On Wednesday 20th November, a ‘Question Time’ session was held with Professor Peter Mathieson, the Principal of the University of Edinburgh and Professor Colm Harmon, the Vice-Principal Students. Students were given the opportunity to ask questions and raise awareness of certain issues, with discussions about the upcoming UCU strikes a focal point of the evening.
During the introduction, an emphasis was placed on student satisfaction.
“For me, addressing the issues of students in Edinburgh is very important”, said Prof. Mathieson. Prof. Harmon, who took up the role of Vice Principal Students in October, added his intention to mainly focus on student experience. “We can always do better,” he stated.
When asked by a student from the audience about the industrial action, and how the promised student experience can be delivered during the strikes, Prof. Mathieson stated: “We are a large employer and these are national, not local issues, and we can’t influence the national offer”.
Prof. Mathieson then added that the strikes “could have been avoided”, before emphasising the University’s local efforts in negotiations, describing the strikes as “regrettable”.
Referring to the 2018 strikes, which were also related to pension disputes and ended without a resolution, Prof. Mathieson then said “I regret that students, for the second time during my time here, are affected by strikes and I hope that the effects on the student body will be less than last time.”
However, he added that only 10 percent of staff are scheduled to strike this year.
The discussion also touched on Brexit while shifting to strategic University growth.
“There will be slow changes in student numbers,” Prof. Mathieson said. “Ten years from now, the Uni will be slightly bigger than now, mainly due to Postgraduate growth.”
However, he added that Brexit has “major implications for Undergraduate students in Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular.” Prof. Mathieson also stated that “if there will be shrinking numbers, then it will be because of Brexit.”
Another student from the audience posed a question about Hong Kong.
“As a representative of Hong Kong students in Edinburgh, I tell you that we do not feel safe here,” she said. “What policies are engaged to secure our freedom of speech?”.
Prof. Mathieson replied that “Students from Hong Kong can be assured that the University of Edinburgh absolutely prioritises freedom of speech.” He added that “If students feel unsafe, there are plenty of possibilities to provide safety and to express issues.”
A further student expressed concerns about transphobia being expressed on campus. Prof. Mathieson said that “the University should be a place where difficult issues can be discussed as long as they go along with principles of decency and respect.”
Another question from the audience referred to the past. “The University of Edinburgh profited from colonialism, slavery, and imperialism,” a student said. “Can you give commitment to give back?,”
The Principal answered that though this was an important issue and the University is doing a number of things, he does not “anticipate that the University will be paying money to descendants.”
Image: Anna Ehlebract