Monday, 10 November 2014

New Vice-Chancellor - Epigram editorial (10 November 2014)

I would like to congratulate Professor Hugh Brady on his appointment to succeed Professor Sir Eric Thomas as Vice-Chancellor next year. Professor Brady has been President of University College Dublin, Ireland’s largest university, and has also held Faculty positions at Harvard University and the University of Toronto. I wish him every success during his time in Bristol.


The student body at Bristol faces a number of challenges over the years ahead. Accommodation shortages once again have caused hardship for a large number of students this year, and we sincerely hope that these shortages will be dealt with in future. While we acknowledge the importance of long-term plans and investment in the impressive new Life Sciences Building and Beacon House to provide much-needed study space, we must stress how vital it is to ensure that current students benefit as well — and listened to, which doesn’t just mean being invited to an underpublicised consultation which few are likely to respond to.
Whether or not the University drop plans to seek the removal of Jason Donervan from its current location may also be a good barometer of how in touch management are with student opinion.
I was concerned to read the Irish Times describe Professor Brady as ‘the Michael O’Leary of education’. But I see no reason to believe this description or fear that university staff next year will be treated in the same way that [Ryanair chief] O’Leary treats his workers. It is my hope that Professor Brady and other members of senior management will not threaten to dock pay, as has happened in the last 12 months. I also do not expect students in future years to be required to pay hidden course costs on top of their £9000 fees or caught out in the same way that Ryanair passengers often are with hidden charges.
Whether the Irish Times’ comparison is fair or not, it does make me consider the one positive achievement that I can credit the odious O’Leary with. For all its malpractices, whether it be putting pressure on pilots to fly without extra fuel or breaking employment law to hire French workers on Irish contracts to avoid [higher] state pension contributions in France, Ryanair can take some credit for making air travel and holidays abroad accessible to a larger number and wider range of people. Bristol University, meanwhile, has repeatedly missed fair access admissions targets in recent years, and elitism remains a serious issue which needs to be addressed.
The fact that UCD students had free access to the newly-built gym is a positive sign for many of our readers who are forced to spend hundreds of pounds on gym membership here.
Crucially, university is still a public good and should not be considered or run like a normal business. Students should not be treated as customers at all, let alone Ryanair customers.
And cost-cutting in a Ryanair vein should not take place at Bristol, especially not when you consider that, after graduation at the end of the 2014-15 academic year, there will be very few students still at Bristol paying less than £9000 in fees.
I am confident that Professor Brady can use his experience in a different financial climate of finding ways to invest in world-class facilities at UCD despite the Irish government cutting university budgets at an even more alarming rate than what those of us in Britain can relate to, to ensure that both those soon to arrive at Bristol and those already here benefit.
Many of us have serious reservations about certain recent University decisions and the way that our lecturers have been treated. But I believe that, if teaching is prioritised more and the needs and demands of current students are taken into account more regularly, it can be an exciting time for those of us at Bristol beyond next June.

First published at: http://epigram.org.uk/letters/2014/11/letter-from-the-editor-2.
Update: I interviewed Professor Brady towards the end of the academic year prior to him beginning his time as VC - link here.

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