Sir Steve Smith, the University of Exeter Vice Chancellor, was interviewed by Edd Church, Head of News for XpressionFM, on the Hot Seat show.
Amongst other things, he apologised for the pre-departure briefings given to international students, which were branded as racist.
Sir Steve attributed Exeter’s recent underperformance in the National Student Survey to increased pressure on facilities and staff due to large expansions in the student body between 2012-2016, and suggested these issues were being solved through the £7 million hub scheme and a total of 71 new academics being appointed in the coming year. The Vice Chancellor claimed there was ‘not a single negative report’ from departmental Colleges about the creation of hubs, and could not confirm whether building work on these new spaces would be halted for exams in January 2018.
When questioned on the significance of the University’s Gold status in TEF, and whether a first-class degree from a Gold institution would be worth more to an employer, Sir Steve stated that he did not think it would be. He stated that TEF judges on six categories and then ‘benchmarks those scores against similar universities… based on statistics and metrics’ as opposed to assessing teaching in person, calling assessment of teaching too “subjective”.
Church then queried about why there was a perceived ‘lack of value for money’ among students in regards to contact hours, which Sir Steve attributed to the loss of ‘all government funding in teaching’ after the rise in fees to £9,000.
The topic of funding for the Students’ Guild, which Exeposé recently reported as being comparatively lower than other student unions at similar universities, was also raised, and the Vice Chancellor said he believed the Guild to be ‘roughly in the upper quartile’ in terms of funding. Sir Steve also addressed the stretch on funding in Wellbeing and Accessibility, citing the defunct social media app YikYak as part of his evidence for an “extraordinary… rise in mental health and wellbeing issues in society”, which acknowledging it was a large issue.
Recent issues of anti-Semitism (such as the swastika found in Birks Grange earlier this year) and ‘patronising’ pre-departure briefings for international students were raised by Church. Sir Steve stated he thought there was no “major issue” at the University in regards to treatment of minority students, that “most of the racism is found in the city”, and the University was “determined” to support “free speech within the law” wherever possible. The full interview can be found on the Xpression FM News Mixcloud.