Students ‘need more say in running universities’

Students and academics need to be much more involved in the management and improvement of universities if the future of higher education is to be safeguarded.

March 22, 2013

Rachel Wenstone, NUS Vice President Higher Education

That was the view of speakers at the latest event held by the Council for the Defence of British Universities, entitled After the Election: Alternatives in Higher Education policy.

In a nod to the title of the government’s 2010 higher education White Paper, Students at the Heart of the System, Rachel Wenstone, vice-president (higher education) at the National Union of Students, told the event on 20 March that “students are not the heart, but the hands of higher education”.

She said the current system was “concerned with trends towards the marketisation and privatisation of universities” and that she did not believe “this marketised model of higher education serves the best interest of students”.

Ms Wenstone said students should be seen as partners rather than consumers, and added that the “idea of student consumer power exists more in rhetoric than in reality”.

She went on to argue that “the student whose views are welcomed, who is actively encouraged to contribute and who feels a sense of responsibility…that student is truly a partner”. If universities were to produce more students like this, “the world would be a better place for it”, she said.

Meanwhile, Andrew McGettigan, a writer and researcher on higher education, focused more on the role of academics within institutions.

He encouraged universities to follow the Oxbridge model where “academics are members, not just employees” and have a proper democratic say in the running of the institutions.

Dr McGettigan argued that the “key long-term battle” in improving the management of UK higher education was “revivifying democratic accountability within universities”.

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Reader's comments (3)

With risk of over-stretching the analogy (even more), I would go even further and say that students should be at the brain of the system. Too many academics have the idea that students don't know enough about learning and teaching to be involved in curriculum design and quality improvement, and this needs to change.
It is difficult for a first year maths student to know what to put in the third year because the subject is so hierarchical.
Couldnt disagree more with Enzo's comments. Students need a voice, no doubt, but for me the biggest problem is the headless chicken response of HE management to the new fees regime and the need to be 'seen' to respond to students 'being the brain' of the system. As a culture, we are drifting ever more to a horizontalisation of knowledge when in fact that's simply not the way things work. You wouldnt want your heart surgery to be carried out by a first year juinor doctor, would you? Academics are academics because they often spent many many years studying, reading and writing and developing expertise in their areas. The idea that an 18 year old, fresh from school and their parents should be the 'brain of the system' is laughable and politically correct nonsense.

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