University expects SRC to represent students at partnership institutions overseas

Nathan Stilwell and Fraser McGowan
Writer and Deputy News Editor

The Glasgow University Students’ Representative Council (SRC) was not told by the University that it is now contractually obliged to represent students at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC), following a partnership agreement signed two years ago between the University of Glasgow and UESTC

The outgoing SRC President Breffni O’Connor raised the issue at a meeting of the Finance Committee on the 14th of January 2015, expressing concerns that the SRC Executive had not been consulted prior to the agreement being signed in May 2013. O’Connor raised the issue again at a meeting of the University c ourt on 24 February 2015, and the University apologised for failing to notifying the SRC before the agreement was reached between the two universities.

The incoming SRC executive are concerned that the practicalities of student representation were not taken into account by the University before the details were finalised and an agreement was reached. It is still not clear how the SRC is expected to effectively represent the interests of students who attend the University’s partnership institutions in Singapore, China and elsewhere.

The Qingshuihe campus in Chengdu is the centre of the University of Glasgow’s jointly-delivered Electronics and Electrical Engineering programme, which was instituted there two years ago. Taught equally by staff from Glasgow and UESTC, the Joint School aims to “combine the best features of the UK and Chinese university systems to provide students with the scholarship and skills that will equip them for lifetime careers as leaders in industry and academia.” Graduates will receive degrees from both universities.

Building long-term, “mutually beneficial”, partnerships is a key part of the University’s “internationalisation strategy”, led by Vice-Principal Professor James Conroy. According to the University’s website, there are four different types of partnership agreement between the University of Glasgow and other higher education institutions across the world: “international collaboration”, “strategic alliance”, “international networks”, and “mobility opportunity”.

There are currently strategic alliances with Nankai University, the Singapore Institute of Technology (University of Glasgow Singapore), and Columbia University in New York City. It is unclear which category the agreement between the University of Glasgow and UESTC falls into. As Nankai University is already a Joint Education Institute (JEI), however, the University of the Glasgow is the first to have two different JEIs in China.

A spokesman for the University of Glasgow said: “Negotiations over the agreement that was reached with the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China were both complex and detailed. However we do recognise, and are very conscious of the concerns that have been expressed by the SRC. We will do all that we can to ensure that the student body is involved from the outset for future partnerships.”

UESTC ranks fifth out of 39 “Project 985” universities, a Chinese social program designed to promote the development and advance the reputation of Chinese universities to the level of other internationally renowned academic institutions.

The Glasgow Guardian reported in February 2012 that the Finance Committee of the University Court deemed the partnership with UESTC  to be a “high financial risk” as it had the potential to cost the University £700,000 in the first two years due to the high inflation rate and the stringent tax regime in China. It also noted, however, that in the long term the partnership could potentially generate a profit of up to £3.4 million over a period of 10 years.

Students from UESTC are eligible to complete two years of their degree at Glasgow, which raises further concerns that the already overcrowded Gilmorehill campus will be unable to cope with a large influx of students from partnership institutions overseas.