In this post, Dr Esther Mijers, Director of Undergraduate Studies, and Ethan Rummel, 4th year Student in Classics, at the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, reflect on how their School’s Student-Staff Liaison Committee facilitates valuable dialogue between staff and students, with the shared aim of improving their school…
The School of History, Classics and Archaeology has a long tradition of collaborating with our students as partners: we work closely with our EUSA rep; we have our own Undergraduate student ambassadors, overseen by a Senior (Postgraduate) Ambassador; our students sit on our Board of Studies; and they are invited once a semester to the School Management Committee. An important part of our commitment to this staff-student collaboration, is our Student-Staff Liaison Committee (SSLCs), especially the School-wide meeting. Twice a semester, we meet to exchange updates, discuss issues and problems, which our students grapple with, but also discuss examples of good practice and give praise to those initiatives, which enhance life in the School.
The School SSLC each year starts with a welcome lunch for all reps, continuing and new, and is generally used to get to know each other and to become familiar with our longstanding format. The School SSLC is always student-led – this year our EUSA rep chairs the sessions, though the administration is in the hands of the Undergraduate Teaching Office manager – and students form the largest part of the membership. We invite all EUSA (programme) reps, as well as the committee members of the School societies, Peer Support, and the student ambassadors. If some cannot make the meeting, they are encouraged to send someone else to take their place. Key staff, both Professional Services and academic, also attend, including the Head of School and Heads of Subject Area, the Senior Tutor, the QA Director and the (Deputy) Undergraduate Directors, the Teaching Directors for each Subject Area, plus the Student Support Manager and the Careers Consultant. This wide and inclusive membership allows us to respond and discuss virtually all the issues students wish to raise, and we often have a very frank and robust exchange. Our most recent meeting centred largely on the upcoming industrial action, from which students and staff came away with a better understanding of the various student and academic positions on all sides; another example is the discussion of lecture recording.
The School SSLC’s agenda is circulated in advance, with all members having a chance to add to the standing items and raise further agenda items. Minutes and matters arising are dealt with first, before the Undergraduate Director presents their report, always incorporating School Council minutes where available and announcing new initiatives and events. This is followed by reports from the EUSA and programme reps, the Societies and Peer Support and the Student ambassadors, and any further agenda items. Minutes are taken by a member of the Undergraduate Teaching Office and are checked afterwards by the EUSA rep and the Undergraduate Director, before posting on Sharepoint. Any necessary actions are followed up by the Undergraduate Director, who coordinates the relevant colleagues’ responses and double-checks their status prior to the next SSLC. These long-standing practices are set out in a new, official remit, which the QA Director has been working on, with input from the student membership, and which is ready to be approved shortly.
HCA does not shy away from talking about some very difficult issues with our students and we value their input; often we adjust our practices, just as students gain a deeper understanding and modify or change their own position.
Having participated in SSLC’s for four years now, I have found there are two elements to the program that have been the most valuable to me. First, they are an opportunity for students to bring their issues and concerns directly to the staff. The fact we get to set the agenda, and lead the discussion is wonderful, as this allows for the meetings to be reflective of the actual concerns of students. Typically, representatives like myself canvas students or conduct surveys in advance to be sure we address issues that are of importance to the student body in general, not just our own opinion.
Second, these meeting also serve as an opportunity for us to hear from our professors. We are able to hear their viewpoint in an environment that encourages dialogue on an equal footing, and I have often found this invaluable as it can bring to light issues and viewpoints I would not have considered otherwise. Often, we forget how important the opposite side of the issue is, and as such I have tried to make a point to listen and then disseminate the opinion of my lecturers back to the student body if I found it valuable for us to consider or even adopt. Ultimately that has been the goal, and, really, the achievement of the SSLC’s: to facilitate valuable dialogue between staff and students so we can improve our school.