by NICK SCOTT
Alasdair Smith is Sussex
Universityís numero uno. As
Vice-Chancellor, his vision
informs the way Sussex is run and
determines how the future for
Sussex will pan out. The badger
met up with him this week to discuss
his views on fees, the new
schools of study due to be introduced
this Autumn, security on campus
and the Universityís relationship
with the Union.
Thereíve been lots of changes on
campus recently, is there a vision
for Sussex in a few yearsí time?
Sussex is a broad-based university,
covering a wide range of subjects and
doing well across a wide range of subjects.
Broad-based universities like us
compete essentially on quality. We
want to be seen to be a very high-quality
institution in teaching and research,
and thatís the fundamental objective
my mind - that over the next five years
we will improve the quality of our
teaching and research and be recognized
Do you see research as vital to
bringing in money for the university?
What is the place of business at
All universities are building up their
links with business. We are encouraged
by the government to do that. As
that brings in money, it enables us to
do a better job in teaching and
research. If you look at the universities
that have done best in earning extra
income, theyíre the ones with the
more favourable student-staff ratios.
Iíve seen a few comments in the badger
about me wanting to turn the university
into a cash cow, as if somehow
we were going to charge higher fees
order to generate income from teaching
to put it into business. Thatís exactly
the wrong way around, such involvement
in business and income-generation
as we have is in order to generate
income to put into teaching.
You Ďbroadly welcomedí the government
announcement on fees,
do you see Sussex as being one of
the first to welcome higher fees?
Itís not a question of anybody being
first. All universities in October 2006
will have to decide what their fee is.
isnít even a question of who has topup-
fees and who doesnít. We can set
fee of anywhere between 0 and 3000
pounds, and weíd all have to make
that decision. Would I expect Sussex to
be one of the small number of universities
setting a £3000 fee? No. But
donít know how thatís going to turn
out. I donít know that itís only going to
be a small number of universities setting
a £3000 fee. It might well be that
quite a large number of universities will
set a £3000 fee, and if they do then
there would be a very strong incentive
for us to be among them.
Do you think the system will be
It wonít necessarily be a very tiered system,
but universities will look at what
other universities are doing. One of the
things about having the freedom to set
our undergraduate fees that people
often donít realize is that itís not new.
Every university looks at what other
universities are doing. In setting undergraduate
fees we will have to do the
same. We donít end up with a twotiered
system for overseas student
fees, or for postgraduate fees. You end
up with a bit of a spread on fees and
where Sussex places itself in that
spread depends on what other universities
like us are doing.
What about those from poorer
Letís suppose the University fee is
£2,500. The government will then pay
us £2500 for every home student. A
student from a well-off background
will then have £2500 added in to the
debt that they have to pay after graduation.
A student from a poorer background
- and I think it is a student
whose family income is below £10,000
- will have a £1000 maintance grant
but will also have £1,100 subtracted
from their fee debt. Theyíll only carry
£1400 as debt but the university will
receive the same money.
The provision that is made in this
new system for students from poorer
backgrounds is not at all generous, but
it is welcome that there is some.
Do you think that following the
American system is a good thing?
Should we do this in other matters,
such as foreign policy?
I think it is a mistake to think that
youíve got to take one politicianís
views as a package. Blair is going in the
right direction on university fees and
funding, and going in absolutely the
wrong direction on Iraq. I think that an
American and British attack on Iraq
would be a disaster.
The American education system is
much, much more successful than any
of the continental European higher
education systems, which are mostly
under-funded, low-quality mass production
higher education systems.
Blairís government is making a strategic
decision for higher education to go
more in a North American direction
than in a continental European direction
and I think that is absolutely the
Do you think that senior management
is communicating well with
Iím sure [senior management] could do
better [at communicating]. The main
tools that we try to use for internal
communications are the university
Bulletin and the web, and it may be
that not enough of our students donít
commonly read university news on the
web or the university Bulletin. I actually
donít know what the student readership
is of the Bulletin as compared
with the badger. I certainly read the
badger regularly, but Iíd be open to the
idea of us using the badger more to
communicate with students.
How do you see student publications
like the badger?
A student publication should serve the
students, not the studentsí union.
has to be independent and will probably
quite often say things that will
annoy university managers. As long as
the badger is happy to print replies,
thatís fine by me.
Many students have been concerned
about the lack of contact
hours for arts students at Sussex.
Are there any plans to change the
There has been a major revision of the
arts curriculum. I think it probably has
been quite widely discussed with students.
One of the major incentives of
changing the arts curriculum is to tackle
the contact hours issue. [Low contact
hours} is probably the most common
source of letters of complaint
get from studentsí parents. More
courses, more lectures as well as seminars
will give a better balance and give
more contact time. Many university
degrees work because of having students
doing work on their own, and
we shouldnít be looking for students
spending half their working week
actually in class, [but] you cannot stick
twice the number of students into the
same kind of teaching occasion and
expect that itís going to be satisfactory.
Thereís a lot of misinformation
about at the moment over new
schools, can you briefly explain
Switching from the old schools to the
new schools is a huge project. Iím well
aware of the need to keep students
informed, especially about arrangements
for teaching students in the old
curriculum.We are now in a position
where weíll be able to go out and tell
students in much more detail about
how things will work under the new
arrangements. In broad terms, students
who are already here will continue
with their existing courses and may
see some changes in detail about the
way that school offices are managed
and so on, but shouldnít see any major
changes taking place as far as their
teaching is concerned.
How safe is campus?
I think [campus] is reasonably safe. It is
an open campus and an open campus
can never be made completely secure
against all eventualities. I think we
have a reasonable balance between
openess and security. In the light of the
incident we are seeing where we do
further things to improve security. The
top priority for security is the security
of campus residences.
Should a major security-related
incident occur, does the buck stop
The buck stops here.
How has security been stepped up
since the rape?
It hasnít been a matter of hiring extra
members of staff, itís a matter of
changing the pattern of staffing to see
that the biggest risks are getting the
Does the Union do a good job?
The Union does a good job, though its
circumstances are not always easy.
Is there a culture of confrontation
between the University and
It varies . . . I donít find it excessively
confrontational. It wouldnít be a
healthy situation if the Studentsí Union
and the management of the university
were always all cuddled up to each
Is the Union adequately funded?
A working group is looking at Union
funding. We havenít gone in to the
conversations seeking to lay down the
law. We are aiming to achieve agreement
on what are the full range of
services the Studentsí Union should be
providing and what level of funding
we need to do a good job.
Will decisions take effect this year?
Changes that this group agree wonít
take effect till next year, but will be
helpful in deciding whatís the best
way to resolve this yearís problems.
The only point at issue is the extent at
which any shorfall in Studentsí Union
funding should be met out of the
Studentsí Union reserves. My view is
that the Studentsí Union has quite
substantial reserves. Reserves exist to
be used in a diffcult year. The university
has put in a lot of additional funding
to help with this yearís problems, and it
is reasonable to expect there should be
a contribution from Studentsí Union
One of the issues we are reviewing
is exactly how much the Union should
rely on commercial services. The main
reason the Studentsí Union budget is
in difficulty at the moment is because
some of the commercial ventures have
turned out to be more difficult to manage
than had been anticipated. Iíve
got an open mind about whether we
should be looking at having the
Studentsí Union take on quite a wide
range of commercial services, bars and
shop, and that would be able to fund
some of the activites on the profits of
these activities or whether we should
be aiming to have the Studentsí Union
running relatively few commercial services,
in which case Iíd recognise the
university would then have to pay a
Finally, how do you feel about the
proposed no-confidence motion?
Iím completely relaxed about it.