VC hopes student adviser will help him get back in touch with his undergraduates

Most students know nothing about the people who run their university. They probably don't know who the vice-chancellor is and they may never have met the board of governors, or know what it does. At the University of Hertfordshire, however, the top dogs are trying to break down the "them and us" divide and to find out more about student life – through student mentors.

Tim Wilson, the university's vice-chancellor, has his own mentor, a second-year undergraduate of Nigerian origin, Moses Fawehinmi, 20, who's studying economics and business and wants to be a financial analyst – in spite of the recession and the daily glut of gloomy news about banks. On the day of his interview with The Independent, he'd dressed to impress in an exquisite black jacket and fashionable tie.

When he contacts the VC – which he does from time to time, via a text message, sometimes on the spur of the moment, for a cup of coffee and a chat – he does not bother so much with his image. "We talk about how students see things, about the new student forum the university is building, and about the transfer of the law school to the De Havilland campus," Fawehinmi says. "These will be of benefit to students. We also talk about politics, economics and what's happening in the world. Sometimes we share things about our personal lives. I talk about my studies and what I want to do in life. He is very encouraging."

Fawenhinmi is ambitious. He works hard, clocking up four or five hours' study time a day in the learning resource centre in Hatfield after lectures and seminars. He often doesn't leave campus before 11pm for the drive home to Enfield, where he lives with his parents. Last summer, he won a place on a university summer school in Singapore, which he found fascinating and which taught him some global economics. This year, he is hoping to attend another summer school, this time in Korea.

Topics of conversation with the VC include how universities can act as engines for local economies by working closely with industry, helping start-up companies and producing well-qualified graduates for local business.

Fawenhinmi believes other universities would benefit from VCs having student mentors. "Not just vice-chancellors, but also for the governors," he says. "If they each had a student ambassador, they would get a feel for the issues and what they could improve on."

Wilson's first mentor, last year, was Ramat Tejani, who was vice-president of the Islamic Society and now works for a recruitment company. Her family was also originally from Africa – Ghana – and Wilson invited her parents as his guests to last year's graduation ceremony when she got a 2.1 in international business.

The fact that both mentors have been from ethnic minorities is no surprise. Hertfordshire has a high proportion of ethnic minority students; 45 per cent of the 23,500 students are black, Asian or Chinese. "I learnt so much from her in a year," Wilson says. "I didn't know enough about Islam, but I soon learnt things like how a Muslim woman – a female student – fits into Islamic culture."

Tejani had been on Hertfordshire's Year Abroad scheme, spending a year at the University of Connecticut in the United States and gaining a new perspective on the world. Wilson was so impressed by her experience that he tries harder now to promote the scheme and to ensure that all students are made aware of it. "She felt that she grew so much intellectually during that year," Wilson says.

The idea for the mentoring programme came from the university's board of governors, made up of the great and the good – and mainly aged over 50. "The board said that we needed to be able to talk to students," Wilson explains. "They talk to student representatives and they walk around, but they don't have the chance to sit down and talk in depth to students."

So almost all the board members adopted their own student mentor. This made the VC feel that he needed one as well, in addition to the good relationship he has with the president of the students' union and with the student executive. He finds out from his mentor how he gets to university (by car), where he parks (in a nearby residential estate), whether he has any difficulties studying and how he is viewed by others in his community. "It's understanding that side that I really find quite interesting," Wilson says.

The mentors are advertised on the university's virtual learning environment each year, and are chosen by the dean of students after an interview.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the idea. The NUS president, Wes Streeting, said that the student mentors might lead to the sidelining of democratically elected student representatives. "The selection of student representatives by institutions lacks both the legitimacy and independent voice provided by the students' unions," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Arts and Entertainment
Ugne, 32, is a Lithuanian bodybuilder
tvThey include a Lithuanian bodybuilder who believes 'cake is a sin' and the Dalai Lama's personal photographer
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon have just launched their new streaming service in the UK
music
News
Frankie Boyle
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Primary Teacher

£120 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A fantastic school in Haringey are...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 5 Class Teacher

£120 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A fantastic and well achieving pri...

AER Teachers: SEN Teaching Assistant - Islington - September

£65 - £75 per day + competitive rates: AER Teachers: The school is looking to ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Nursery Nurse

£70 - £90 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Are you looking for a new challenge ...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food