Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton, Sir Christopher Snowden, spoke to Surge Radio on the 3rd February to discuss his experience at being Southampton’s Vice-Chancellor so far and to answer the questions of students.
What is the role of the Vice-Chancellor?
Professor Sir Christopher Snowden clarifies that his role is one which involves having complete responsibility for the University, celebrating its achievements and taking accountability for any issues which may arise. He explained the challenges of the role, saying how it is “much more complicated running a university than a company”, reflecting on his experience as a CEO in the private sector.
Professor Snowden stressed the demanding nature of the job, clarifying that it is a seven day week role. He drew upon the previous day, where he was up at 05:30am and did not go to be until half-past midnight.
Professor Snowden explained that he believed tuition fees should not be at risk of excluding students from lower socio-economic backgrounds from attending university. He said that the current rise from £9000 to £9250 was in order to match inflation and was necessary for financing the University. Professor Snowden has also clarified that the rise will not affect current students, whose fees will remain at £9000.
Professor Snowden made his views on tuition fees known. He stated how universities were “very happy with the previous model” where fees were at £3000, and when government funding was at £6 billion rather than £1.5 billion with £9000 tuition fees. He also commented how he was “not a fan of the student loan and fee system” due to its flaws in maintenance loans and grants, where the latter has been cut, and was an advocate for the University’s bursary system. Professor Snowden states how “I personally campaigned also to protect the Disabled Students’ Allowance” as part of the Government’s funding to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Post-Exam Break between Semester 1 and Semester 2
When asked about Union President Alex Hovden’s policy to attempt an implementation of a break between Semester 1 and Semester 2, Professor Snowden said that the University would “be happy to look into”. He identified that the break would be welcome by both staff and students, stressed the exhausting time for students during the exam period is important to consider, and made clear that he was “really sympathetic to the situation”.
Professor Snowden did, however, state that to implement this the entire academic year would require review to identify where a week could be found, and hinted at advocating it being taken from the Easter or Summer Breaks.
The NUS’ National Student Survey (NSS) Boycott
In tackling the National Union of Students’ argument that a boycott of the NSS would prevent universities having a justification for raising tuition fees, the Vice-Chancellor asserted that “the NSS does not have an impact on first two years of TEF [Teaching Excellence Framework] anyway”, and that the Government would probably not move to this method.
Professor Snowden stressed the importance of the NSS for providing feedback to the universities for improvement, and stressed that students should “follow their own views” in completing the NSS.
The Vice-Chancellor publicly admitted that he voted remain in the EU Referendum of the 23rd June 2016 and anticipated an impact of leaving the European Union. He stated that the University is doing its best to “minimise the impact”. Sir Christopher Snowden was in a meeting with senior government officials where he stressed the need for support being given to universities with visas and funding. The Vice-Chancellor also holds a view that the UK must avoid creating an insular image in the process of Brexit.
Professor Don Nutbeam’s Remuneration
The Wessex Scene reported in January that it was revealed that previous Vice-Chancellor to the University of Southampton, Professor Don Nutbeam, received a ‘pay off’ of £252,000. Approaching the question surrounding this remuneration, Sir Christopher Snowden clarified that this was to fulfil the “contractual obligation” of the University to Professor Nutbeam as his term was cut short by the appointment of Professor Snowden. Professor Snowden clarified that this was not an act of excessive generosity and would have been done for any member of University staff.
The Vice Chancellor discussed a number of other issues including the gender pay gap at the University, equality and diversity and his favourite research project at the University. This can be listened to here.