Written by Sandy Pillay
Travelling from Switzerland, here I was in London on 1st September in front of the impressive Senate House for my induction as a student member of the University of London International Academy’s Systems and Technologies Sub-Committee. It felt already overwhelming to enter for the first time this historic place and also, as it so happened, to see many University College London students wearing their University robes and hats getting ready for their graduation ceremony, together with friends and families. All these happy faces filled with pride made me think about my own graduation ceremony, a couple of years back, with a different University.
This historic institution with all its constituent colleges and research institutes has seen many thousands of students before me and will see many thousands more after I finish my LLM studies. Entering Senate House was also the moment which reinforced my decision to become a student member – I have to do my fair share to help improve students’ learning experience on the International Programmes.
A staff member at the entrance kindly pointed me in the right direction. A few sets of double doors later I found my meeting room. These double doors always intrigue me and make me smile. I’ve seen them only in the UK and while I should be familiar with them, through visiting various offices of British Telecom in the UK for my day job, I can never stop asking myself: why double doors?!!!
My first encounter was with Huw, the Student Affairs Manager, together with Tobias, the chair of the Student Voice Group, soon followed by the other student members of International Academy committees and sub-committees. During the small talk session before we started, I soon realised I was the “newbie” on board as I had no idea about who did what or what my fellow colleagues’ names were. However, this was not intimidating at all, for the simple reason that everyone was friendly, courteous and helpful. Besides, working for a multinational company like BT, I’ve frequently entered rooms full of people where no one knew each other.
The induction meeting started with a formal welcome and introductions. This is when I drew this layout of the conference table on my notebook with the names of all the attendees to at least try to remember some names.
I did prepare myself by reading the information shared by Huw before the meeting, and though I didn’t really know what to expect I was keen and excited to discover what it’s all about. A series of presentations followed throughout the day covering an introduction to the International Programmes, student engagement, student membership: context and challenges, meet and greet with the committee secretaries, and a welcome address by the Pro-Vice Chancellor (International) of the University of London.
I must admit that throughout all these useful sessions there were two main things I was trying to get my head around; firstly, who is who in this academic structure and, secondly, what are all these abbreviations? Some of the titles and abbreviations were meaningful, however sometimes I would have to flick through all my papers to look for a hint. I could not resist drawing parallels to the private sector, more precisely to BT, the company I work for. It appeared to me that both the University of London and BT have many layers of hierarchy, and that it helps to be familiar with all the abbreviations being used. I can imagine someone new starting at BT would also struggle with the abbreviations and jargon we use. Below are two pictures, which shows the similarities between two contrasting institutions.
Though it might sound as if I was trying to grasp Chinese mathematics, it wasn’t despairing at all. I could rely on my fellow student members to ask questions during breaks. During the meet and greet session with the committee secretaries, I was able to ask specific questions about my committee. Gradually I was able to draw my own picture to better understand the committee structure.
One of the main highlights of the induction day was the tour of Senate House. It was a real privilege to see some of these old architectural rooms with high ceilings and art deco lighting i.e. the Court Room, and the Jessel Room which contains portraits of previous chancellors of the University of London, including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. It was also fascinating to see a design of how Senate House was initially conceived as stretching almost 370m from Montague Place to Torrington Street and learn that, due to a lack of funding, only Senate House and the library were completed when the building was constructed in 1937. Some of the anecdotes were thrilling as well, such as the one about the Senate Room chamber. This used to hold meetings of the University’s Senate (comprising 55 representatives from across different University of London Colleges) up until around 10 years ago, but today it’s more likely to be used by law students in mock court room situations! The cherry on the cake was definitely the amazing view over London from the roof top of Senate House. Below are some of the pictures taken during the guided tour.
In the afternoon I attended my first Student Voice Group meeting – it was time to get down to business. There were discussions about student ‘benefits’ and students’ sense of identity, and on how the International Programmes should close the feedback loop on the Student Experience Survey 2015-16. I also agreed to write a post on the International Programmes Official Student Blog – which I timidly accepted and here you have the result!
Finally we wrapped up the session and some of us headed to the student union bar at the Institute of Education for a beer. Despite all the things to digest, I was very satisfied with the whole day – I was pleased with the people I met, and impressed with everyone’s serious-minded approach to improving the learning experience. Above all I have discovered a new sense of purpose, away from my day job, in which I can use my professional skills and experience as a student to contribute to this fantastic journey.
On the way back from central London to Heathrow airport I was able to ask further questions to Tobias, our Student Voice Group chairperson. Here we were, two students on the way home, me heading to Switzerland and Tobias to Germany, all the while using German to talk about the University of London.
In my humble opinion – what can be better than having international students engaged to improve the learning experience of the University of London International Programmes – thank you to the University for giving me an opportunity to be a part of it.
Part two in this series will be published next week. Stay tuned!
Student membership is an important element of YouEngage, the student engagement programme at the University of London International Programmes. Read more about YouEngage by visiting www.londoninternational.ac.uk/youengage