The student occupation: near future teaching at the real Edinburgh Futures Institute

Students and staff constitute and give meaning to universities—and it is students and staff who should directly and co-operatively control their learning, their teaching, their research, and their contributions to the common good.

At the time of writing, students and staff at the University of Edinburgh are 14 days into an occupation of one of the lecture theatres in the university’s Central area. Reclaiming the name of the university’s high profile project to refurbish the old Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, the occupation has re-named the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre in George Square ‘The Real Edinburgh Futures Institute’. Catalysed by the recent industrial action, the work of the occupation is impressive in lots of ways, but particularly in the thinking it is doing around the future of the university and its teaching.

Occupation 1 at the University of Edinburgh

Those students and staff involved in the occupation have written a declaration which the Near Future Teaching project would like to draw on as it moves forward – in particular the way in which the students have claimed a space to build a vision of education which is ‘free, democratic, and open to all’. Particular directly teaching-related parts of the declaration that can shape the work of the project are these:

  • We resist uncritical education that puts certificates over learning and exploration.
  • We resist assessment systems that force us to compete instead of co-operate.
  • We resist assessment systems that tell us how to teach, learn, and research, and ignore extracurricular learning.
  • We resist hierarchies that defer to credentials before and above the learned experience of teachers, students, and non-academics on the ground.
  • We resist being treated as consumers, and seeing our education treated as a commodity.

Other parts of the declaration cover the structural, governance and finance issues which drive the university, and it ends with this call:

Let us reimagine our curricula together. Let us unite to create the accessible, creative, and democratic universities that we can only achieve together.

The occupation’s web site is here, with some great blog posts, and contact details for those who want to follow up, drop by, or support their work.

Finally, the occupation has also started an open googledoc to which anyone can contribute. The section on Education and Assessment is excellent, and at the time of writing contains the following points:

  • Students involved in designing and updating courses and degree programmes
  • Student participation on defining, diversifying and decolonising syllabi – working with Liberation groups and projects such as Project Myopia
  • Empowering tutors and groups of students to make decisions about accommodations within their courses (eg extensions, alternative assessment)
  • Personalisation of the setting + submission of coursework to fit individual needs
  • Possibility to submit drafts etc
  • Relaxing anonymity rules to do so
  • Attendance and contribution in tutorials removed as a part of course assessment
  • Joint degrees
  • They should focus on overlaps/true joint aspects rather than being two separate single degrees with little communication between them
  • Staff contacts particularly for joint degree courses
  • Community-building (e.g. classes, socials?) for specific joint degree programmes
  • More flexibility within degree structure and information about changing degrees
  • Fewer (no?) requirements for taking courses within certain “subject areas” – too-specific DPRS requirements
  • Creation of an open/flexible degree
  • Smaller tutorial sizes
  • Pedagogical training for lecturers and tutors
  • Minimum hours/rigor TBD – not just a one-day workshop!
  • Diversify education >> not relying solely on massive lecture halls
  • Recording and publishing all lectures
  • Postgraduates should not be required to teach completely outside of their discipline
  • Valuing excellent teaching staff who are not researchers
  • Sanctuary Campus – the university must not be complicit in Home Office regulations (eg re: visas and contact hours) or policies such as Prevent
  • Openly reject such policies
  • Publishing “Contact Points,” or engaging in discussion with students on Tier 4 visas rather than having immigration officers being completely separate from all academic staff and not knowing any of the students
  • Recording and publishing all lectures (asap)
  • Timetables
  • Exam timetables released further in advance
  • Course timetables released further in advance (minimum 1 year?)
  • Exams to be sat in the space (and time?) you take the class
  • Increased transparency on moderation and feedback
  • Focus on quality rather than speed of feedback

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