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I've worked at several UK institutions over the past 10 years and one aspect that consistently raises my eyebrows is the reaction to student-staff liaison meetings* from senior members of the team. Often, these meetings are merely an opportunity for the 'representative' to voice their own concerns and are clearly, obviously, not representative. Yet, time after time, when a far fetched and often untrue complaint/comment is made in one of these meetings, senior staff go into full meltdown and start firing off perplexing and demotivating e-mails asking for things to be fixed because the students are unhappy. The simple matter is, as previously stated, these are often not representative views and the sample size is one: the person who said it.

In any other context, a sample size of one would be immediately disregarded by those with only rudimentary scientific knowledge. No sound conclusion could ever be drawn from that sample. Yet, if this sample happens to be one student in the context of a 'staff-student liaison' meeting then it appears to be absolute fact to senior 'management'.

My question is for fellow academics from across the world, do you have this nonsense to deal with? What do you tell 'management' if they ask you to change based on comments from a single source? Am I being too touchy about it?

I am a lecturer at a UK institution.

*These meetings are usually bi-yearly where student 'representatives' voice any matters arising on their degree


For the those thinking "Jeez, this guy gets a lot of bad comments". I have not once been on the receiving end of this but I know good colleagues lose sleep over it.

I also see the benefits of these meetings, I do not wish for them to be scrapped.

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    Who are the student's "representatives"? Are they just any student the department can get on the hallway at that time or are they somehow elected (from a student council or association)? – jDAQ Nov 7 '19 at 23:42
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    They are 'elected' (often by default, in my experience) students within the current cohort and are meant to represent student views. While a nice idea, rarely do these students represent more than themselves or their own, small social circle of friends. – anon Nov 7 '19 at 23:43
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    It seems that the real issue here is that the student representative is not (in your view) accurately representing the position of their constituency as a whole. The route to addressing this lies in trying to increase accountability: do the students have an opportunity to meet and provide input for their representative to present? Are the student body aware of what their representative is saying on their behalf (e.g. are meeting minutes circulated)? I would focus on fixing the real problem, rather than encouraging management to ignore concerns apparently presented through the proper channels. – avid Nov 7 '19 at 23:48
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    @jDAQ We do run module-based surveys whereby students can leave anonymous feedback to staff and more often than not, those criticisms levied in these meetings are not brought up by the vast majority of students. – anon Nov 8 '19 at 0:02
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    This question needs rewriting to be a single question, without the rant and survey aspects. – Anonymous Physicist Nov 10 '19 at 3:36
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[Converting a comment to an answer at the invitation of @hueblue...]

I feel you are focussing on the wrong part of the issue here. It does not make sense to encourage 'management' to ignore the student representative's views; inevitably this will just create problems and bad feeling in the future, when students get the impression that their input is ignored.

The real issue is that (at least in your perception) the student representatives are not doing their job properly: they are using their position as a platform for their personal views, rather than those of the student body at large. It seems to me that this is what you should aim to address. Some things to consider:

  • How well do the student body understand the role played by their representative(s)?
  • How are elections handled? Are they treated as important, or an annoyance to be dispatched as quickly as possible in the first lecture of the year?
  • Is the student body aware of the issues that are being discussed in meetings attended by their representative(s)? Do they know when meetings are due to take place?
  • Are students reminded to send comments to their representative(s) in advance of relevant meetings?
  • Is there a clear, well-advertised, equitable opportunity for the student body to get together and discuss any issues and concerns they have with the representative(s)?
  • Do students have any way of knowing what their representative(s) said in meetings? Are minutes or summaries circulated to the student body at large?

I suspect that at present, the answer to most of the above questions is 'No' - certainly that was the case when I was a student. If you can change some of them to 'Yes', you will probably see a marked improvement in the quality of representation.

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  • I disagree, because these factors should not be under faculty control. They should be under student control. – Anonymous Physicist Nov 10 '19 at 3:34
  • @AnonymousPhysicist I agree, up to a point. But faculty play a role in setting the culture here. If they give students the impression that the representative role is unimportant, then it will be treated as unimportant, and vice versa. Moreover, given that committee business is typically run by faculty, things like publicising agendas and minutes (versus labelling them 'confidential') is very much for faculty to decide. – avid Nov 10 '19 at 6:27
  • @AnonymousPhysicist To give a concrete example, I certainly remember a lecturer on the first day of the year saying with great irritation "I've been told to get you to elect a class rep. Who's going to do it? Come on, someone put their hand up... right, you. Any objections? Done. Now we can get on with class." Clearly this does not lead to students feeling that the process has any great importance. – avid Nov 10 '19 at 6:30
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In our UK, Russel group, STEM department the Staff-Student liason structures seem to work well.

We have a staff-student committee that is attended by any staff member involved in teaching and representatives from every group of students in the department. The students are there as elected representatives, but obviously they bring their own experiences to the table.

The students can and often do raise worries about thing in this meeting and often an explanation of why things are this way is offered, the students are told that the matter will be investigated and the results presented at the next meeting. This usually results in either an explanation, or a small tweak to how things are setup, or an apology that something went wrong. The students are almost always satisfied with this. Part of this is that those in charge are old hands and are very good at making the students feel listened to, without panicking and deciding everything has to change.

We also have a smaller number of student representatives on the Department's teaching committee, which is the departments ultimate policy making body with regards to teaching. Students are there to express their views on matters of policy, and not to raise specific issues. For example, we recently discussed changing our structure in the 3rd year from 10 credit modules to 20 credit ones, thinking the students would prefer this as it would mean fewer exams, but it turns out that the students unanimously preferred the 10 credit system.

Neither of these forums is the right place for a serious complaint about a specific member of staff, and we have a proper complaints procedure to handle this.

In general this all works well. The students are on the whole pretty happy with how things are run, and in return rarely raise vexatious or petty complaints.

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