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Exeposé at the Vice President Education Debate

Image credit: Alex Louch
Image credit: Alex Louch

Exeposé went along to the Vice President Education Debate this evening. If you didn’t manage to attend or catch the broadcast on XpressionFM, read our report below…

The 2014 Sabb Election debates kicked off with the candidates running to be VP Education. Expertly chaired by Exeposé editor Meg Drewett, the six participants, Holly Collenette, Jess Fenlon, Meghan Honeysett, Charlotte Rush, Ben Street, and Matthew Thatcher, met in the Forum Alumni Auditorium to debate the key issues facing the Students’ Guild’s academic policies.

The introductory question focused on the main education issues facing students today, with Meghan Honeysett kicking off proceedings. She stated that for her, the main issue was the feedback students received, saying “there’s still room for improvement” on the issue. She declared her intention to initiate a mid-term MACE to gather immediate feedback on modules, since “the choices student want should have an immediate impact”.

Ben Street agreed with Megan, adding that he believed feedback should be subject specific, and “tailored” to student needs. He also added that he believed the university needed to adapt better to ever increasing student numbers.

Charlotte Rush cited her concerns regarding deadline clashes, stating her desire to ensure every student was treated fairly.

Matt Thatcher added that he believed all feedback should be typed not handwritten, and that feedback should be focussed on future improvement. He also added that exam timetables should be released earlier in the interests of fairness.

Holly Collenette then raised her main issue, which was the recording of all lectures using the Echo360, in order to give all students “the ability to revisit work”. She added that different students, including international students and those with learning disabilities, learnt at different paces, and as such she wants increased Echo360 usage to help individualise degrees.

Jess Fenlon responded, saying that she wanted students to be able to respond to issues within feedback, by “showing them clearly what has been done in the past to achieve those grades”.

Thatcher and Street both responded, citing lecturer’s individual needs as crucial to the debate. Street added that less “keen” students also needed to be considered, since many don’t go to see their tutors anyway.

The next question focused on how candidates would work with departments with different modus operandi, and how their policies would be affected by this.

Charlie Rush said she wanted every single department to work to the same standard, as well as saying she wanted to work with the lecturers to ensure the best student experience.

Fenlon said that these differences would be taken into account, with departments who didn’t cooperate being “looked into”.

Matt Thatcher prioritised the academic experience of the students, including using SSLC to make sure that students are being engaged with to an appropriate level.

Ben Street said that SSLCs needed to do more, and required more support from the university in terms of adequately managing resources.

Meghan Honeysett conceded that there would obviously be differences, but said that “feedback should be standardised”, with ELE pages all being of significant quality.

Holly Collenette engaged with the increased importance she would place on SSLC roles, mentioning her plans for compulsory meet and greets between staff and students, as well as suggesting policies of inviting “random students” for “intedisciplinary” events.

Fenlon added that she believed that mid-term MACE would reduce pressure on SSLCs in terms of enacting change, since in her experience, it was difficult for SSLCs to get adequate feedback from every student on a module.

The next question focussed on university needs to attract new students through growing its reputation, and how the candidates intended to impact an “economically driven” institution.

Matt Thatcher said that student happiness will help define university reputation, saying that “if one of the cogs of the wheel becomes unhappy everything gets knocked up”.

Charlie Rush said she would look for funding from other places, including corporate avenues, in order to improve the student experience.

Ben Street countered, saying that the commercialisation of education was “tragic” and a “sad state of affairs”, saying that he wanted to retain the university’s academic focus above all us.

Jess Fenlon was bullish about “[making] the changes that students want in order to build [the university’s] own reputation”, while Meghan Honeysett said that students paying £9,000 fees deserved to “enjoy their educational experience”. She pledged smaller class sizes and better teaching, saying “if that’s what the students want, we give it to them”.

Holly Collenette spoke of the importance of giving students “the right kind of facilities”, as well as “the right kind of communication” between all parties.

Ben Street then spoke about his own experiences, and his desire to reject the increasingly corporate culture surrounding education.

Meghan Honeysett added: “the fees are what they are. We can’t change them”, as well as expressing concern at current attitudes to Reading Week, claiming that “some students just use it as a week home”, rather than for productive study.

A question from the floor suggested that recording all lectures would mean students may concentrate less, with notes being taken considered by the asker as “a vital part of the experience”. Ben Street answered first, saying that he didn’t consider video recording an essential point, saying that authority should be down to the departments, since he didn’t wish to compromise the intellectual rights of lecturers”.

Charlie Rush agreed with Ben, saying that if the facilities were available, it would be useful.

Matt Thatcher said that the student should be forefront of these discussions, as those who perhaps lack note-taking skills may be disadvantaged by a lack of recordings.

Jess Fenlon said that some students aren’t as good at note taking as others, arguing that everyone “should be able to have a record” of their classes, as well as saying that the necessary equipment may not be as expensive as people might think.

Holly Collenette again focused on the individual nature of degrees, saying that listening was the student’s prerogative. She did however suggest that international and disabled students would also benefit from lecture recordings, arguing that they were inclusive and fair.

Alex Louch, current VP Academic Affairs, asked what candidates would do to influence the national agenda in the 2015 General Election.

Ben Smith acknowledged the significance of the role, and said that he would focus on academic facilities to strive to provide the best academics, to ensure a great student experience.

Charlie Rush agreed, saying that she wanted to make students as employable as possible during her tenure.

Holly Collenette focused on employability, demanding more specificity about job-related events and support, in order to work out “the kind of employability events that people want”.

Jess Fenlon cited the effect of the recent fee raises, and reiterated the importance of economic factors. Megan Honeysett took this further, and said that degrees were important on a national level. She said that “students should be proud of the university they come from”, and that her role would involve increasing the value of degrees from Exeter.

Matt Thatcher gave a more positive outlook, saying that employability is up, graduate vacancies are up, and that he wanted to ensure that students have the best experiences, as well as ensuring positive futures after they finish studying.

One spectator asked how candidates would use their time in office to foster greater links between academic societies and colleges. Collonette opened, and said she would create compulsory meet and greets for committees and SSLCs, saying “it’s just about communication between the right people”.

Matt Thatcher stated the importance of communication, as well as making sure that power is used in the right way.

Jess Fenlon said that “academic societies play a huge part in the academic experience”, and said she wanted to initiate module socials. She also said that academic societies needed to do more to be accessible to as many students as possible.

Ben Street cited the importance of effective departmental action, as well as saying that more direct, immediate integration was key.

Charlotte Rush wanted to formalise links between society and subject, and said that students getting credit for society involvement could be an option.

Meghan Honeysett concluded the question by saying she would “tackle the problem” from when students first joined the university, citing academic socials from the start of their first year as a good way to combat the issue.

When asked about the alleged underuse of SSLC, Jess Fenlon wanted to remind all students in core lectures about the purpose and benefits of SSLC. She also made it a personal responsibility to introduce the SSLC reps, as well as making the roles more appealing to potential applicants.

Ben Street wanted to make SSLC more desirable, a job to be proud of, while Charlie Rush wanted to utilise the aforementioned formal links with societies in order to communicate problems,

Megan Honeysett wanted more “awareness of SSLCs”, since many people, she claimed, “don’t know what it is or what it does”.

Matt Thatcher wanted to use his influence to actively drive change, as well as encouraging more applications to SSLC positions.

Holly Collenette said that there should be “perhaps more reps, joint roles”, as well as citing the heavy workloads that SSLC representatives have to deal with.

The final question asked how financial resources would be better allocated in terms of cost effectiveness, especially in terms of making degrees more valuable internationally. Megan Honeysett opened by saying how important it was to allocate fairly (by not neglecting smaller subjects as a matter of course), while Jess Fenlon said that investment was consistently needed to maintain performance. She wanted to invest money where performance is low, so as to improve consistency across the university.

Matt Thatcher said he didn’t want to lose students from underperforming degrees, promising that said degrees wouldn’t lose funding under his leadership.

Charlie Rush said that money would be allocated where it was needed most, while Ben Street continued to stress his commitment to thinking academically, as well as stressing the importance of the academic side of the university experience.

Holly Collenette gave specific examples of similar problems she had solved in the past, choosing to outline her own suitability for the role.

The candidates then all briefly summarised their arguments, before chair Meg Drewett brought proceedings to a close.

Owen Keating, News Editor

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