If higher ed doesn't interest you neither will this blog post. You've been warned.
I'm learning so much about other ways of doing things. The U of Sheffield is one of the Russell Group schools, the top tier of universities in England, against which they all benchmark each other. It is also one of the 'red brick' universities, Victorian-era schools that leaned away from the liberal arts (as Oxford and Cambridge) and toward research and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs. Being a red brick, Russell Group school means that it does things well. Although their campuses and histories are very different, I see several similarities with Clemson: size of student population, research emphasis, "Top 25", and engaged student bodies, to name a few. The Student Union here is top rated across the UK, and I've been so impressed with it. It is a completely separate entity from the University, completely run and funded by students via their elected representatives. Much of what Clemson (and US universities in general) provides in the way of activities, restaurant venues, student support, facilities, programming... is handled 100% by students here. They hire a manager of the Union, who in this case is very effective in collaborating with the University. Relations between the Student Union and the University are currently professional and cordial and cooperative, but the two are completely distinct. It's an interesting model to observe.
I see a very strong model within the University itself of collaboration and student support. It seems everyone I meet with has a job that requires them at many points to work in conjunction with other departments or people. The silo approach to departments seems not to exist. Maybe I have dug far enough to find it, but it's a very different approach from what I've studied/seen before. Sometimes I fear that on some American campuses, the point of higher ed -- the EDUCATION -- piece, sometimes gets lost, or at least obscured by layers of jargon and programming. I remember at the ACPA conference being stunned by the dearth of actual helpful information about supporting students in their academic studies. Here, a bachelor's degree is achieved in three years, not four, and the academic piece is paramount. To see student affairs at work is to see things revolve around making student's academic life succeed. Some of the functions that student affairs in the States takes on, are handled through the Student Union, and thus for and by students (or those hired by students) themselves.
The project I'm working on here integrates many people and I've tried to take advantage of interviewing as many folks as I can, under the auspices of my project. Really, however, I'm just trying to be a sponge and learn how it is done, what the similarities/differences are, what they see their challenges as. I am catching a glimpse of administration on a large campus in action (as a fly on the wall). It would be nice to think that I could come back to the states and get a job putting these perspectives to use. Here's hoping.