Too much of a good thing?

Published

The Glasgow University Library with large queue

Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Tsveti Popova

Gustav Jönsson
Writer

The Students’ Representative Council (SRC) recently sent a letter to the Senior Management Group (SMG) detailing worries about student over-recruitment. This year, the University has accepted over 1000 more students than it did last year. The SRC says that this may lead to the overall student experience being “dangerously side-lined” and that there could be a “seriously negative impact” on the student experience unless the University increases student support.

The SRC letter lists challenges that the University must meet due to the increased intake. Among much else, it says that there will be fewer available study spaces; exams will be squeezed into a shorter time-frame; support services will be under greater pressure; and postgraduate supervisors will take on a greater workload.

The SRC wrote: “Considering the University prides itself on offering high quality research-led teaching and supervision, we may ask ourselves who is going to supervise 1,000 extra PGT students from April onwards?” In response, the SMG says that it will “Increase the complement of academic staff in areas that are experiencing growth to ensure that all students receive high-quality teaching and supervision without overloading existing members of staff.”

Another worry the SRC voiced was the lack of available study spaces. Only 150 study spaces have, over the previous academic year, been added to the library. The SRC outlined that the library is already “at capacity” and therefore the University must “increase the number of permanent study spaces” and also review the “use and management of underused teaching and office space”. They demand that an “immediate solution” be found to the lack of study spaces.

Many students share these concerns. I have talked with several who have given up on going to the library café because they cannot find places to sit. Jorge, an archaeology student, told me that the café is “always full”. English literature student, Bethany, said that finding a place to sit equals “the lowest conceivable possibility”. However, it is easy to overstate the unavailability of study spaces and cafeteria tables. Last Wednesday at 3pm I checked the availability of study spaces in the library. There were 116 computers available. As one student told me: “you will find a place to study”.

The library may be near capacity, but the University is working on long-term solutions. In two years the Learning and Teaching Hub, part of a £1bn investment, will be complete. It will have a capacity of 3000 students. In addition, in response to the SRC letter, the SMG has pledged the following: “Make up to £2m available immediately to convert and refurbish teaching and study space across the campus to accommodate the increased number of students.”

Perhaps most seriously, the SRC warn that mental health counselling services will be under greater pressure because of the extra intake. The SRC letter said: “There have been no extra resources or spaces allocated to the Counselling and Psychological Service or Disability Service to compensate for the increase in demand.” The SRC demands that “funding and dedicated space should be allocated to both services”.

The counselling services are already under severe pressure. A Freedom of Information request by the Scottish Liberal Democrats revealed that there were severe waiting-lines for counselling at Glasgow University.

It is not difficult to find students who are dissatisfied with the mental health counselling services. Noor, a psychology student at Glasgow, spoke to me about her disappointment with the counselling services. When she came to Glasgow she had difficulties adjusting to university life. “Mentally I wasn’t doing very well,” she said. “When I moved here, it was quite difficult for me. It was a different culture, I was living on my own and I didn’t know how to balance […] between my social and academic life.” She says that she “was lost” and “was really panicking”. This stress made her feel unable to study: “At one point I didn’t do work, because I didn’t know what to do. I was panicking all the time.”

It took Noor several weeks to get an appointment because the online system was fully booked. In the end Noor, tired of the online booking system, marched up to the counselling office and requested an appointment. Luckily she got one, but she was not impressed by the counselling she was given. “I don’t know if it was helpful or not”, she said drily.

The University has, over the last few years, improved its counselling services. It has increased the amount of mental health and counselling staff and appointed a member of the SMG to oversee and improve the mental health situation on campus. The SMG has also approved the Mental Health and Wellbeing Action Plan which the SRC says it “supports fully”. Furthermore, in response to the SRC letter, the University has now promised to allocate an additional £200,000 to Counselling and Psychological Services. Whether this is sufficient or not is still unclear. To many it seems inadequate – but only time, as the cliché has it, will tell.

The SRC says that it knows that “student satisfaction will drop as a result of the over recruitment”. They’re also concerned about their successors who they expect will have to advise prospective students that the student experience is in decline: “At Open Days, we are telling the next intake of students that the University offers an excellent student experience, but we are doubtful that our ambassadors will be voicing that same message in future.” Despite this pessimism, the University seems to be on an upward trajectory.

The University of Glasgow is currently reporting high student satisfaction and has been rising through the rankings. According to the National Student Survey, Glasgow students are among those reporting the highest levels of student satisfaction – 84% of students at the University of Glasgow are satisfied. This year the University climbed from 35th to 19th place in student satisfaction in the UK. The University of Glasgow was recently named Scottish University of the Year by The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018. These are signs of progress, but the University should not forget that the higher up the rankings it climbs, the further it risks falling if it does not address the concerns raised by the Students’ Representative Council.