Vice President Academic Affairs
Patrick Garratt

 

 

I am here to support you with all aspects of academic life – academic support, assessments, study spaces and everything else! In Welcome Week introductory lectures are essential, as well as initial meetings with your Personal Tutors. Explore your course options by attending the Academic Fair too – Edinburgh has a particularly flexible curriculum. If anything is unclear, you can get excellent academic advice and support at the Advice Place.

 

Email me at vpaa@eusa.ed.ac.uk

  • Wed 09 Nov 2016 17:46

     

     

     

     

     

    It is understandable why many students would feel helpless following the political turbulence of 2016.  The year started with the Government making arrangements to implement sweeping changes to higher education, and later began adopting an even more ominous attitude towards international students. These reforms then started going through Parliament over summer when students had left for home.

     

    Later in June, young people felt their future was being taken from them. A campaign underpinned by xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric emerged victorious during a referendum in which the majority of students voted to remain the European Union.  Since the referendum, students have been conflicted as to where to channel their energies. Theresa May’s unabashed opposition to the rights of international students has meant that in a post-Brexit climate, our universities embrace of internationalism has come under attack.  Outside of the higher education system, there has been a significant increase in hate crimes across the UK, as the xenophobic tendencies lurking within British society have come to the fore, and the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants are becoming systematically undermined.  Now, following the election victory of a racist and misognystic meglomaniac, wider society is understandably terrified at how proto-fascist politics has become mainstream.

     

    In these dark and uncertain times, there is an imperative to galvanise and show solidarity with domestic and international students and staff across the UK; to show that student movement is not only a cohesive one, but one that is actively resisting the policies of the Westminster government and opposing the forces unleashed by the European Union referendum.

     

    On Friday 18th November, students from universities across Edinburgh will be leaving Teviot in the evening to join tens of thousands of students in London on the following Saturday morning.  You will have the chance to meet thousands of students’ activist from across the UK, as well as marching with thousands of staff members from across Further and Higher Education.  We will affirm our embrace of internationalism, our rejection of fascism, and to positively show to those watching that the student movement is a strong and unified one. We will be marching along the South Bank, arriving in front of Westminster.  We will be returning late on Saturday evening.

     

    It does not matter if you have never been to a demonstration before.  Demos are a wonderful opportunity to meet like-minded students of all ages, varying from those who are hard-core political activists, to those who simply want to show support of the wider student movement by attending one of the larger demonstrations.  Demos are fundamentally positive.  They are crucial as a catalyst to wider political activism, are a chance to send clear signals to wider society, and ultimately, work harmoniously with the other initiatives led by students.  For example, many students are developing their own alternative to what constitutes ‘teaching excellence’ in light of the Government’s reforms.  Many students are working to establish greater links between asylum seekers in local communities.  You protest for causes you believe in and then work constructively afterwards to achieve them.

     

    For more information, please click here.

     

    We hope to see you next week on the coach, and if you have any questions please do get in touch!

     

  • Fri 07 Oct 2016 12:44

     

    By Alec-Edgecliffe Johnson and Patrick Garratt

     

    This week Edinburgh University joined a growing list of UK institutions in raising fees for prospective rUK students from £9,000 to £9,250 - you can read the Students' Assocation's official statement here. Fortunately, the Students’ Association has successfully lobbied the University to ensure that this rise will not affect current students. Therefore, unlike Oxford, Cambridge, Exeter, Durham and multiple other Russell Group Universitiesthat have raised fees for both current and incoming students, the University of Edinburgh will apply the fee increases to rUK students from the 2017/18 term only.  

     

    The Students’ Association has also successfully lobbied the University to raise its bursaries in line with the fee rise. Effectively, this means that bursary recipients, on whom this fee rise would otherwise have the largest impact, will not be adversely affected by this fee increase. The Students’ Association will ensure that the University honours this commitment.

     

    Despite the University’s decision not to impose fee rises on current rUK students, and to increase its bursaries to absorb this fee rise, we are incredibly disappointed that the University has made this decision. This was an opportunity for the University to set itself apart from other institutions, but instead, beginning next year, it will offer some of the most expensive undergraduate degrees in Europe.

     

     

    Why Fee Increases?

     

    The University has raised fees for current and incoming overseas students multiple times over the past four years to cover the rising cost of undergraduate education. The current average cost of an undergraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh is roughly £10,500, and fees for EU/Scottish-domiciled, and rUK students do not cover that cost.  These costs are passed on to overseas students, who must pay for increasingly expensive degrees. This year, incoming overseas students are paying extortionate fees between £16,700 and £29,600 based on their academic discipline, and next year, prospective students will be paying even more, between £17,700 and £32,100.

     

    However, fees are not the only means of covering the costs of undergraduate education. The University also receives funding from the Scottish Government to cover some of the difference. This situation has now changed, reflecting a troubling attitude towards the Higher Education sector from the Scottish and UK Governments.

     

    Wider Governmental Context

     

    Unlike English and Welsh universities, Scottish Universities are only permitted to raise fees for rUK students with the permission of the Scottish Government, and the increased fees cannot exceed the maximum amount charged by English Universities - currently £9,250. The Scottish Government has now granted this permission, foreshadowing further real terms cuts in funding to universities within Scotland.

     

    As a result of this expected funding cut and the University’s decision to hold fees steady for current rUK students, it will in fact be losing income in real terms over the next few years. However, the issue is deeper than that. The Scottish government is reducing its funding for universities as a direct result of the UK Government's efforts to create a market in higher education.  The UK government would like to see the financial burden of studying at university imposed upon the individual, rather than funding higher education through public funds.

     

    National Demo  

     

    This deepening commodification of Higher Education imposed on us by the UK Government must be resisted. The Students’ Association will be mobilising all students for a national demo on the 19th November, where students in Higher Education and Further Education across the UK will stand together with academics and support staff.

     

    We don’t need a government that continues to place the financial burden of studying upon individual students. We don’t need a government that creates a climate of mistrust of overseas students.

     

    We need a government that commits to a fairly funded Higher Education system.  We need a government that provides maintenance grants for students from low-income backgrounds.

     

    Come and march with tens of thousands of students to send a clear signal to the government that the current situation is unacceptable, particularly when the future of Higher Education is profoundly unclear.


     

  • Fri 23 Sep 2016 14:45

     

     

     

     

     

    The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is rubbish. When I explained to an undergraduate the other day about why using employability as measure of teaching quality was so bad, he initially thought I was being unreasonable.  Why, he said, should students oppose a framework for measuring the quality of teaching, which includes a metric – employability – which thousands of students across the University value most about securing a degree? 

     

    As I have said before, it makes complete sense for prospective student to choose to study a particular degree, at a particular university, with their future job prospects in mind. This however is not the crux of the argument.  Your education, whilst serving as a signal to employers, and indeed wider society by reflecting your ‘productivity’, is much more than this.  Whatever discipline you are studying, you come to University to critically engage with intellectual material, whether vocational, professional or otherwise, and to engage in civic life.  Degrees are not just signals, and students are not just consumers.  We should be striving to be active partners in the pedagogical process, focusing more on what characterises our learning and teaching experiences, rather than what these degrees lead to.

     

    Academics are not in favour of these changes.  The next time you finish your tutorial or seminar, ask your tutor what they make of the TEF.  Just because universities’ senior management in England and Wales are going along with the Government's proposals, do not assume that individual academics’ views are synonymous of those who provide oversight of the institution as a whole. Scottish Higher Education institutions have not engaged in thees fast-paced changes like other universities south of the border, both because quality is measured differently in the Scottish sector, and because the Scottish Government stands in between Westminster and Scottish universities. This does not mean however that students at Scottish universities can be complacent.

     

    We at the Students’ Association have spent the summer speaking to academics across all Schools, and other individuals within the University,as well as with NUS Scotland and NUS UK, about how the University of Edinburgh will seek to engage with the TEF, and ultimately, how we can avoid doing so.  Attached here is a response we sent to the (now non-existent) Department for Business, Innovation and Skills over summer.  Our ultimate aim, and one that students across Scotland share, is that Scotland avoids engaging with the TEF.

     

    It is not only the TEF that the Government is imposing upon universities. Indeed, as part of the Higher Education and Research Bill – which started going through for its second reading during summer, when students were not at university – there are broader, sweeping changes, that are a laughable indictment of how the UK Government feels it is appropriate to treat students.  Jo Johnson, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, is still seeking to create an Office for Students without any student representation on the office. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  That’s because it is.  If we read between the lines, this Office for Students is emblematic of creating a more clear-cut, comprehensive market for Higher Education, as it will oversee and regulate the Higher Education sector, but will be barely held accountable to the Government.  The Bill also wants to allow new, for-profit providers to become Universities, whose students are given few financial safeguards against these institutions possibly failing.

     

     

    Quality and the Scottish Context

     

    Now, the important bit. There are some significant distinctions about Higher Education policy in Scotland:

     

    • Unlike universities in England and Wales, Scottish Universities can only raise fees for rUK students if the Ministers in Holyrood give their consent to the Scottish University sector as a whole to do so.  English and Welsh universities are ultimately lining up to directly tie fee levels with scores achieved in the TEF

     

     

    • Some universities in England and Wales have already raised fees for current students. This means that the price of higher education in England and Wales will be derived from arbitrary measures around student satisfaction, and notions of employability. 

     

     

    • Scottish universities have currently not committed to engaging with the TEF, therefore fees are not going up in line with the TEF.

     

     

    • In the Scottish higher education sector, quality is reviewed by annually considering how institutions have improved, and students across Scotland have a say in reviewing this.  In England and Wales, students have much less input into reviewing what happens in their education.  The Scottish higher education sector – without wanting to mythologise it – puts more weight on student engagement in the review process.  This is incredibly important.  Students’ Associations like ours allow platforms for empowerment, and to get involved in local decision making. consider then similarly that the review ensures that students’ voices are heard.

     

     

    In any case, whether you are a student in England and Wales, or in Scotland, the fundmental restructuring of the Higher Education sector should be of serious concern to all.  There will be a National Demo on the 19th November in London, organised by NUS UK and University and College Union (UCU), where students from all over the UK will be marching together to show that we do not stand for the Government's attempt to subvert how we value Higher Education.

     

     

  • Fri 09 Sep 2016 11:58

     

     

    Over the past few months the UK Government - despite the unfathomably profound repercussions for British society due to Brexit – have been pushing on full steam ahead with their overarching changes to the higher education sector.  Many of you may have not been following this for several reasons.  Firstly, the Government went through with its second reading of the Higher Education and Research Bill in July – a time when students are on their summer break from University.  Secondly, the technical jargon of higher education policy - to no one’s surprise - fails to engage students.  It sounds immensely boring, and is far from a barrel of laughs. 

     


    A large part of this Higher Education Bill is about the implementation of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). TEF is a criteria for teaching which effectively measures teaching quality according to graduate employment outcomes.  It aligns the quality of teaching with the extent to which employers can have an input into in certain courses, and to the degree that other course directly promote and enhance employability. However, if you are working part time in non-graduate job six months after graduation, this should not suggest that you were taught poorly. Moreover, it uses student satisfaction as a metric for good teaching.  Student satisfaction is an arbitrary metric, and not one suitable to assess teaching quality.  

     


    In 2010, the Browne Review established a clear, albeit staggered road towards the full-throttle commodification of higher education in the UK, and students were clearly aware that universities were going to be charged exponentially higher fees.  At this time, most students clearly understood what was going on. This was about the Government wanting to take the burden of higher education funding off the tax-payer, to then regressively placing that burden upon students themselves.  In 2016, the discourse has sadly been transformed from debating not only the extent to which higher education should be monetised, but also to whether or not the value of teaching should be directly linked to notions of employability.  This is what can get lost in the nit-picking of any policy discussion: discussions about ‘teaching quality’ might sound dry, but the debate is ultimately about values.


    By focusing on employability we are on the road to fundamentally subverting the main purpose of higher education: a platform through which civic life is enhanced by viewing education as a public good.  Instead of perceiving your education as a long-term investment on your own human capital, view your education specifically through the lens of sharing knowledge and learning new skills for their own sake. This is a point that students should not lose sight of at present, nor should in the coming months as this Higher Education Bill goes through the motions in Parliament.

     


    Many students want to go to university to enhance their employability.  This is fair enough. Coming out with a degree is to an extent a reflection of a student’s ‘productivity’, allowing entry into graduate job which those without degrees may be unable to apply for.  However, not all students are coming out of university and going straight into graduate employment.  Most students in fact have been mugged off by a Government who have disingenuously, and without allusion to what academics and economists were telling them five years ago, sold students the false claim that getting a degree would ensure that upon leaving University they would almost automatically get a well-paid graduate job.

     


    It should be pointed out from the outset of these blogs that the Scottish context is different.  Quality in the Scottish HE sector is measured differently, and as it stands Scottish universities are not engaging in the TEF in the same way English and Welsh universities are.  Scottish universities are far better than those in England and Wales at ensuring the pedagogical process is a collaborative affair between students and academics – students get a seat at the table when teaching quality is reviewed. This may sound immensely dry, but I will explain this in a later blog!

     


    Over the next few weeks I will be blogging about the higher education reforms, why ‘metrics’ sound boring but matter more than words can describe, and particularly why the Scottish Higher Education sector should be able to wriggle out of the reforms currently being shamelessly imposed in England & Wales, and how it may be able to avoid engaging with the devil that is the TEF.  If you would like more information in relation to these blogs, please reach out to me, and I’ll be happy to direct you to relevant websites, writers and academics who are writing and blogging about this at the moment.
     

     

  • Thu 28 Jul 2016 17:47

     

    It is common to think of a students’ association as predominantly orientating around undergraduates. It is true also that for PhD students, there is an understandable tension of identity as both staff and student, and this tends not to be appreciated.  Particularly if you are a Humanities or Social Science student, your tutorials will be taught by postgraduate tutors for, quite possibly, the majority of your first two years at Edinburgh.  You will be beginning your higher education experience, and the deepening of your intellectual development, with the help of postgraduate tutors.  You rely on postgraduate tutors.

     

    There is often an unfair criticism levelled at postgraduate tutors.  Some students will question why some of their peers are taught by professors or lecturers, whilst these students are taught by someone who is still undertaking the second year of their thesis. This is an attitude which tends to put more weight on the perceived ‘authority’ and ‘status’ of the former, whilst ignoring the commitment to teach and the ability of the latter - the suggestion being that some students do not receive the same quality of education as others. This is however far from the case. Some the best teaching I received was from postgraduate tutors. The interests of undergraduates and postgraduates tutors are mutually reinforcing.  In your earlier, formative years at university, you want to probe and engage in a particular area of study as much you can; to learn how to write what seem at first like excessively demanding essays; to debate with your peers in tutorials – you are helped every step of the way by postgraduate tutors.  These tutors are keen to teach students as most are aiming to enter an academic careers, and thus want to gain the experience of facilitating students’ intellectual development. 

     

    These points are worth emphasising because at the moment our students’ association is trying to engage far more postgraduates – and particularly PhD students – within our representative structures. In the past, when postgraduate tutors have been attempting to push for fairer pay, it has always been quite difficult, as ultimately it has been harder for tutors to coordinate with each other across different disciplines as easily as undergraduates are able to collectively organise. 

     

    At the moment, the students' association is liaising with various levels of the University to ensure tutors are paid fairly, to provide more comprehensive and subject-specific training so that postgraduate tutors feel prepared for facilitating undergraduate tutorials, and to ensure that Schools are not imposing unreasonable demands upon many postgraduate tutors, particularly those who are self-funding their PhDs, and who struggle to afford basic living costs. Many tutors are forced to work in other part-time jobs, as well as tutoring, so that they can afford to study.  This should not be the case.  As is the case across all universities across the UK, the past five years has seen a significant decrease in funding for the Humanities and Social Sciences, and it has thus become more difficult for postgraduate tutors to afford their PhD programme. Many Schools have tried to address this in some form or another, but in many cases, like in many universities, the welfare of these tutors has in many ways not been fully taken into account.

     

    One overarching issue about this University is that there is a heavily devolved structure, so ultimately, different Schools operate on different wavelengths from each other. Consequently, in the case of trying to ensure a parity of treatment and assistance to postgraduate tutors, it becomes tricky to reach a mutual understanding across the various disciplines.  However, the University and our students' association will now be looking into how it can reduce the stress that many postgraduate tutors face on a pastoral level, as well as addressing some of the specific, more academically-orientated grievances which were highlighted in the open letter, signed by over 400 student and staff members in the spring of this year.  I will keep you all updated over the coming months with any developments.

     

 

Objective 1 Control over education

Why? It’s important to give students the opportunity to improve and critique their curriculum, and resist the deepening commodification of higher education – making students more aware about the value of university

 

Objective 2 Accessibility

Why? Preventing academic and pastoral barriers from hindering students’ learning experiences

 

Objective 3 Support for PhD students

Why? PhD students need greater support for equity, and to support students who rely on PhD students for their pre-Honours learning experience