Debra Humphris Interview


What preparation has the University put in place in the face of cuts and a fees rise?

I need to take you back a couple of years. We recognised as a University a couple of years ago, that we need to think about how we can put as much of our money towards our core mission values of education and research as possible. We have undergone a process to reduce our administrations costs, you only need to look at our restructuring of our professional services; that’s one way we have reduced our costs and directed our money to our core mission value. We have also been streamlining our professional services, looking to be more effective and resilient. It’s about making sure we get the most out of our money.

In terms of preparing to face cuts, we will see an 80% reduction in out Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) allocation for funding to support teaching. As you know, the only mechanism the government has assisted us with is that the burden of that income is now to fall on to our graduates. In terms of preparing for the fee rise, I have been very clear about how we need to work together on our value proposition. We have set up a value proposition group, which includes both staff and students and which met for the first time this week.

Are you in a position to confirm the price a degree will be set at for future students?

Nobody is in a position to do that. As the government have made clear, we need an access agreement, which is something we fully support, signed off by the office of fair access. The timescale for that has slipped back a month, so we have to have our offer agreement in by April and they will confirm to us in July whether it acceptable or not. Only then can we confirm what the fee will be.

Then what are you aiming for?

That takes us back to the Value Proposition, and looking at the total budget when we know all the reductions that are coming through. So in January the HEFCE board met and announced that there would be another in-year reduction of the teaching and research grants because their financial year finishes in April and ours in July. So we will sustain a further reduction. It’s almost like waiting and finding out the answer when all the reductions have been made. The commitments and obligations we have to meet in regard to our access agreement will still need to be calculated.

The University is becoming Increasingly Global, is the University looking to send more students abroad as well as increasing its intake?

If you go back to our strategy and the Education Strategic Plan, then you can see we have placed a large emphasis on enhancing employability. Employers tell us things such as an additional language, work experience and placements abroad are all part of what makes good graduates in a global economy and that is something we will be factoring into the value proposition. This will all ultimately affect where we land with the number. I would note though that while we get those consistent messages from the Erasmus programme, we are a net importer so there is an issue about how we get home students to take up international opportunities. In the Erasmus scheme, more students come to us from our partner Universities than our students go to theirs.

With fees rising, students are going to want to know more about their potential job prospects. What is the University doing to ensure this is clearly signposted?

There’s been a consultation process, which is currently going on at HEFCE about public information in relation to programmes. Part of that will include employability and the Delhi survey at a programme level. We have also recognised for a number of years how important employability is. Just look at the changes we have made to our career destinations service over the past two years, the introduction of the graduate passport and the increase in the number of internships within the University and outside of it. The careers service at the moment is working on a service we are calling ‘Global Talent Southampton’, which is a way of enabling students to create high-quality work readiness skills.

That means preparing people to work in global commercial environments, work in an industrial setting and develop presentation and commercial awareness.  We’ve worked very closely with colleagues in Sydney who have developed a programme called ‘Global Talent’. What they then do is work with employers to get high quality placements with employers, which adds to your CV and your income as well. We know we can get you work but we want to ensure it is high-quality work. The Sydney model is very attractive and they have been very generous in sharing how they have done it. If we can make that work it could be financially independent. So we do a lot, and I am very clear that this is a vital issue. To that end I have asked Janice Rippon, the Director of Student Services, to establish a University wide subgroup on employability. This will report to the Education and Student Experience Advisory Group.

How will you address the surprise extra costs student are currently incurring alongside their degree?

As part of the Value Proposition discussion, and the discussion we have had at council, we are looking at how best to deliver even more value to our students. One of those options is to be clear about what the fee covers.  At the moment you might end up with some extra costs related to the programme, for example, a white coat and goggles or field trips. What we started looking at is identifying a way that we can identify those extra costs related to your degree. We will then see if there is a way we can ensure that they are incorporated into the degree fee. That’s the inclusive fee and incorporates itself in the access agreement. It’s about finding money or services to give back to students in a way that is related to their entire experience. And how we then relate that to household income and levels of deprivation.

We are also looking at ways to add to the student experience via an Entitlement Scheme. As an example, if every student was entitled to a £400 entitlement every year, which we might phase or end load, they could have that to put towards a whole range of services related to your wider student experience. You may want to put that towards a club or society, for your graduation ticket, a discount on hall fees or for sportrec. What we want to arrive at is a flexible package that students can use in ways that best suites them. It will be web based. We want to do it as efficiently as possible and keep it transparent. If we had something like that, you could adapt it to student needs. You could have a system where friends and family can top it up at Christmas and birthdays.

Students regularly voice major concerns about tutor support, what is being done to improve this?

Again, we had a really good conversation about this at the Value Proposition group, which emphasised to me the importance of having students at the very heart of this discussion. Some of the issues raised really concerned me. It is clearly something we need to improve. The vehicle we spoke about using to improve this would be incorporated in our charter, a statement of our expectations students can have of us, and the expectations we have of students – value is a two-way exchange. We need to ensure that the promises we make about tutorial support are in place by the academic years 12/13, but are also improving today and tomorrow.

One major concern is based around academic staff’s inability to use blackboard and the online resources. Is this issue being addressed?

This is ironic really, because in the last week we have just agreed over £300,000 worth of investment in student facing technology enhancement for learning. It is as if the technology moves too fast for everyone to keep up with. I think there are some excellent exponents of blackboard, and as with all things there is a variation and there are some who find that blackboard is more of a challenge. The bigger issue here is investing in the Southampton learning area. Another point is about making sure our resources available are of a high quality. There are some members of staff who use other online sources such as Edshare, which is the learning materials version of e-prints. The likes of Tom Cherott and Ben Waterson in Civil Engineering are even using audio and video podcasts, so you can see we have a range of technologies in use.

Finally the University has never used its full allotment for bursaries, what is being done to increase the awareness of the bursary system for potential students?

Actually, to be fair, students have never taken up the full bursaries we are allocated; we want to give them money. We spend money on schemes such as Money Doctor to encourage students to take the money we have to give them.

One of the things that might inhibit people is that in order to give out a bursary we do need household financial information, and for what ever reason some people are hesitant to provide that. We take no great pleasure in knowing there is bursary money left at the end of the year; it should be zero. Please talk to student services if you think you may be entitled to a bursary.


Discussion1 Comment

  1. avatar
    Munyemvu John Mulangi

    Am interested to benefit from the bursury money because, personally i’ve always wished to study in Europe. Am a Zambian young man who has big dreams(establish a network of companies that will help improves peoples lives around me nad, ultimatily win Souls into His Kingdom)

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