University Vice–Chancellor’s All Student Talk: Five things we learnt

ON Thursday 26 November, The Students’ Guild hosted a talk from University of Exeter Vice-Chancellor Sir Steve Smith open to all students to attend. There was also a chance to ask questions to the VC, as well as to University Provost, Professor Janice Kay; Interim Chief Operating Officer Jacqui Marshall and Deputy Vice Chancellor for Education, Professor Tim Quine. Exeposé Comment headed over to Newman Blue (so you didn’t have to) and here’s what we learnt.

Nobody cares (that much)

The event itself was pretty appallingly attended, with less than a third of the vast expanse of Newman Blue being filled by students. Steve himself joked that it was incredible that the entirety of the student population had managed to fit into a single lecture theatre, but it was disappointing to see such a lack of engagement from the wider student community. The decision to hold the event in the middle of deadline season, and on the same night as a (rather better attended) Debsoc debate on the boycotting of Isareli goods, was questionable, but even so, the turnout was poor. Perhaps the stereotype of the apathetic student is more accurate than we’d like to believe.

Fees are going up

“Do we want fees to rise? Yes we do.” The words nobody wanted to hear, right from the mouth of the University Vice-Chancellor. After the release of the Conversative Government’s new Higher Education Green Paper earlier in the month, the question on everyone’s lips was whether or not Exeter intends to take advantage of the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) that will allow better universities to charge higher fees in future years. Unfortunately for prospective students, the answer to that question is yes, with Steve confirming that the University hopes to increase fees consistently in line with inflation to combat rising staff costs (a 4.7% increase last year alone.) Whilst this revelation is hardly a surprise given the VC’s commitment to higher fees in the past, it will still come as a crushing blow to prospective students from lower income families, who will also have to contend with George Osborne’s decision to replace maintenance grants with loans in a bit to cut the national deficit. Best start saving now kids…

Steve would be a great accountant

Whether discussing the recent increases in student intake, citing departmental budgets or revealing the university’s sources of revenue, the 63 year old Vice-Chancellor showed little sign that his brain was slowing up in old age. A remarkable memory for stats and figures is just one of the talents the big cheese has up his sleeve in order to keep the University in ship-shape. If only he could remember how much his salary was with such ease….

Big Brother may soon be watching you

Ok, so Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Education, Professor Tim Quine did specifically state that this was not Big Brother, but we’re going to go right ahead and call it that anyway. The University management team laid out the details of their new “Effective Learning Analytics” scheme that they hope will better support students through their education here at Exeter. The scheme, which the University aims to launch in the next couple of years, will see personal tutors given access to students’ attendance, grades and even see how often they’ve been going to the library. The aim of the scheme, according to Professor Quine, is “to support you better and have that conversation with you.” In principle the scheme seems like a good idea, but concerns have been raised about the sensitivity of such data, and whether the University should be collecting it – Exeter’s very own snooping charter could be just a few years away. Quine was, however, adamant that despite looking like former Prime Minister Tony Blair, he had nothing to do with the invasion of Iraq, which is a relief we suppose.

Extra Curricular activities may soon take place off University premises

In response to an excellent question from AU President Jack Bristow, Sir Steve reiterated his commitment to supporting extra-curricular activities within the University, despite the TEF not assessing them as part of their judgments regarding the quality of academic institutions. “We recognize students get jobs not just based on their grades,” he commented, “playing sport, volunteering and working on the newspaper are all great activities and we want to support them. We want to preserve student choice and space for activities.” Additionally, Chief Operating Officer Jacqui Marshall also confirmed the University is looking into sourcing suitable sites off campus in the city, such as Primary schools, which could be used as venues for such activities, due to a lack of space on the campus site. We’re just hoping we won’t get kicked out of Devonshire House anytime in the near future…

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