CETL Student Network (CSN) Event Monday 16th & Tuesday 17th June 2008, Plymouth
Continuing on this series of posts in full CETL conference season, one of the issues that has become apparent concerns the future of the many organisations and networks that have grown up around the 74 Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (lest we forget what the letters actually stand for amid the whole settle/kettle â€œcontroversyâ€).
Weâ€™ve known of the limited lifespan of the CETLs from their very inception, of course, but it has been difficult to keep questions of an existential nature in the forefront of our minds while carrying out our day to day involvement, which was itself never going to be any longer than one or two years. However, with 2010 starting to sound a little less sci-fi (it has of course started popping up in UK news as the likely year of the next general election), questions involving the words â€œwhereâ€ and â€œnextâ€ are bound to start arising more frequently, and with this in mind the CSN organised a final workshop on this subject during the Plymouth event last week.
With direct funding due to end in two yearsâ€™ time, it is uncertain as to whether the network will (or even should) continue to exist. If it is to have a future, then the second challenge is how it will be funded, who will participate, and what purpose it should serve. With a variety of opinions passing to and fro during the discussion at the session, many different ideas and propositions flowed around the room; despite differences over how/why the network can/will/should/must continue (delete as appropriate), it was clear that there was a definite enthusiasm to avoid its demise.
The same questions of course arise on a more local level for the Student Ambassador Network at Sheffield: while CILASS could of course live on in a more compact form, with funding coming from the University or from a particular faculty, school or department, there is a very real possibility that it will come to an abrupt halt and be broken up and incorporated into other departments and initiatives. Though certain to leave a legacy, will part of this be a continuation of the Student Ambassadors?
Even if CILASS lives to see another day â€“ perhaps in a leaner, locally-funded form â€“ the value of the SAN has arguably been in its spread across so many departments and the pooling and sharing of skills amongst what is a very large number of participants. Scale down the SAN and it arguably loses a large part of its raison dâ€™Ãªtre.
There are several useful futures for the network in my mind, most of which involve decoupling the SAN from CILASS and allowing the two organisations to go their separate ways.
For the SAN, this could feasibly mean jumping ship to be funded by the Student Union; one way this might be achieved would be to use the SAN as a replacement for the role of Union Link. Given that so many ambassadors combine the two roles, it would be useful to replace once and for all what is a merely consultative position with the organisational structure and culture of engagement built up within the SAN. True, we might suffer from a lack of oversight from CILASS staff members, but if such supervision is no longer possible we will need to be pragmatic. This first proposal is thus to use the SAN to replace, augment, and extend the work carried out by the Union links.
A second option might be to maintain organisational independence, but to transform the SAN into a working committee or society of the Union. This would then guarantee funding, facilities and necessary infrastructure, but would mean the network becoming student-led â€“ not that this is necessarily a negative, or indeed that this is not at least partially the case already; through the Student Coordinator there is already a significant degree of autonomy. Maintaining links with a newly independent (National) CETL Student Network could lend some legitimacy to such a set-up, but would the voice of ambassadors be reduced by the lack of a Sabine (or Jamie) to provide support?
Perhaps the final option is for the CSN to lobby for direct HEA or HEFCE funding for organisations such as ours to continue semi-independently, with perhaps one member of permanent staff. I donâ€™t know how feasible this might be, but, if possible, would at least remove certain problems with the above proposals.
This is by no means an exhaustive roadmap of where the SAN might head, just an extension of several ideas that have come from the CSN Event and my own response to the confused but enthusiastic range of opinions expressed. Many of these are as applicable to the wider CETL Student community as to our more immediate concerns here, but ultimately, if the SAN and/or CSN are to continue, they will have to evolve and adapt. They must continue to serve a purpose, and in a post-CETL environment it is not immediately clear what this will be.
We might even ask if we should in fact unbind the fate of SAN (or CSN) from that of CILASS (or other CETLs), but it would be a shame for such an enjoyable and worthwhile initiative, which has given so much to those involved (including myself of course) to come to a definite end in 2010AD.