David Willetts' suggestion that wealthy self-funded students might be able to buy their way into university - on top of our normal quotas - was not one of this mercurial government's better ideas.
There is no evidence that such a measure would free up places for less advantaged students or make access fairer. In fact, it was tried and abandoned in Australia, where it proved enormously divisive. Its main effect was a migration of students into two universities, Sydney and Melbourne, at the expense of their peers.
In the same week, the minister speculated that universities might cut their fees at clearing in order to fill their courses. This raises the worrying prospect not only of students on the same course paying different prices, but of applicants pinning their hopes on a 'clearance sale,' and potentially missing out on getting a place altogether. Having been floated in true political fashion to 'test the water,' both ideas have since been torpedoed. Let's hope they now sink without trace.
Less well publicised, but perhaps more worrying, is the intervention of the UK Border Agency in the fine detail of the entry requirements of potential students and the International English Language Testing System, as part of the Conservative push for a 'crack-down' on visas.
While developments like these are in all probability down to widely differing priorities in the coalition - and some element of cock-up rather than conspiracy - they are a potential challenge to our autonomy. Of course universities must be regulated and accountable, but independence from political control is fundamental and nonnegotiable.
Restatement of the principle that universities are and will continue to be autonomous would be very welcome indeed in the forthcoming White Paper, whatever else it contains. Meanwhile, we are focused on preparing for 2012. There was a tremendous amount of support in Senate for the new Partnership agreement between students and staff, in particular for its brevity, simplicity and collegiality.
The product of extensive consultation, the Partnership captures in some 30 short, thoughtful phrases the mutual expectations and responsibilities of staff and students as partners - as opposed to consumers/ providers - as we move into the new era.
Its predecessor, adopted five years ago in perhaps more sceptical times, was not as prominent as it might have been. It was slightly shocking to discover that two student senators - formerly departmental representatives, now sabbatical officers - had never come across it.
But the new Partnership is timely, hugely relevant and our community will derive huge value from its adoption. I have no doubt it will gain ground and make an important contribution in shaping attitudes and behaviours across campus.
Students went into their exams this year on a tide of razzamatazz and celebration marking inspirational teaching, creative, cultural and sporting achievement, citizenship and dedication to the wider community and beyond. First up were the Student Choice awards for a dozen members of staff in recognition of their huge impact on the lives of students. Many 'unsung heroes' were among those honoured (full report, page 3). The Faculty of Biological Sciences produced two winners and was voted Best Overall, which is particularly pleasing given recent challenges.
It's genuinely humbling to hear the stories from some of our 2,000 student volunteers who find time and dedication to support others in spite of their academic commitments, not to mention the social opportunities on offer.
The LeedsforLife Citizenship Awards celebrated the 'tip of the iceberg' of this volunteering activity. The awards turned the spotlight on some of the most inspiring and successful projects among the 60,000 hours volunteered every year by students in the city and as far afield as Nepal, Russia, Uganda and South America.
This virtuous circle also takes in our alumni, whose generosity has enabled us to create the LeedsforLife Foundation to support placements and volunteering that will help students develop skills while making a real difference to people's lives. The full
report makes for great reading and a film of highlights is available online (www.leeds.
ac.uk/ace/news.htm). As a former keen windsurfer, I was particularly impressed by students' efforts in identifying a suitable lake where they helped some disaffected young people from local schools gain national windsurfing qualifications (full report, page 6).
The week of celebration was rounded off by the 'Rileys' cabaret showcase and awards for student societies. This was an evening of entertainment of the highest quality, and it wouldn't surprise me to see some of these talented performers turn professional or at the very least go viral on YouTube. My favourite was the Irish Dance society - they were fantastic.
The first birthday party of the Edge was also a great occasion; its success has exceeded all expectations. We now have 17,000 very appreciative members of
all abilities, from occasional exercisers to Olympic hopefuls, and there's a great atmosphere around the place.
Back in 2004, when we first considered renewing what were then very poor facilities, the wisdom of investing in sports and exercise was, of course, questioned. In a competition for funds, academic priorities will usually prevail for understandable reasons. It was recognised, however, that good facilities would become increasingly important in a more competitive environment. The clinching factor was the sale of the original Vice-Chancellor's lodge, generating funds to reinvest into both the Edge and the Ziff buildings.
Seven years on and we now have one of the best sports and fitness facilities in the sector right here on our campus, and the Edge's immense popularity with potential students and their parents is highly visible on Open Days.
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