time. I believe that new technologies and close links to industry will help students understand how they can engage effectively at the start of their learning journey.

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Thanks to Sandra for being an interviewee. To suggest a future subject for interview, please contact us.

This interview is part of a series of occasional interviews on our website with student engagement practitioners – both staff and students, and from within Scotland’s university and college sector and beyond. The interviews aim to capture the different perspectives that people have on student engagement in the quality of learning.

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