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?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Reach Volunteering: External HR Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree have recently been awa...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot