UEA’s vice-chancellor, Edward Acton attended Union Council on Thursday 28 February, where councillors questioned him about university policy. He was accompanied by academic pro-vice -chancellor Nigel Norris.

Edward Acton

In an address to Union Council, Acton stressed the economic importance of universities, outlining UEA’s corporate plan to improve academic standards. He went on to describe the building projects on campus, including new residences and teaching facilities. Acton continued to discuss university funding and admissions, explaining “market” conditions, whilst emphasising the importance of supporting international students.

Following the vice-chancellor’s speech, the floor was opened to questions. Firstly, international officer Astrid Simonsen asked whether the university would act upon the Council’s recommendations to make special provisions for Syrian students struggling financially. Professor Acton explained that the university wouldn’t commit waiving fees, and had no precedent of doing so in similar circumstances, describing such a measure as “a little bit more complicated.” However, he said: “We are monitoring very closely the situation, because the knock-on effects of somebody being unable to pay their fees is very immediate.”

Councillor Cal Corkery asked about an alleged “crackdown on political leafleting,” including leaflets to save the Music School distributed during an open day, and others opposing a Grant Thornton careers stand on the principle of their involvment in tax avoidance schemes. Corkery claimed that such action was detrimental to the university’s commitment to dialogue. The vice-chancellor responded, saying: “If they are discouraging prospective students, then they are not in UEA’s interest. I’m worried why such leafleting might have been discouraged.”

In response to a query regarding the comparatively low block grant awarded to the union, Acton said he was “conscious” of the issue and “dialogue must continue.”
Union Communications officer Matthew Myles asked whether UEA would implement more creative methods of education in which students are “partners” in cooperation with the university. Norris explained that the “learning and teaching committee had been particularly responsive” in “paying attention to results of NSS and student feedback,” saying that there are “many things that can be done to improve learning, teaching and particularly assessment.” He said that the university would be investing more into staff training, assessing newly-appointed lecturers on their teaching skills, and further utilising technology.

Lastly, Professor Acton was asked about the future provision of faith and pastoral facilities on campus. Professor Norris replied: “We are currently consulting both with the chaplaincy and with representatives of faith communities outside of the university about appropriate representation on the consultative committee. “ He revealed that the university also desired representation from the Union’s faith group on the committee.

A recording of the full Council session can be viewed online.