On Tuesday 22nd and Wednesday 23rd March I attended the University of Manchester’s Board of Governors Conference. Below is a digital record of what I laid out in today’s edition of the Mancunion.
During this conference there was discussion about what the University has been doing over the past year and where it would like to be in the future. On the Wednesday morning a vote was taken on, amongst other things, the fact that Home Undergraduate tuition fees should be increase to £9000. Below I’ve laid out the reasons my abstention in this vote along with the themes which I contributed to the discussion over the two days in many other way. I and other members of the Exec have been pushing these themes in various meetings with University management and governance.
I hope these resonate with you. If not please contact me with your thoughts: email@example.com
The decision to abstain was one I really struggled with, and I’m still struggling with. The difficulty I had is that my role in the Board is to be both a student representative and a governor of the University. As a governor of the University, it falls on me to ensure that the University is going to be viable in years to come.
However, everything in me says that a £9000 fee, and indeed the whole of the governments policy on higher education, from student visas to the repayment system for fees, from the cuts to the commercialisation, is entirely wrong. In light of the swathes of funding cuts, for the governing body the risk of not increasing fees would have meant other measures, which in my view, are also deplorable for the student body.
These may have included laying off large numbers of staff, disinvestment from a student experience and an increase in international student fees who already pay over the odds. These and other options may still happen, but the fees were designed by the government to be the obvious way for Universities to offset the cuts. However, I am also unconvinced that the full £9000 is the necessary amount to keep the University solvent.
Finally, one of the core messages I have been delivering to the Board and senior management is has been that students should be considered as partners, not consumers in this University. To vote against would have undermined the partnership we have been seeking to build between the students and the University. It would have shown we do not understand the impossible situation, which the University of Manchester, and indeed all Universities find themselves in.
We are all taking the hit for a government who has fundamentally missed the point of what higher education is about. We needed to have a debate as a country about the value of education to the whole of society when this legislation went through. We lost that debate and now future students and those who miss out on the opportunities we have had will bare that cost
The Student Experience going forward
Below are some of the broader themes which I have been and will be continuing to push in my time of office.
Government policy on Higher Education is poorly thought through
As the Board is compromised of those both internal and external to the University, some of whom have a strong lobbying voice, I felt it was important to ensure that they understood the large flaws in the government’s policy on higher education. These include a repayment system which may mean if you have a debt of £39,000 (tuition + maintenance) you will end up paying back up to £84,000 in repayments due to the way the interest rates work. (BBC News Website) This does not benefit students and their families, Universities, or even the government. Only the loan companies will benefit from this kind of debt.
This small element of the whole policy reflects the lack of coherent thinking in the government policy on higher education and a fundamental failure to articulate what having a higher education system should mean for the UK. This was reflected in the Board’s discussion, as they “reluctantly” felt they had been pinned into a corner when it came to the decision on fees.
The only way for the University to thrive is by viewing students as partners, not consumers
Students should be viewed as learners and researchers, who contribute to the culture, diversity and credibility of this institution. This partnership can also be reflected in the way education is delivered, but also through being treated with respect and inclusion over the decisions that will define the future of the University. Practically, this means much more than having General Secretary at the Board of Governors.
For example, any discussions about closures or changes to courses and modules, should take place with the students who have experienced them, or wish to. Furthermore it helps with the communication of changes. As a Union we will be looking at our Student Rep system to make sure that we have the right structures in place to support students in representing their views at every level, whether module, course, department, school or faculty.
There must be consistency in the quality of education delivered, with an increasing focus on personalisation
We know that there is some really excellent teaching delivered in this institution, with many courses and departments building a culture of community and belonging. However there are many which do not. Every student should be able to tell the story of what being a student on their course, at the University of Manchester, means.
Until this is consistently delivered Manchester will continue to lag in the league tables and the National Student Survey, but as a Union we are committed to helping those areas which are underperforming at the moment understand how to increase this sense of belonging.
Manchester should strive to build and lobby for a culture of education that benefits the whole of society.
Manchester has the opportunity to take the lead in defining how we believe that higher education should be viewed. In order to retain public funding of research and teaching, which enriches this country and indeed the world, academics and their advocates must start explaining in accessible language what the benefits of funding a higher education system is to the whole country.
Manchester should be more innovative in university access programmes than the government requires
As the University has a commitment to social responsibility, they are currently doing a good job at going further on attempting to get those from less traditional backgrounds into University. This includes thinking beyond income brackets to liberation groups (Women, BME, LGBT and Disabled Students) who are traditionally under represented at various levels in higher education.
We also know that student drop out rates is an issue, particularly for mature students. We believe that increasing a sense of community in the University will go a long way to addressing this issue.
On a personal note I would like to add that I have learnt so much from being the representative for the students of the University of Manchester these discussions. I would like to thank all of you who have given me this opportunity. I know that many of you may disagree with the stances I have taken, but I hope you can appreciate that I have taken no decision lightly and I have always had in mind how we can continue to improve the experience that all students have at this great institution.