Diminished module options cause student outcry in Exeter’s Humanities Colleges

Tom Murray-Richards

When next year’s modules for current History and English second years were released in February, problems immediately arose. History students were quick to realise that their module selection for third year had decreased from 10 options in 2010/2011 to only 5 for the forthcoming year. Current history second year Kat Mycock said she was frustrated that the department ‘can’t offer what was originally promised’.

Jess Meechan is a second year Exeter English student and desperately wanted to take the children’s literature module next year, which, along with a similarly popular women’s writing module, has been removed. Although officially these modules are being replaced, Jess explained that they need at least ten students to pick them in order to run, and she wasn’t sure ten students from her cohort would even pick these new modules. ‘There isn’t a lot of interest in the replacements’, she said. Jess wants to go into a career in this field, and feels that there ‘could be better replacements’ and that it ‘wouldn’t be that difficult’ to run the module, but that it would help her enormously for the future.

She quips that she ‘didn’t realise that research led meant that we would miss out’. Although this situation was a result of multiple staff going on research leave, one Professor retiring and further staff going on maternity leave, the student voice was clearly apprehensive for the upcoming year. . Louis Allen, second year historian, said ‘a lot of students feel disappointed that what was offered in the prospectus is no longer offered’

One could easily be empathetic, especially considering that many, like Jess, seem to feel their degree ‘all suddenly changed’. Laura Angove-Weeks, a first year History student, said that ‘students like continuity’ and that ‘being at a Russel Group uni means you expect to have more control over your degree’. She continues: ‘I think that one of the benefits of a top uni is that module choice is larger’.

Frustration is the overriding emotion, summed up by Louis who said, ‘this could have been easily avoided’. He says that ‘systems should be in place to prepare for this sort of thing’ and ‘whoever is involved should have noticed this sooner’.

One of the actions taken by students was a petition, which was led by Tom Fidler and Immy Sykes, chairs of History and English SSLCs (Student Staff Liaison Committee) respectively. Students were generally supportive of this, and Laura said that it was ‘quite cool to see’ and that it showed ‘that students will speak up and use resources [available to them]’.

However, Kat said that she felt SSLCs could only do so much, and the problem ‘needs more direct action’. Emails were sent to Andrew Thorpe, Dean of the College of Humanities, and a meeting was arranged with Dr Jason Hall, Head of Humanities in Penryn. Louis, who was in the meeting, said he felt ‘positive but a little frustrated that it hadn’t already been in the works’. Louis said Jason, specifically looking at History said they ‘are hoping to reinvest the money (from the retirement of History Professor Alan Booth) into the college’ by recruiting more staff. Louis said he wonders ‘if we hadn’t said anything whether anything would happen’.

Much of the frustration seemed to be directed at the department, but everyone I spoke to said that the problem was not with the quality of the teaching they received currently, but merely with a lack of staff numbers. Laura thinks this is part of a bigger problem with the divide between ‘neglected’ Penryn and Streatham campus. She says ‘the Dean should come down and explain’ and that there ‘could be a little more support from staff’.

“ Frustration is the overriding emotion ”

Jess said the department ‘should be growing not getting smaller’ and that her original concern about harming the uni’s reputation was unhelpful in getting a result. ‘If I was at Streatham it would be different’, says Jess. She came down to Penryn instead for our amazing student staff ratio, but also our module choice, which she feels has been torn away. Bad luck meant the module chaos erupted at the same time as March of death/deadlines. Kat wishes that ‘we could choose modules after exams to make a better judgement’.

Those students involved also sought advice from Rhun Davies, our FXU Exeter President for 2014/15, who has offered constructive help and has spoken to higher echelons of university staff on students behalf. Kat was impressed, saying that FXU had ‘done as much as they could do’.

All this positive action by students and staff has resulted in one full time and one part time lecturer both the in English and History Departments next year. This really reinforced belief in the student voice, especially as Director of Education for Penryn Humanities, Richard Noakes, has specifically asked for student feedback in helping select new staff, which has come in droves on Facebook pages. The adverts for new staff will be going out soon, and as a student body we now have a greater chance of having more modules for third year! At this point, the result students all wanted is in sight. Thanks go to many members of staff, especially Jason Hall and Richard Noakes, who were sympathetic to student concerns. Also, Rhun Davies, our Exeter President, has continued to represent us in University meetings, and listen and act on student voices. In the end, faith has been restored in the power of the student voice here, in FXU and the SSLCs, and once again students are full of optimism for next year.