Springtime in September

The campuses blossomed into new life last week – like the sudden arrival of spring – as our students arrived and returned. By the end of Friday, 23 September, 11,019 (that’s 96%) of our new students had fully enrolled, and 14,890 returning students had re-enrolled (that’s 91%). The sheer numbers involved are remarkable, and the process of enrolment engaged staff and students from across the University. I talked to staff involved, and talked to students in the (mostly, remarkably short) queues for the face-to-face enrolment which is necessary to complete the online pre-enrolment activity. 

Collegiate Campus is bustling once more.

Collegiate Campus is bustling once more.

Enrolment is a massive logistical exercise, but it is about the beginning of – or, for returning students, resuming of – students’ journeys with us. This is where it begins, and it was uplifting and energizing to see the campuses buzzing with activity again. I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for the beginning of academic years: the sense of potential, of anticipation, of excitement is always a bit of a shiver-up-the-spine moment. As a university, we have so much to offer our students, and there is so much opportunity for them. As I have written before, however, the quality of learning experiences is at the core of what we offer. As we start the new year, it is absolutely essential that we address the inconsistencies and challenges in student experience which were highlighted in the National Student Survey – and get better at translating excellence within and across faculties. Although the overall student satisfaction figure for the University fell back, there were outstanding results with over 90% satisfaction in Law; Nutrition; Molecular Biology, Biophysics and Biochemistry; Food and Beverage Studies; Medical Technology; Electronic and Electrical Engineering; Building; Sports Science; Mathematics and Statistics; Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology; Social Policy; Politics; Forensic and Archaeological Science; and Chemistry. For the last four of those, satisfaction was 100%. There is excellence in every faculty – our challenge is to embed and extend it, and it is one of the University’s top priorities for the year ahead: to offer all our students a fantastic, life-changing experience.

As well as enrolment, students were getting to grips with – or getting back to grips with – university life again, making and re-encountering friends, and signing up for those wider activities which make for the experience which Sheffield Hallam offers. I was delighted to be able to spend some time at the Team Hallam induction session for sports club officers; their contribution to the student experience, and to the reputation and achievements of the University, is fundamental.

Of course, for many of our students the summer break provides an opportunity for other life-changing experiences. I’ve already written about our Olympian, Max Litchfield, and his outstanding performance at Rio – two personal bests in successive races. It was fascinating to hear him talking at the Team Hallam induction about the experience of the Olympic Village. And there are other equally notable contributions. Hassun El Zafar, a student in the Sheffield Institute of Education, was one of last year’s Students’ Union sabbaticals. He spent time over the summer teaching refugee children in the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp outside Calais. There are over 10,000 refugees in the camp, and almost 1200 children, a thousand of them unaccompanied minors, from some of the most troubled parts of Africa and the Middle East. You can see a remarkable video about Hassun’s work in the camp, which launches today on the Student Stories area of our website, at www.shu.ac.uk/calais.

The first week of any new academic year is always a week full of opportunity and potential. Our task, across the University, is to realize that potential. Our principal tools for that – consistently excellent teaching, life transforming experiences, generating usable knowledge and engagement with the world – lie at the core of what we do, and make the difference we would want Hallam to make, for all those we come into contact with.

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