Editor’s Analysis: Vice-Chancellor’s Question Time
On 17 November 2015, InQuire, and the rest of student media, was invited to attend Vice-Chancellor’s Question Time. The event was pitched as an opportunity to quiz the Vice-Chancellor, Dame Julia Goodfellow, about certain issues at the University, as well as to find out more about her role.
Arriving at the Vice-Chancellor’s office, we were welcomed by her staff, of which three or four sit in the room outside her meeting room. We were quickly ushered through, and got set up as quickly as possible. One staff member sat in the room for the duration of the interview, keeping an eye on proceedings.
The event was to be hosted by Kent Union President Tammy Naidoo. Although we at InQuire had written many of the questions, I was disappointed to find that throughout the meeting, the questions were not asked the way we had envisaged. Follow-up questions were non-existent, and answers were simply accepted.
Take the question about the Vice-Chancellor’s pay cheque for example (which is £265,000 a year by the way). The original question read: “How can you justify the amount you get paid when many students don’t know what you do?” Instead, Tammy asked: “With the cuts to national education funding, how can you justify the amount of money you get paid?”
Dame Julia definitely has a future as a politician should she ever decide to leave education, as she then took the opportunity to skirt around the fact that she gets paid a lot by saying that she doesn’t get paid as much as other Vice-Chancellors, citing her pay as being “around average” in terms of Vice-Chancellor’s salaries. So, because another VC at another university gets paid more than she does, the amount she gets paid is justified? Because some VCs are on more than £265,000 a year, suddenly that isn’t a fuckload of money?
Yes it is. Just a slightly smaller fuckload of money than other VCs get paid.
As a trainee journalist, my main reason for wanting to go into journalism is to have the opportunity to hold power to account, so here goes.
The Vice-Chancellor’s Question Time format needs serious work if Kent Union are going to live up to their ultimate purpose of representing students and fighting for student rights. Another topic of contention brought up during the session was about academic-free Wednesdays, which VP (Sport) Nina Mehmi and VP (Education) Jack Lay have been campaigning for for months. The Vice-Chancellor was once again very diplomatic in her answer, saying that we would have to think carefully about giving students Wednesdays off from lectures at a time that students are wanting value for money.
Tammy should have taken this opportunity to push with the next question about the importance of extra-curricular activities, in order to lead back round to the idea of having Wednesdays free for these activities. Instead, the Vice-Chancellor agreed that extra-curricular activities are of great importance these days, as students have to do so much more than ever before to have a glowing CV when they walk through the doors of that first job interview. So if that’s the case, why not give students Wednesdays off from lectures? This follow-up question slipped through the cracks.
Ultimately, the event itself can only work if students are allowed to ask the questions they really want answered, and these questions are asked exactly how they’re originally sent in, not watered down so as not to offend someone who gets paid to improve things like student satisfaction. Student satisfaction might go up if you actually let the students challenge you and stand up for what they want, but maybe that’s just a pipe dream.
Students’ unions were originally bodies that fought and campaigned for the rights of students, and indeed this is seemingly what Kent Union once was. The Sabbatical Officers are there to represent students and to campaign for things that they think would be useful to them. This has happened recently with things like the academic free Wednesdays campaign, but continually fails to happen in terms of events like this. Events like this should be able to run smoothly, but should be an opportunity to have views aired to the powers that be, and the media should be able to report on it however they wish. As long as I’m Editor-in-Chief of this student media outlet, I’ll fight for that opportunity, and continue to air my views on topics like this. Vice-Chancellor’s Question Time had potential, but, as far as I’m concerned, it didn’t achieve its supposed purpose.