Despite much student action against it, the New Combined School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law (and Education and Social Work, which has been omitted from the title of the school) will be a living, breathing beast as of the next academic year. There are already several concerns about rumoured cuts of staff, degree pathways, and modules. But amidst these, there are also concerns regarding changes to student representation, an invaluable part of the existing schools and the sure-fire way for the student voice to be heard.
At present, the Presidential roles of each school will also be merged, giving the New Combined School one overall President. Reporting to this President will be Division Vice Presidents for the newly created divisions within the school: Law, Applied Humanities, Psychological Studies, Education and Society, and Energy, Environment and Governance (EEG). In theory, this makes sense; one President could not handle the sheer volume of students from all of these merged disciplines in the same way that our current School Presidents do. However, what will the functional differences be to the way student representation currently works?
This question seems as though it will only be answered once the next academic year, and the New Combined School, is in action. Will the Division Vice Presidents act, in essence, as our current School Presidents do for the individual divisions? What work does this leave the new President with? Will this be an opportunity for more students to become involved in the representation system?
How will the Class Representative system change? It seems almost unwise to have just one massive Student-Staff Liaison Committee (SSLC) for the entire school—the meetings could go on for hours, and the staff may feel as though they are spread too thin among so many students. As a current Class Rep in the School of Humanities, meetings can take up to two hours at times based on how much information there is to be shared. With five new Divisions, would we need to mark an entire day off the calendar? Would student societies still have a seat at the SSLC table?
It seems then that it would be more suitable to have an SSLC meeting within each Division, similar to how they exist now. After all, the meetings are suitable as they are, and effective in making sure the student voice is heard. But this raises new questions of how so many meetings will be fit into the calendar; for the President, for staff across multiple committees, this could take up hours and hours of time away from learning, teaching, research, and maintaining a work-life balance. Is it something that will prove sustainable, or something that will lead to burn-out?
I realise, as I mentioned, that these questions are yet to be answered; and further, they will be answered not in theory, but in practice. I do firmly believe that this will be a fantastic opportunity for more students to be involved in the representation system, and for more students to take on leadership roles within their division and within our new School. Still, anxieties are high; despite receiving reports with answers from the decision-makers, there is still a lot of uncertainty and ill will towards the New Combined School. And, of course, we are left with arguably the biggest question yet to be answered: will this truly be a step forward in academic achievement, or was it just a way to save money all along?