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The news that Professor Paul Wellings will be leaving his job as Vice Chancellor of Lancaster University in December has been taken by many students as confirmation that rats do indeed desert sinking ships.
Whether through chance or scheme, Professor Wellings will leave Lancaster before the £9,000 fee level comes into force and will most likely leave it whilst it is still occupying the higher reaches of the league tables. Many will be suspicious of this timing, but if there ever was an ideal time to leave Wellings seems to have found it. It can’t hurt that December is the Australian summer time too.
Throughout his time at Lancaster the Vice Chancellor has been a controversial figure with students. Even for those who cannot remember the George Fox Six incident, there has been plenty of evidence in students’ eyes to suggest Lancaster, under his leadership, hasn’t always had their interests at heart. From college bars to international expansion: home students have felt ignored and overseas students have been left feeling like cash cows.
The influx of new directors from the private sector hasn’t helped to ease the fears that Lancaster has been run more like a business than a university. In terms of league tables it appears that this has policy has paid off, and Lancaster’s international standing grows everyday. But the crux is students still want to feel like students of a university, even if they are increasingly looking like consumers of a product. Wellings hasn’t managed to get this balance right. It is vital that his successor does.
Whoever they are they will have a difficult task on their hands, balancing students’ desire to be students of academia whilst also treating them with the respect their £9,000 a year deserves. It is imperative that the University takes students’ views into account when looking to appoint the person who will be performing this balancing act.
Obviously it would be impossible to garner the thoughts and opinions of every student on campus when looking to appoint a new Vice Chancellor. In their place must be their elected representatives, and so the Students’ Union must be involved and informed right from the start. This is no longer a case of pandering the egos of student politicans, but has become a nessescary safeguard for the quality and standing of the University. It is vital whoever takes over from Wellings buys into the rights and expectations students have when paying £9,000 a year, and the people who can most accurately articulate those expectations are the Full Time Exectuive Officers and Part Time Officers of the Students’ Union.
If student opinion is ignored when setting the agenda for the future of the University then Wellings really will be escaping from a sinking ship.