The Mancunion

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As it happened: Q&A with Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell

As it happened: A Q&A with the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, and students


Andrew Williams 25th February 20134:55 PM

We’re live from the Council Chambers at the heart of the Students’ Union awaiting the arrival of Dame Nancy Rothwell – the 15th most powerful woman in the country, according to BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour.

This is Dame Nancy’s annual visit to the Union to take questions from students on, well, anything really. You can get involved by tweeting @TheMancunion using the hashtag #asknancy

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:03 PM

Dame Nancy opens the meeting by praising the Students’ Union for their “high level of strategic planning and fantastically hard work.”

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:04 PM

She identifies four “key worries” about the state of the higher education landscape today: student debt and hardship, employability, postgraduate taught students and international students.

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:06 PM

Q: Given the growing population of transgender people at the university, would you consider introducing gender neutral titles on degree certificates and at registration?

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:07 PM

“In some ways, would it be easier to have no title?” Dame Nancy responds. She agrees to look into the matter before joking, “I have such a string of titles that everyone gets them the wrong way around!”

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:08 PM

That’s Professor Dame Nancy Jane Rothwell, DBE, DL, FRS, FMedSci, to use her full monkier. Quite a string of titles…

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:10 PM

Discussion turns to the brand new £24 million Alan Gilbert Learning Commons.

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:15 PM

Q: A lot of people on my course feel that our contact hours are quite low – about 9 hours per week on average. How do you respond given that we are the first cohort paying £9,000/year fees?

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:15 PM

“Contact hours vary enormously depending oin the subject, and politics students, for example, require a great deal more personal study time than science students,” she explains.

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:16 PM

Dame Nancy: “One of the things that perhaps we could do better is to explain to students that this is going to be a very different learning environment from school.

“To me, more important than how many formal contact hours you have is whether you have access to help and advice if you need it.”

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:17 PM

A final year student voices concerns about lecturers’ command of English.

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:18 PM

“I’m really sorry that you’ve come to the end of your degree and feel that your experience hasn’t been what you would have hoped for,” she says.

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:19 PM

The student in question doesn’t appeared to be satisfied with Dame Nancy’s response. “There needs to be a more thorough reshuffle of staff and if I were you I’d sack them all,” he says briskly.

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:21 PM

“When are you writing out the cheque for me?” The riled student, perhaps unrealistically, asks Dame Nancy to refund his fees.

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:23 PM

Q: Can the exam period be extended to ensure that exams aren’t crammed together in a short space of time?

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:25 PM

“There’s not an easy solution here,” Dame Nancy accepts. “If we extend the exam period by a week you either lose a week of revision beforehand, or you lose a week of your course. That’s not ideal.”

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:27 PM

Got a question for Dame Nancy? Tweet us using the hashtag #asknancy

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:27 PM

Q: Could more be done for students from under-priviliged backgrounds?

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:30 PM

“It’s something that the University does extremely well,” Dame Nancy argues. “Over a quarter of our undergraduates are from low-income homes. We work with a lot of local schools, and we bring as many underprivileged students as we can into the university. The Manchester Access programme picks up kids with real potential who don’t necessarily have the aspiration or the support around them.”

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:31 PM

Total spending on bursaries for students from underpriviliged backgrounds is just short of £20 million, we are told.

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:34 PM

“There is still a huge amount more we can do,” she accepts.

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:35 PM

Q: In 2009/10, my halls cost £106 per week. This year, those same halls cost £126 per week. How can the university justify significantly above-inflation rises in accommodation costs/

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:37 PM

Dame Nancy agrees that it is a significant increase and says, “it sounds like I’ll have quite a hard time justifying that!”

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:40 PM

Dame Nancy agrees that it is a significant increase and says, “it sounds like I’ll have quite a hard time justifying that!”

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:53 PM

Q: Do you think the government should be providing more direction on higher education policy?

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:55 PM

“We’ve been pushing the government to give some clarity on issues such as Masters fees, and the feedback we have been getting is that there is no more money for higher education at this time,” she laments.

Andrew Williams 25th February 20135:56 PM

Dame Nancy suggests that there are “almost insurmountable difficulties with having a coalition government in the midst of a world economic crisis,” admitting that higher education is “probably not their priority.”