Opinion | £20,000 spent on Senate House renaming process further evidence of university 'commercialisation'

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By Scarlett Sheriff, Graduate, French and Spanish  

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After Epigram reported on the £20,000 spent surveying for new names for Senate House, which remains unchanged, one graduating student has had enough with the commercialisation and misallocation of finances at universities.

Since first year, I’ve not stopped going on about the commercialisation of education. Four years later I’m graduating, and nothing has changed. I now find myself compelled to bang on about it, yet again.

I’ve criticised the NUS for not doing enough and doing too much of the wrong thing. Whilst on my year abroad I wrote to the Vice Chancellor to express my support for the UCU pensions strikes. I’ve lambasted students for being too indifferent. I’ve raged against the National Student Survey and repeatedly told everyone to boycott it because the results can be used to justify further tuition fee rises. Even this year, when there wasn’t an official campaign to boycott the survey at Bristol, I wrote in Epigram that final years should do so!

Yet, you don’t have to agree with all that, to know that the University of Bristol have made some shocking publicity mistakes, and squandered a lot of  money over the years. In 2016, failed marketing campaign #cometotheedge aimed to attract prospective students to the University of Bristol. It cost over £200,000, yet despite this gigantic cost the university failed to spot the obvious reality that its connotations would be deemed ‘insensitive’!

It was criticised by students, parents and even an anonymous academic who said, 'why it hasn’t been pulled sooner is beyond me'. While it’s not linked to the recent deaths, the sentiment behind the campaign was in bad taste, especially considering that many students suffer from mental health problems.

After that, you’d think the University might have changed their tune?

Nope. Here we are again, because after liaising with an external ‘strategic management firm’ and a‘communications agency' the university decided to spend £20,000 trying to rename Senate House. The plan of this ‘strategic management firm’ was so brilliantly effective, that the university renamed Senate House, Senate House. Another epic fail!

£20,000 clearly can’t do a lot for a large university, but it’s not nothing, and it certainly shouldn’t have just gone down the drain. Here are several things £20,000 could be far better used for:

  • The amount of times I found myself yelling at my library account because someone had requested a book I was still using! £20,000 could buy quite a lot of books and no one who has had to traipse through the ASS could disagree that this is a necessity.
  • £20,000 could also give 20 students who, for any reason, find themselves in a tricky financial rut £1,000 each, without them having to repay it
  • £20,000 could be a great help to a member of staff on a temporary or zero hours contract
  • £20,000 could go to a member of staff’s pension
  • £20,000 could go towards funding some outreach events in Bristol city
  • £20,000 could be a valuable grant for a student who is a parent or carer.

Instead £20,000 was wasted on failed ‘marketing’.

Obviously, to survive, the University has to attract new students. This is increasingly important nowadays. Even though unrepaid student loans (and given the job market at the moment, there’s a lot) are taxpayer funded, universities are increasingly functioning like businesses with Vice Chancellor’s being paid as though they are CEOs, often earning substantially more than the Prime Minister.

I am aware that this is not likely to change, and that there are reasons why many people validly argue it shouldn’t. However, whilst students obligingly take on the debt, and academics plough on with their teaching and research, it has got to the point where we are all being taken for a ride.

‘Have Your Say’ they called the campaign, as if they actually think we’re stupid enough to take that seriously.

I really hope that it was some kind of clever, reverse publicity stunt that will have a net economic benefit for the university, but maths isn’t my thing, so I wouldn’t know.

What I do know is that here I am, graduating, and I sound far too cynical for my liking. The fact is I’m very lucky. I am very thankful for the brilliant time I have had at university. I’m thankful for the lecturers and tutors, as well as for extra-curriculars like the student newspaper, which has given me great writing and time/chaos management practise.

Yet, I leave with the ability to think independently, and knowing that really, education isn’t a ‘product’ or a piece of paper to be bought - it is a right, a necessity, and a lifetime of experiences.

Education is not just being equipped to contribute positively to society, it is also having the willingness to do so. Money spent on successful or unsuccessful marketing campaigns makes education a consumer good, and society doesn’t need more blind consumers.

It needs lawyers who can fight for legal aid, academics who can change the conversation, and scientists who can develop drugs that cure cancer. It needs journalists to hold the powerful to account, carers to care for the senile elderly, and people who check on their frail neighbour.

Featured Image: Epigram / Imogen Horton


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