Common room presidents have discussed Oxford University’s strategic plan for 2013-18, questioning the university’s two new priorities of “global reach” and “interdisciplinarity.”
At a meeting of JCR and MCR Presidents on Tuesday, students debated whether the 2012 Draft Strategic Plan represented students’ interests.
OUSU President David J Townsend chaired the meeting, which presented the university’s goals for the next five years to common rooms.
Dr Sally Mapstone, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, claimed, “Academic freedom, independent research and the tutorial system still form the absolute bedrock of the university. The five year plan aims to deal with some of the particular problems facing this university.”
The Draft Strategic Plan was released in November 2012, and announced the university’s two focuses. The new first priority is “global reach,” aiming “to develop the university’s position as a global forum for intellectual engagement through the proactive communication of ideas generated at Oxford and through openness to new ideas generated elsewhere.”
The second is “networking, communication and interdisciplinarity,” The university hopes “To build on Oxford’s multiple disciplinary strengths and enable collaborations in new and developing areas. Many of today’s research questions cut across traditional departmental and divisional boundaries.”
The document is the result of a year’s collaboration between colleges, OUSU and the university.
The plan states, “The University of Oxford aims to lead the world in research and education, and to share its work on a national and global scale. We shall realise this vision by taking forward new and transformative approaches to research, teaching and engagement with society.”
But some common room presidents expressed scepticism over the plan’s priorities. Abdossalam Madkhali, Linacre College MCR President, argued, “Oxford needs to put more emphasis on retaining its academic excellence. Global reach is a top priority, but I’m not sure it should be number one. If we don’t have enough funding for students, the crème de la crème will go to other universities, and we will not be able to attain the global reach we aspire to.”
Christian Beck, MCR President at St Edmund Hall, stated, “Global reach comes as a natural repercussion of maintaining adequate funding and academic excellence: they are the less abstract components that can be affected to produce global reach.”
Mapstone defended the emphasis on global reach, saying, “We can’t get complacent. We’re not going to stay number one by focusing on internal affairs. Global reach is something we have to pay attention to.”
Most presidents supported the global focus, requesting more international exchange opportunities for students.
Nicole Sparkes, Merton JCR President, said, “If the university did something so that students didn’t have to organise it themselves, that would be very positive.”
The importance of ‘interdisciplinarity’ was also discussed. One JCR President studying PPE argued, “My course is already very broad. I’m worried I could leave with broad but very shallow knowledge.”
However, presidents agreed that faculties need to collaborate more. Margery Infield, JCR President at St Edmund Hall, stated, “In some cases when you’re doing joint schools, it can feel like no one tutor is taking care of you. It’s easy to feel like you’re falling through the gaps.”
Undergraduates’ responses to the university’s plans have been mixed. Caroline Rogers, an English student at St Hilda’s, commented, “I’m not sure I like the university’s new proposals. Draft Strategic Plan? More like Daft Strategic Plan!”
A spokesperson for the University commented, “The University’s draft plan has been put out for consultation among the Oxford community precisely to give University members the opportunity to feed in their views, and the new Strategic Plan will aim to reflect the priorities and goals of the collegiate University as a whole.”