On the 30th April CUSU hosted a meeting with the Vice Chancellor to give students the opportunity to directly voice their thoughts and concerns about the University. The session was divided thematically into three sections:
- The University’s role in the community
The main focus in this section was on postgraduate access. The Vice-Chancellor said the priority so far had been on raising money to provide financial support for postgraduates, including through the student support initiative (a project to raise £500 million for student support). He highlighted that one of the main difficulties has been assessing the financial need in relation to postgraduates and that this was an area the University is trying to work on. However, he also raised the question as to whether we should consider factors other than just grades in admitting postgrads as they increasingly go on to pursue a wide range of career paths, outside of academia.
The final two questions in this section referred to points raised by the Vice-Chancellor in a recent interview the Financial Times. The first related to potential increases in student numbers and the Vice Chancellor acknowledged that any increases in student numbers would need to be accompanied by increased provision as well to ensure that all students still receive adequate support. The second was related to whether the Vice Chancellor was considering introducing reading weeks. The Vice Chancellor clarified his position stating that whilst eight-week terms are intense there are no concrete plans to introduce reading weeks. He highlighted however that the intense nature of Cambridge terms is an issue being discussed a lot at the moment and that it was important to consider the structural issues that were causing students difficulties.
The Vice-Chancellor took the opportunity to talk about various elements of the new student mental health and wellbeing strategy, which CUSU has been collaborating closely with them on, and how this hopes to improve student welfare.
He highlighted that the strategy includes:
- Launching a programme of training for teachers and administrators in departments and faculties to help them support students experiencing welfare difficulties
- Funding for a study into mindfulness
- Support for students in accessing other welfare provisions such as the NHS
- Considering ways to make our academic structures more accessible e.g. through the piloting lecture capture and online exam writing
On the question of funding for welfare support the Vice Chancellor drew attention to the fact that the Vice Chancellor’s office has also committed funds to the Disability Resource Centre (DRC) for the next three years to help with the growing numbers of students accessing the DRC, caused in part by the increasing number of students registering mental health as a disability. In time he admitted there will be a need to commit more resources to the DRC and the University Counselling Service. He also stated that he is working closely with the Pro Vice Chancellor for Education to ensure that the mental health and wellbeing strategy is adequately resourced.
He also reiterated though that it is important that the University can’t just throw money at the problem but rather must address the causes of the problem. He talked of the need to build student resilience and of the possibility of moving away from end of tripos exams, which some departments are already beginning to do.
The Vice-Chancellor said he was disappointed in the outcome of the sustainability strategy (the University missed 8 out of 13 of its environmental targets in 2018) and admitted that there are no easy wins in achieving them. He admitted that if the University wants to take action on climate change it will have to spend money. On divestment specifically, he said that the Council is committed to enacting the Divestment Working Group report and that the University is committed to being more transparent about its investments. University Council has agreed to create a report listing the pros and cons of divestment which will provide clarity for everyone on the issues involved.
Finally, in relation to the University’s links to the military and the arms trade, the Vice Chancellor stated that a university committee will be looking into the reputational damage and ethical considerations of its research bids and that this will be a quasi-public process.
This event was jointly hosted between CUSU and the Graduate Union for elected representatives.