University ‘belittles’ students’ concerns over staff shortages

Students disappointed over University’s response to concerns over staff shortages

Image: Carl Spencer

Image: Carl Spencer

Course Reps have reported that they are dissatisfied with the University’s response to the recent petition requesting an improved student to staff ratio in the English Department, which saw over 350 students voice their concerns over the abnormally high ratio of roughly 20:1.

A cause of special concern was the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Saul Tendler’s apparent ‘belittling’ of the debate, when he implied that finding “holistic solutions”, rather than hiring more staff, was a likely possibility.

The petition called for the Department to hire three new members of staff by the start of the academic year 2017/18, and an additional three by the year 2019/20 without any further increase in student numbers.

It also requested that the University make a legally binding promise that there will never again be an increase in student numbers without a proportional increase in staff numbers.
The Course Reps met with the Deputy Vice Chancellor, the University Planning Director and Dean of Arts and Humanities among others last Tuesday to clarify their concerns.

It was agreed at the meeting that the University senior management would write a report to the Vice Chancellor, Professor Koen Lamberts, on recommendations for a solution by the end of this term.

Thomas Ron, YUSU Academic Officer, who was also present, wrote a glowing report of events online, stating that he “had a very good meeting with the Deputy Vice Chancellor along with the excellent English Course Rep Team”.

He wrote: “It was a very intense and strong discussion regarding the student-staff ratio.
“It was fantastic to see the English team’s excellent research and I hope that the University will follow the advice of the external examiners and move the SSR to around 15:1.”
However, the Course Reps have alleged they were unhappy with the senior management’s approach to the discussion.

The representatives were apparently dismissive of the Course Reps’ ideas, giving the impression that they were meeting only to say they had acknowledged concerns. The students felt there was very little gained from the discussion.

One Course Rep, who wished to remain anonymous, told Nouse: “We made our intentions very clear; we want the emphasis to be on an investment in persons, so more staff are hired, rather than anybody is asked to work any harder, or for longer hours.

“However, on attempting to communicate this to the Deputy Vice Chancellor we were repeatedly shut down and spoken over, and he insisted that the answer might lie in ‘holistic solutions’.”

The Course Reps behind the petition were granted one hour for the discussion, which they felt was insufficient time to address the issues in depth. On requesting another meeting to further make their case for more staff, the students were told this would not be possible, due to limited availability on the senior management’s part.

Another student, who also wished to remain anonymous, told Nouse: “Everything we said they twisted in their favour, and they consistently tried to avoid the main issue of the student to staff ratio.

“We left feeling as though our concerns had not really been listened to. As a result, I am not particularly optimistic about the Deputy Vice Chancellor’s upcoming report.”

When asked for comment David Duncan, University Registrar, said Tendler took the Course Reps’ recommendations on board, and “is giving careful consideration to the points raised”. The report should be finalised and submitted to the Vice Chancellor by the end of term. As it stands, there are no further opportunities for discussion scheduled.

When asked for further comment in light of the students’ concerns, Thomas Ron said: “English reps and I met with the Deputy Vice Chancellor. I understand that many of them found the meeting frustrating.  I [also] understand that the Deputy Vice Chancellor will be compiling some recommendations stemming from this meeting and I hope that these will address the staffing shortage by calling for more staff to come in, as that is clearly what is needed.”

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