The following are some speeches I have given as part of my work for CUSU
23rd January 2007, the Senate-House
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, these remarks were originally intended for the Standing Advisory Committee on Student Matters. However, it was suggested to me that it would be worth also raising them at this Discussion for wider comment.
As I am sure you are aware, there is currently no student representation on any of the Councils of the Schools. This contrasts with the 'rung below' where all Faculty and independent departmental Boards have student members, and the 'rung above', the General Board, which has two student members.
In the past, this lack of representation could be explained by the nature of the business that was discussed. The majority of it seems to have been concerned with personnel, which would automatically be 'reserved' under Statute K, 20. Having members in statu pupillari would therefore have been a futile exercise as they would not have been able to be present at the majority of the meetings. However, if the Councils of the Schools are to take a more active part in setting the academic vision for the School, as is suggested by this Report, then having a student contribution will certainly be worthwhile. A continuing lack of student representation on the Councils might also start to appear anomalous, and lead to the odd situation whereby a paper on, for example, 'Institutional and School academic plans' might have student involvement in the consultation stage in the Faculties and the final discussion stage at the General Board, but not at the important middle stage where drafts of the paper would be discussed in detail in the Council of the School.
I would therefore like to suggest that each Council could co-opt one or two members in statu pupillari by a method of its choosing. Having two members would allow one graduate and one undergraduate to sit on each Council, as occurs elsewhere. There are various methods by which the students could be chosen but it seems that the simplest method would be to run a ballot at the same time as the elections for the student members of the Faculty Boards. This would require a small number of changes to Chapter VIII of the Ordinances (which deals with the composition of the Councils). It therefore seems that now, when the composition and role of the Councils and their governing ordinances is being reformed, would a good time to implement these additional changes.
30th January 2007, the Senate-House
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, when compared to the speeches already heard in this Discussion, I fear that these remarks might seem slightly churlish in their brevity. Although I agree with much that has already been said regarding the proposed changes, I feel that I should confine myself to explaining why, when this Report was presented to the General Board, I declined to sign it, and refrain from offering more personal views about the future of the Faculty.
The first reason for not signing the Report is quite simple and is, perhaps, already obvious. As a former member of the Oriental Studies Faculty Board and a current Oriental Studies undergraduate, I am somewhat personally involved with these issues and I wanted to avoid any accusations of having a conflict of interest.
The second reason is more substantial, if not much more complex. Students within the Faculty have not been sufficiently involved with the Review process which led to this Report, nor have they been kept sufficiently informed of the proposals. As far as I am aware, the only direct consultation of students occurred during the evidence-gathering phase of the Report, which took place between 31 January and 1 February, 2005. Since then there have been few official statements to the students on the current situation and no additional attempts have been made to solicit views.
This lack of consultation has led to a Report which seems to badly represent the concerns of students within the Faculty. To dwell on just the most obvious example, the gradual reduction in the number of courses offered by the Faculty has been extremely unpopular within the undergraduate community. If this process continues it seems inevitable that the most able students will be tempted to apply to other universities and not to Cambridge. Indeed, this must already be occurring with the closure of the Hindi and Sanskrit courses to new students. The best applicants for these subjects are, presumably, now be destined for Oxford or SOAS rather than here, at detriment to this University. There are, perhaps, sound academic or economic reasons for these actions. However, they have not been effectively explained to current students and there is no great feeling amongst the undergraduate community of having being involved with the process. Similar concerns seem to held about many other areas of this Report and many of its more controversial recommendations. This is why the lack of explicit consultation is so unfortunate; it seems to have cut off the majority of students from involvement with the Review and this Report.
Admittedly, students are represented on many of the bodies associated with the Review and part of the blame for this lack of involvement must lie with them, myself included, for not being more effective in publicizing all the issues. However, the length this review, which has been discussed for at least four generations of student Faculty Board members, makes it impossible for any one student to have a grasp of the totality of the issues. Therefore, the University must take greater responsibility in order to ensure that students are suitably involved. It seems that if Advisory Groups are to be set up for Reviews of other Faculties, then part of their terms-of-reference must be to ensure that the whole Faculty is consulted and not just the senior members. In particular, I would hope that draft proposals are made easily available to students and that their views should be explicit solicited, not just during the evidence-gathering stage, but as proposals are being drafted and finalized. In this way, I would hope that future Faculty Reviews will produce proposals that work towards the improvement of the experience of students and accurately reflect their views and concerns.