In this post, Students’ Association President Niamh Roberts and undergraduate student James Blackthorne reflect on a recent Student Voice Forum held on Monday 03 April. Niamh organised and chaired a Q&A with students from across the University, Peter Mathieson (the Principal and Vice-Chancellor), and Colm Harmon (the Vice Principal (Students)). This post is part of the Learning & Teaching Enhancement Theme: Student Voice.
Increasing co-creation and dialogue between staff and students has been one of my key priorities as President of the Students’ Association, so I am of course beyond pleased that we were able to arrange the event and have a good turnout on the night. We asked students to pre-submit questions if they could not attend in-person to kick us off, and we then heard questions from the students in the room. I am proud that we were able to cover some of the topics that are at the forefront of students’ minds, including the Cost-of-Living Crisis, inclusivity, and the student experience.
I have always been clear that we need more of a dialogue between students and Senior Leadership, so that we can work together to solve the problems that are affecting students. There are so many areas where including the student voice makes all the difference to not only addressing issues but also enhancing the student experience at the University. The forum highlighted some examples, including: the need for central action on the Cost-of-Living Crisis, protecting students from harassment and discrimination, and increasing provision of things like study spaces. Without hearing directly from students on these – and other – issues, I would argue that staff cannot have a real and holistic understanding of the impact these issues are having, and how they can best be addressed.
This was a great first step towards building that dialogue but, as I stressed in my closing statement, it should be just that: a first step. From the passion we all felt in the room, students clearly had many more questions they wanted answered, and they wanted more of a sustained dialogue with the University’s Senior Leadership team. Students in the room noted that the forum was the first time they had meaningfully engaged with senior University staff. Students should know who is responsible for the decisions being made at the highest levels of the University – and come to know them as more than figureheads. Crucially, students should be considered members of the University organisation, as its charitable aim is to provide an education and support to students. Therefore, these members should have the chance to openly hold staff accountable. I also hope that the panelists appreciated the opportunity to hear directly from students, as their busy schedules often prevent them from engaging with the day-to-day experiences of students. I hope this and future forums continue to be mutually beneficial.
This event has shown the appetite students and staff have for live, in-person student-staff engagement. I hope it is just the first of many on the journey to creating a meaningful, sustained, and diverse dialogue between students and staff at the University.
Attending a town hall meeting with the university’s Senior Leadership was a fantastic opportunity for students to bring their concerns and questions directly to the top. Last Monday’s event allowed me to query an unfair student housing policy that has directly impacted me. Other students attending asked important questions surrounding issues such as the cost-of-living crisis, the screening of a transphobic film, and the return of in-person exams. Getting answers directly from the people at the top meant that we understood how the decisions were made – even if we didn’t necessarily agree with them.
And disagreements there were. It was important for Senior Leadership to understand how these decisions directly affected the lives of very real people, which can sometimes be forgotten when decisions are made in the middle of long meetings. There were passionate speeches from the students alongside reasonable discussions, and a genuine dialogue was opened between the two groups.
I left with the promise that my matter would be investigated, and I felt reassured that my concerns were being taken seriously. Others left with different action plans. The Senior Leadership team left with an idea of the actual concerns of the students. I would like to see this type of town hall event held in schools and colleges of the university so that those departments can also open a conversation with its students. Overall, the event was a positive experience, which I hope will be repeated soon.
Niamh Roberts (she/they) is the current President of the Student’s Association, representing the University of Edinburgh’s 49,000 students on the issues that matter the most to them in spaces such as Senate and the University Executive. When her term finishes, she will be entering her final year of a Sustainable Development degree, as well as fulfilling her duties as the new Campaign Representative for Sustainability matters.
James Blackthorne is a first-year Undergraduate student of, and Programme Representative for, Classical Studies.