Dr Saira Shaikh: delivery of education & student services

The community of professional services and support staff who work in the interests of students during their time at university is very special. I have always found the dedication and commitment of all of us who support the core mission of our institution to be unstinting, but I suspect none of us could have anticipated the full impact of the pandemic. We have all spent the past year dealing with huge consequences to our work, personal and family lives. I am immensely proud to have been a part of all that has been achieved in supporting our students and the delivery of education and services to them under such difficult circumstances.

Whilst the pandemic has certainly brought restrictions, increased burdens with new demands and the need for rapid change, it has also forced us all to experiment with new ways of managing and delivering our business. These experiences have yielded real positives for change, and I believe it is essential to maintain those benefits. I continue to be delighted to learn how all of us, particularly those in student-facing roles, have been able to deliver new approaches:

  • reaching out to potential future students through digital innovations in undergraduate and postgraduate outreach activities
  • delivering a variety of services to current students to much wider audiences, more than we could ever fit into our normal venues
  • expanding provision of student services, especially in one-to-one settings, no longer constrained by the need for small individual office spaces
  • continuing our commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of our students through provision of new workshops and enhanced online resources
  • continuing our commitment to the physical wellbeing of our students through growth and expansion of the Active Anywhere suite of virtual classes (and extending this to staff).

Alongside all these services has been the need to adapt the support we provide for education, requiring rapid development of our digital education provision and transfer of much of our in-person assessment regimes to virtual platforms. These developments have placed huge demands on colleagues across central, divisional and departmental/faculty teams. The successful delivery of that provision is testament to that huge collective effort.

The pandemic has also shone a much-needed spotlight on all that is provided across the collegiate University to support the ‘student experience’.  While Oxford must rightly focus its attention on ensuring we deliver an excellent education to all who can best benefit from it, the circumstances of the last year have demonstrated the importance of all the other things that support the student through their journey at university – from transition to university and induction through on-course support, extra-curricular activities and hobbies to cultural and social engagement, sporting activities and so on. And once again, the pandemic has meant that all of us involved in supporting these aspects of student life have come together and worked in an incredibly collaborative spirit. The energy from this work has been wonderful and provides another real positive from which we can all draw pride. I have no doubt we also remain committed in seeking to build on this collaborative work for the long term.

These reflections show just how vital and important a contribution we in student-facing roles have made – supporting, facilitating and enabling the core mission of the University to be delivered in such troubled times. I offer my heart-felt thanks to all who have played their part and hope that, as we move forward to warmer times, we recognise all that has been achieved through our dedication and collaboration, and all that it offers for a brighter future.

We welcome suggestions for authors and topics for future blog articles. Contact internal.communications@admin.ox.ac.uk if you have a person or topic in mind. We aim to include perspectives from across the University; while we cannot guarantee blog articles and the schedule is subject to change, we will include as many requested articles as we can.