‘What we were given instead was an utter farce’: Students respond to Vice Chancellor dodging their questions at Question Time

Top Guild Officers responded to students disheartened by the VC’s answers


Vice Chancellor's Question Time has been slammed for "repeatedly refus[ing] to acknowledge or take a stand on vital issues" and failing to tackle questions asked by audience members.

Top Guild Officers including President Reece Roberts and Women's Officers Alif Trevathen and Holly Battrick have offered support for students disappointed in the event, with Roberts vowing to "champion these issues in university meetings and get a response over the coming weeks and months before we leave office."

Professor Sir David Eastwood faced an eager audience of his students and academics yesterday evening, answering questions in the highly-anticipated Vice Chancellor's Question Time, chaired by BBC journalist Ellis Palmer.

But the event left a sour taste in the mouths of dissatisfied audience members, after he failed to give satisfactory answers to audience members.

It comes after a tough year for the VC, what with questions raised around his ethics following the opening of the controversial Dubai campus; outrage over his £5k pay rise, bringing his annual salary to £444,000; and an ever-worsening mental health crisis.

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The response to calls for more mental health support funding was criticised, after Academic Registrar Stephen Mcauliffe responded by saying that the "default is needing more counsellors". After The Birmingham Tab revealed last year that there were only six trained counsellors at the university, there have been calls for the uni to employ more staff to help with the mental health crisis at UoB which has seen two tragic student suicides in the last two years.

Chris Morrall, a rep for the UoB LGBTQ association and a second year English Literature student, was amused by his response: "it's just nice to know if I do experience mental health problems I can always take a walk around the Green Heart – we're paying for it after all – and all my problems shall vanish like ephemera."

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Additionally, the university's response to transphobic and anti-semitic attitudes and incidents on campus was discussed. Once again, the "diversity" word was thrown around, by both Eastwood and Kathy Armour, Vice Chancellor for Education. Eastwood stated that "freedom of speech has to be a defining aspect of universities, nevertheless freedom of speech needs to be appropriate in its expression, appropriate in its respect for diversity and for other opinions."

Clare Foss, an ambassador for the Not On campaign at UoB, asked the panel if they thought the currently anonymous system of You Report We Support was effective on campus, meaning victims could potentially brush shoulders with assailants. Armour stated that "as soon as the evidence is clear, we have a pretty clear record in how we then act." Foss then cited an incident in which an incident was caught on CCTV, but took seven months to reach any form of conclusion.

Speaking to The Birmingham Tab, Foss stated "The one thing that I really wanted to ask, that I had to ask twice, was do you believe there is a problem. And I know that this is a problem on every campus and most people know that this is a universal university problem.

"It took a while for them to say it, I really appreciated that Stephen Mcauliffe did say it, eventually, and he was the most receptive. We're in an environment where victims don't know if their assailant is still going to be on campus because they're told nothing. Do you think that's fair? In terms of promoting fair rights to education? I feel like Stephen made his best effort to answer, I don't think any of the other panelists did and I got not a word out of the Vice Chancellor, who I addressed directly in my question.

"I fully appreciate that no one wants to be thrust upon with sexual violence and assault, but it's a real and relevant issue and it's happening already."

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Guild President Reece Roberts was disheartened with the event, telling The Birmingham Tab, "By the end of the evening, I could feel that students were frustrated with how questions were answered. That is why at the end I asked students to raise their concerns with myself and the rest of the officer team, so we champion these issues in university meetings and get a response over the coming weeks and months before we leave office."

Women's Officers Alif Trevathen and Holly Battrick told The Birmingham Tab: "As Women’s Officers we were incredibly disappointed with the answers senior staff at our University provided in response to students’ concerns.

"Most of us were hopeful that this would be a real chance to raise serious questions with management, and to have our voices heard; however, what we were given instead was an utter farce. The panel repeatedly refused to acknowledge or take a stand on vital issues affecting the student community such as sexual violence, transphobia, and casualisation of work.

"We encourage students who feel angry and disillusioned to reach out to us, or to the relevant Guild officer, and we will do everything we can to fight for your voices to be heard and make the changes this campus so urgently needs."

All photos from the event are taken from GuildTV's livestream.