This week’s Court meeting saw the adoption of many of the recommendations made by the SRC, students and staff as part of the consultation process to the proposed course cuts and closures. While personally I welcome most of the decisions made I am disappointed to see the closure of Slavonics, the alterations to DACE and Nursing left with a sword hanging precariously above it’s head.
However I am cheered by one small fact. In the recent weeks and months we have seen the SRC and particularly the outgoing sabbatical officers begin to realise the role they must play on campus during these uncertain times for higher education.
When I first came to University I asked “What does the SRC do?” and was met with confused looks and mumbling about Nightline and the minibuses. It seemed to me as if those students whom we elected to represent us to the University did very little but occasionally send me an email or run a poorly planned week to raise money for worthy causes. I was angry and looked at the SRC as nothing more as a statutory requirement and talking shop. This of course wasn’t helped by stories of a former President who took a job with the University and the President of the time defending the decision to pay the Principal an above inflation pay rise.
I was wrong. Even then the SRC was doing unglamourous but essential work but this to be frank simply wasn’t and isn’t enough.
This year has seen the SRC publicly condemn the University on the proposed closure of courses and on the poor execution, at least in the early stages, of the consultation process. It has seen the SRC attempt to engage with those involved in the various anti-cuts campaigns and with the controversial occupation of the Hetherington Research Club, which has placed them clearly outside of their comfort zone. While they have often disagreed with these groups where they have found common ground they have worked together. They have also been critical when it has been necessary. In a single year the SRC has gone from a glorified counseling service (that doesn’t even have a bar!) to the beginnings of a truly important voice in students lives during their time at university.
But while this is a laudable start, they have no time to rest on their laurels. The handover date of June 30th approaches and a new council and team of sabbatical officers prepare to takeover, I thought I would offer some advice. Advice I’ll admit, having lost an election for VP Student Support, I’m probably not it the ideal position to give. But what the hell.
Staffing levels are likely to begin to drop as the effects of the University’s Voluntary Severance/Early Redundancy scheme begin to be felt. Student services budgets are being cut by between 10-15% and departments are being encouraged to look for cost saving measures. In this climate, it is important that the SRC is proactive in its approach.While I would encourage it to continue fighting every cut and every job loss I understand this a decision for a new Council itself to take. But whatever position it takes it must be open and engage with the student body at large. It is my belief that teaching and service quality will suffer in the next year as the Senior Management Group shaves 18 million pounds off the university budget. The SRC must ensure that every effort is made to lessen any reduction in the standard of teaching and services and that students are as well informed about the potential pitfalls they may face.
As austerity grips the country it will also effect students.Council needs to look beyond the confines of Gilmorehill and begin to play a role in ensuring to that students’ quality of life and therefore quality of education does not suffer. Take on bad land lords more publicly, continue to argue to protect funding to our Unions and GUSA, join the voices condemning the rise in the cost of living. Take the argument to the Scottish Government that budgets to higher and further education, including grants and bursaries, need to be protected and rise year on year to improve everyone’s quality of life and ensure future economic prosperity.
But above all this, the SRC must continue to be open. Council should be a visible force on campus and it’s members known and easy to contact. Decisions should be made as publicly as they can and wherever possible with as much opportunity for student involvement. They need to let us know what they are doing, whatever it is they are doing and give all students the opportunity to contribute.
In many ways I don’t envy the SRC’s job in the next 12 months. It will be difficult and people will always snipe and disagree with how they handle things. But in one way I do envy this year’s incoming team, they have the opportunity to get people to realise the importance of representation and the role it can have in determining the quality of their university life. Or maybe they don’t, but you can always dream right?