University Court will take place on Saturday 30th January, bringing together academic staff, influential members of the community and the Students’ Union; all of whom will be rallying to have their views heard. With the contentious topic of higher education cuts hot on the agenda, there is no doubt they will have much to discuss.
Court serves as an overview of the academic year with a greater representation of the student body that any other council, enabling students to voice the issues that really matter to them. Along with members of council including the Vice Chancellor, Paul Wellings, local dignitaries are invited to attend Court and have their opinions on key issues. This more varied body of representatives means that there should be a wider range of opinions discussed, with regards to making decisions. This is the opportunity for the students make their presence known.
Court has been known to be the occasion for many a student protest, usually relating to current topics of contention. Last year’s Court witnessed a group of students protesting about the takeover of the college bars by University Catering. It is likely that this year’s Court may see a protest about the anticipated raise in tuition fees.
At the last University Court, LUSU President Michael Payne’s speech was met with a standing ovation. His message of ‘Change’ and the desire to re-evaluate how the University and the Student Union collaborate to make informed decision for the benefit of all will be a continuing theme.
When ask to comment Payne said: “A clear focus of discussion in Court itself will be Higher Education cuts that the whole sector faces in the year and years ahead … my speech this year will focus on ‘Innovation and Opportunity in the face of uncertainty.’
With the recent campaign against the rise of tuition still fresh in many people’s minds this is the time to continue to promote the cause and raise awareness to other officials. Payne commented that “University Court will be a key focus of our campaign on Future Fees and Funding and engaging students in the lead up to a general election.”
With both Labour and the Conservatives holding their cards close to their chest, in the matter of university funding, more awareness about this subject allows the student body to be more informed and able to join in on the debate.
With Payne saying that he will particularly focus on the Independent Review of Student Finance and Fees, chaired by Lord Browne, drawing support from academics and other influential figures will be crucial to the success of the campaign.
Nevertheless, since Deputy Pro-Chancellor Stanley Henig, Chair of last year’s Court, took a mere three questions after Payne’s speech last year – despite many more hands being raised – will the voices of the students be heard or simply brushed under the carpet? This is a forum designed for members with mutual interests to consult and compromise in the hope of reforming issues. The key question is how willing is the Vice Chancellor to take on board student views?
Questions may start to arise after the recent mishap with regards to absent Court invitations for Union councillors. This could be seen as an attempt from the Vice Chancellor to avoid being put in another awkward position after his embarrassing avoidance of the student protest at University Council.
LUSU Academic Campaigns Officer, Paul Lynch said: “The university secretariat said that it has sent out all the invitations for Court to all Union councillors, however only around half made it to the Students’ Union. Michael Payne had to rectify the situation by assuring the secretariat that all Union councillors would be attending.” Nonetheless, those without official invitations have yet to receive an agenda for Court and hence will be unable to fully prepare.
Despite problems that have previously occurred, University Court is intended as opportunity to debate the issues that are most prevalent to students and academics alike. After successful rallies of student support on the topic of tuition fees, highlighting this greatly contested issue at University Court is essential to promote the views of those who will be affected. The voices of the students need to be heard and Court need to sit up and listen.