Tuesday 19th January saw the Big Student Debate: an incredibly important opportunity for communication between university, Students Union and the student populace that holds the potential to dramatically improve the lives of students at this university.
The Debate, chaired by a friendly albeit firm Maire Davies, Director of Special Projectsat RHUL, the Big Student Debate gave all students the chance to ask a panel any questions they had about how the university was being run. With the panel including Professor Rob Kemp (Acting Principal) John Tuck (Director of Library Services) and Professor Justin Champion (Head of the History Department) the theme of the meeting was “the student experience” at Royal Holloway.
Introduced by James Pidgeon who stressed the unity between university and Students Union before cogently and neatly defining the student experience. There then followed four presentations covering differing aspects of the student experience. Professor Katie Normington spoke on the subject of student assessment and feedback, including the steps being taken to standardise and increase feedback. Liz Wilkinson, Head of Careers, sought to recognise and celebrate the 645 student volunteers and all those involved in extracurricular activities. Director of Development, Patrick Wilson, introduced a large number of new ideas including a new SU website.
Many visibly leant forward with increased attention when John Tuck, Director of Library Services, took to the floor. Explaining planned improvements to electronic resources and learning spaces, a decision was finally made on the extension of library hours. Carried out next term this pilot scheme will extend library opening hours at evenings and weekends. However a question from the floor questioned how much of a difference this would make when Bedford library has previously been open 24 hours a day during the third term. The debate over library hours looks set to continue with the university arguing that all day opening could be detrimental to student’s health. It must be questioned however whether a university committed to moving into the “top tier” is still asking students to leave its library when in universities both above and below Royal Holloway across various league tables the facilities remain open.
The main focus of the evening was however the chance for those present to question the panel. During the ninety minutes available for questions a wide range of issues were covered with several overarching themes becoming apparent. Space to work, rehearse and revise was a central concern of several students representing groups including Musical Theatre Society and Dance Society.
Admitting that the university’s available rooms were already stretched to its limit the panel explained that plans have been made for the building of increased space but that sufficient funding has yet to be found. Lack of funding also proved to be a recurring issue with a number of other planned projects. In response it was asked whether the university was making attempts to build up relationships with local businesses. Responding to this the university said that it was in contact with possible sponsors but in the current economic climate they too were suffering from funding difficulties.
Above all else the Big Student Debate gave Royal Holloway students the chance to ask the questions they wanted to. Communication between university and students has been and will continue to be fundamental especially when it becomes increasingly hard to see how budget cuts cannot but adversely affect the student experience.