Testimonials from students and academic staff at the Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship
These are the testimonials of some of the members of staff and students of the
Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship (ICCE) as a reaction to
proposed centralisation of student-facing services and threats to the jobs of
department based administrative and professional staff. Featured staff and
students would like to request that this information is treated with respect and
London, 12th November 2021
In the 20+ years I have been working on the MA ACP and other post-graduate programmes both in ICCE and TAP, having frontline departmental administrative staff has in my view been the single most important factor in ensuring students from all over the world and all different disciplines are able to properly access all aspects of their student experience.
While there may be no formal category of employment named troubleshooting, a single point of contact where the vast majority of operational bucks actually stop or are intelligently, accurately, sensitively and personally referred on – is the WD40 that enables the department to function. Instead, what Management is proposing will operate as gaffer tape – a great tool in itself, but not up to this job. Please reconsider.
The loss of the BAAM administrative team would be short-sighted and severely reduce the quality of service and care to our students. Trevor and Keara are an integral part of the BAAM team. They come with enormous department knowledge, course expertise, industry knowledge and a thorough understanding of how Goldsmiths works, in addition to a genuine care and concern for the student experience. In my early years of working as an academic at Goldsmiths, I was very dependent on them in helping me to navigate the systems, processes, and institution. I cannot imagine how the course and the department will continue to manage efficiently without their input and urge the senior management team to reconsider this restructuring.
One of the most important aspects of professional and administrative staff in ICCE is that all of them are people with experience, knowledge and expertise in the fields that we cover in our teaching, research and practice.
Keara and Trevor, as well as Mary that worked with us in the BA Arts Management until recently, are all practicing artists, directors, producers, arts managers. Some of them also have the experience of studying at Goldsmiths, which helps them understand the student experience. The level of engagement, empathy and dedication that they invest in our programme and the space we jointly create with students is immeasurable. It is very clear to everyone that is working with students on everyday basis that students experience, as well as a high level of student retention that we have as a programme, would not be possible in this way without these kinds of profiles of our administrative and professional staff and their closeness to the ground.
We are really lucky to get the opportunity to work with amazing DBM’s and their Assistants in the central ICCE office – Angelique, Zehra, Vivien and the team around them – Nkechi and Vero. Our Institute is a complex entity and does not function as a standard academic department. This is also reflected in our student body that come with so many different needs. I simply can’t see how a centralised college administration could do all the things that this department, and especially our students need.
I honestly hope that as a college, we will become more open to hear and then come up with alternatives to this kind of restructuring, without any evidence that it can bring us and our students anything good. I hope there is still time to keep what is good and focus on the change that could actually improve our work and student experience.
This is a testimonial based on decades of experience in academia, including leadership roles as a Deputy Dean and Dean, on the importance of having administrative and professional staff working within departments and not as a centralised service.
Working within departments, these essential members of staff are of great benefit to students as they act as the outward facing side of the department solving problems and enhancing the student experience. They play a vital role in ensuring the efficient delivery of programmes through their close liaison with teaching teams and students. They are an active point of contact with our international partners and help facilitate collaborative research with universities overseas. My experience is not limited to the UK as I have held senior executive posts elsewhere in Europe and Asia, and can assure you that I have chosen my words with care.
Student, MA Arts Administration and Cultural Policy
2020/21 was a difficult year to start an MA at Goldsmiths. Of necessity the normal delivery method for lectures moved online requiring everyone to get up to speed, at pace, with a new way of working and communicating. Regardless of the pandemic our global cohort had to be onboarded to the department, queries answered, assessments collated and results communicated to students in a timely manner. Behind the scenes, unseen by the students, the department had to be dynamic enough to respond to the ever-changing covid situation whilst still giving students a challenging and meaningful experience. The combined stress of studying in less than ideal situations, worries about physical and mental health and limited access to the library meant that unprecedented numbers of students asked for, and were granted, extensions for assessments pushing an already tight schedule to the limit. At the limit is where the administrators are found. I personally had emails from admin staff which had been written long after the ‘office’ had closed. They are the ones uploading vital assessment results to the VLE. They are the ones fielding demands both from students and the department. They are the ones smoothing the many moving parts of an academic department; the more talented they are the more invisible they become.
The lecturers for my course, Arts Administration and Cultural Policy were, without exception, brilliant. They guided us through, finding imaginative ways to deliver content and crucially, in times of great stress, responding to queries in an amazingly timely manner – often within the hour.
As I think about the potential cuts to the administrative staff at ICCE I wonder what will be lost? Will the department have the capacity to respond so robustly to the next challenge? because the only certainty is that this challenge, though extreme, won’t be the last. Will the student experience, deprived of the administrative support which makes the department run smoothly be poorer? In my opinion almost certainly. Maybe not at first, the department will flex, expectations will be lowered. My concern is for the long term, as services are gradually eroded and staff become overburdened leaving less and less time for the imaginative, innovative, creative teaching that ICCE and Goldsmiths is known for. The question is what is Goldsmiths without its distinctiveness? In the long term this is a question prospective students might well ask as they select which university to invest in.
In difficult financial times it is easy to cut what cannot immediately be seen, but without the support of staff who work unseen and often “at the limits” the integrity of the whole is lost.
Student, BA Arts Management
The admin staff for ICCE (Trevor and Keara) are diligent to supporting the needs of students. They are not only professional and prompt but take care in the important work that they do in providing students with valuable campus information, from Covid updates to extenuating circumstances to career opportunities. Alongside our lectures administrators are another source of support to helping students feel welcomed and adjust to university life, it would not be the same without them.
The administrative team in ICCE is the best of so many departments. They take students and faculty’s needs seriously. They keep everyone in line and they do it with a smile. They are able to problem solve and build better processes and systems to ensure an ease of working.
Vivien Ten Have: She is the ultimate. She handled the job of four people during an unprecedented time. Saving the department and the college money and ensuring that none of this impacted the students negatively!
Nkechi: NK came into the position with a full plate and a full heart. She has worked tirelessly to make the department run smoothly and contributed to making the lives of students better each day. Her organisation, positivity and capability has really made an impact on the way students perceive our administration. She is an excellent. And necessary part of our department!
Vero: Vero has handled the incredible workload with care and grace. She has improved on processes since the first day of her employment and does all of this a half the time people have. She is cognisant of budget and prepares exquisite internal and external materials and events.
Trevor: Trevor takes on a multitude of tasks and responsibility and handles it all exquisitely and with care. The UG students experience will be deeply impacted at the thought of his loss.
Keara: Keara has shown her ability to thrive time and time again. She manages to do intense workloads under severe time pressures and doesn’t bat an eyelid. She is integral to the team and the department.
Director MA Cultural Policy, Relations and Diplomacy
Director MA Tourism and Cultural Policy
Goldsmiths will not be able to continue to offer students the wonderful experiences that become our alumni’s treasured memories if it is not able to retain professional colleagues working alongside academics in the departments.
Professional and support staff are the soul of the institution, the face of the departments, they do heart work and practical work, which is an essential scaffolding to sustain the work academics do by intellectually inspiring and challenging students. I hope College can keep a percentage for emotion as part of their economic and financial calculations. This is crucial to distinguish Goldsmiths from other institutions.
Since learning of the restructuring plans, I have found myself planning what life would be like if all of the things our amazing admin team do currently were moved from them onto academic staff or centrally. I principally see the impact of these through two prisms.
The first, and most important for me, relates to the student experience. In my Chairing of Student Voice over the past few academic years, I have seen the way that ICCE seeks to positively and constructively engage with our students – listening to them and responding to their feedback. The role of the admin team in this is absolutely central. From responding quickly to student queries and making them feel valued, to the ’nuts and bolts’ of scheduling the meetings, collating the feedback in the form of SMERFs etc and disseminating them to facilitate discussion. The recent NSS scores in the UG department at ICCE – the best in Goldsmiths as I understand it – is down in no small part to the work of the admin. On a very basic and instrumental level, we would not have achieved these NSS scores if our admin team were not in place. I have absolutely no doubt about that.
The second factor relates to academic workload. The idea that the myriad of tasks undertaken by the admin team could be shared amongst academic staff and them be completed in the timely and precise fashion they currently are is simply unimaginable. Picking just one example – academic misconduct, for instance – requires immense oversight over a journey which goes through various iterations and stages, with plagiarism forms, meetings held, responses collected, and the ongoing task of monitoring future instances and connecting the dots. Again, the idea that this could be effectively done by either academic staff or by a central office looking after hundreds of students is entirely unrealistic. And this is just one example of the work they do. There are countless others. Ultimately, the loss of the admin team with mean the students will suffer. Isn’t that what we are supposed to be putting first?
Student, BA Arts Management
Being an international student, I’ve had a different education culture my whole life. And for that very reason, I struggled in my year 1. The only way I got on track was because of the support of my department. ICCE is not just a department for me but it’s a family. We’re small cohorts who are so close to each other that we always have each other’s back! Professors have always been with us through thick and thin no matter what the situation is. Getting response from department team within some hours and helping us to do everything and be everywhere at the right time. I believe no other University shows so much support for their students as much as the ICCE department from Goldsmiths does.
With regards to the PhD programme administrative staff has been fundamental in supporting the experience of PhD students in ICCE – organising their welcome and induction activities, collecting their supervision forms and keeping student records, helping organise the research seminar series, by booking rooms, putting the programme together and inviting staff and students to attend the sessions, and also booking students upgrades/viva exams and keeping important records.
They tend to be the first point of contact for students who are experiencing any issues in London (concerning, for instance, accommodation, visas, college id card, etc.) and as such provide essential support and pastoral care to the PhD community in the Department. Losing ICCE professional and support staff will be detrimental to the student experience, not only in terms of the lack of personalised support/service provision, but also in terms of increasing the workload of academic staff, who will be under even more pressure to perform at a time when they are already overworked and exhausted.
As a part-time, associate lecturer the assistance that ICCE professional and support staff provide is crucial for my effective delivery of a quality service to students. They offer vital course expertise, familiarity with the students, and continuity of contact.
It has also been noticeable over the last couple of years the significant and growing role that they play in supporting the health and well-being of students. This is so important to the ICCE student experience, and only possible because these staff members connect on a person-centred level.
OLIVER PETERSON GILBERT
Post-Doctoral Research Assistant
Having joined ICCE during the pandemic without face-to-face contact with colleagues, our professional and support staff were vital in sharing their knowledge and experience of the department that I could not get elsewhere. This has continued into the present where effectiveness of my teaching and research practice rests upon the support and guidance of the ICCE professional and support staff. They bring highly developed knowledges of ICCE specific procedures, ICCE specific student challenges and opportunities, and ICCE specific career opportunities which are crucial to the success of the department. Such knowledge and experience is hard won and easily lost.
Student, MA Events and Experience Management
I am a master’s student who has just finished my course. Part of this achievement is because of the information on how to attend online classes, handing in assignments, and getting to know the standard procedures of the college was very well organized by the administrative staff. These employees have always attended to me promptly and have been willing to solve any problem I might be facing. Now I am part of a group that is producing an extracurricular work for Goldsmiths that will benefit everyone: the reputation of the college, the course, and the university community. This work is also possible thanks to the efforts of the administrative staff who help us with all the preparation involved in this activity. These are extremely important professionals for students and teachers. Without them, the simple desire to teach or learn can take on the unnecessary weight of poorly organized information, decentralized administration, or a bureaucratic educational experience. In an especially uncertain time, losing those who assure us the clarity of processes seems to be an intemperate and cruel attitude, which does not match the experience I have had with the support of administrative staff.
ADRIAN DE LA COURT
Director MA Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship
The MA Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship is a very complex programme that has seven pathways and works with and across other departments in Goldsmiths to deliver content.
We have an administrative team who know the complexity of how the programme operates and the complexity of choice for the students. The admin team have experience and knowledge of this programme and so ensure its smooth and efficient operation. This programme could not be administered or supported by a centralised team.
The ICCE Senior Administrator works above and beyond their role in not only supporting the programmes, students, and the efficient management of the department but also in supporting the academic staff within the team.
Our administrative team are the student facing support for the department and provide an invaluable and personal service. They support our students through the programmes. It is vital that student have familiar and approachable members of the admin team that they feel comfortable to request support from. Students are less likely to engage with and request support from an anonymous centralised service. The value of a dedicated departmental team is that they know all academic and support staff, they know the students, and they know each academic programme inside out.
Developing a centralised administrative team would undoubtedly de-personalise these relationships and loose the dedicated knowledge of the department.
Deputy Director ICCE
There are countless operational positive examples that could be given, and also an overarching set of values that having localised professional support gives to the student and staff experience. Without a full outline of all the touchpoints of student and staff experience showing how there are local/departmental weaknesses and that a more centralised support structure could bring efficiencies, savings and a more coherent experience for students it is difficult to have confidence in the decisions. This is a time of huge change, externally and students and staff are returning to campus with a lot of questions and fears, I believe that it is only by having people who are known, accessible and with clear industry and subject knowledge that some of this is going to be overcome.
Two examples come to my mind, on the MA CCE we attract a number of students who have not had a first degree but great experiential learning – these students usually excel and gain a Distinction and, in this example, move on to a PhD as well as an investable business. However, this student nearly dropped out on their first welcome week – in the evening after the departmental induction, she disappeared to the loo, our PG Coordinator noticed their absence, and found them preparing to leave and to leave the programme as they did not have confidence in their abilities, they found campus intimidating, were worried about expressing their concerns to an academic and the SU offer focused more on younger people. Our Coordinator talked with them, reassured them and encouraged them to talk with me as programme coordinator. Without this the student has told me they would have left.
A more personal example, I have poor mental health and the administrative team have worked with me to ensure that meetings that I chair in the department are timed around my health needs, and they recognise an agreed signal from me when I need their support or time. This has led to me being able to not take time off sick. I cannot see how in the new system either would be successfully accommodated.
CINTHIA REIS PONTES E SILVA
Student, MA Events and Experience Management
The admin staff has always been very supportive and has done a great job in the department. We have been offered the possibility to develop extracurricular activities on campus and that would not have been possible without the ICCE admin staff, as they have supported us in every step we have taken, they know who we have to contact every time we need to take a further step and they have guided us through those admin processes that we lack knowledge of. I cannot imagine the department working without them as they are a key piece to make things run smoothly.
I’d like to add my support for the wonderful administrators at ICCE. As an associate lecturer teaching on one module a year for the past four years, I would have been completely lost without the support of Vivien and the others I have been helped by throughout, including the current team of Nk and Vero. They have all been constantly available, cheerful, responsive and helpful; not once has anyone expressed irritated at a simplistic question or annoying request, and they have been patient, efficient, attentive to detail and extremely kind. They are also full of humour and positively revel in a successful solution of a problem, whether for staff or students.
I deputised for the Programme Manager while she was on maternity leave last year and I could not have done this without the support of Vivien, Zehra and others, of course academic colleagues were also helpful but the day-to-day panics were brilliantly managed by the unflappable admin team. Vivien also came to general student online sessions where she gave wise advice on managing mental health problems, and I know comforted and counselled many distressed students with an ideal combination of sympathy and clear methods for improving their situation.
During the pandemic the administrators worked even harder than usual and were determined to resolve any additional problems swiftly. The fact that we were able to continue delivering the programme and cope with the extra stresses, which affected every part of teaching and learning, was down to their immensely hard work. They know the system inside-out and can move quickly to resolve any hitches.
To consider redundancies in this department is both unfair and unproductive. Using a central admin system will take longer to resolve specific departmental problems as those being asked will not immediately know the answers. Having a friendly and skilled person to go to is vital, especially for overseas students feeling unsure or alone, and both fulltime staff, visiting staff like me, and students year after year, appreciate this extremely highly. The student-facing, friendly and supportive reputation of Goldsmiths as well as its academic reputation, is at stake; teaching staff cannot function without this excellent administrative support. Don’t destroy this by a cruel action which will be perceived as heartless, and which will worsen everybody’s circumstances.
Teaching at Goldsmiths since 2016, with experience across BA, MA, and PhD programmes gives me evidence to conclude that replacement of our departmental office with central services will cause significant damage to student learning, and to research quality and output.
Professional services staff are vital components of the university and should be valued and supported accordingly. They deliver quick access to deeply detailed, programme and module specific information via their embedded knowledge and provide highly visible, stable accessibility. This resource is extremely unlikely to be replicable in a centralised model. Central systems such as wellbeing / student support services, IT, and timetabling are clearly already overburdened, often to the point of failure, meaning that regularly departmental offices take over many tasks already. Referrals to increasingly anonymous systems at crucial pinch points such as submission deadlines could have drastic consequences for individual students. Departmental staff have proven crucial in identifying student problems, often when the students have been unable to articulate the issue themselves, but through continued and expert connection with the student base and their consequent ability to see patterns, ICCE departmental office staff have been able to help avoid catastrophic outcomes for students.
It is important to emphasise it is the combination of speed, and of access to highly specialised knowledge and support that helps enable student safety, satisfaction, and for instance BA Art Management’s extremely successful NSS scores. Loss of this resource will have negative impacts on student mental health, decreased satisfaction with degree programmes, and thus undermine the College’s business model.
There are also knock-on impacts of reduced professional services staff provision that will further undermine College operations. Increased workloads for academic staff, already operating over capacity before the pandemic, and now approaching 18 months of working in an emergency state, will have serious negative implications both for teaching provision and for research. Both will again weaken the College’s business model through reduced recruitment, funding, and further worsening reputational damage.
Short term cost-cutting in this way undermines Goldsmiths’ chances of long-term survival. Destabilising student experience and continued weakening of research capacity do not serve College strategic aims.
ICCE professional service staff do an incredible job in extremely challenging circumstances, reduction and removal of their roles and resources harms the College as a whole.
Student, MA Arts Administration and Cultural Policy
I have read about the restructuring and was not sure how that would translate in our department and course. We had already been struggling with the limited administration to cover all the support needed for the students across the department which actually needed us as reps to jump in (happily) to support. I can not begin to imagine the department having to do this with any less admin support and I can not fathom how that would translate on the scale of student experience.
Those are times of great change and the model by which the department and students engage and work together on shaping the academic experience is constantly shifting and a big part of this should be on Goldsmiths to shape up the student experience and provided service. A factor that loss of department administration is certainly going to negatively impact. In fact, and from my experience as student rep of MA Arts Administration and Cultural Policy for 2020/21, I am very grateful for the administration team at ICCE (Vivien, Zehra and Nkechi) for I saw how they struggled over the past year to stay on the top of the jobs and provide us with the basic services and support we needed throughout the year and how overwhelming that already was and thus am quite shocked to see the decision to cut down department administration at this critical point.
Director, MA Events and Experience Management
The administrative staff have played an essential role in the smooth running of the MA Events and Experience Management as it is a complex programme with numerous contributions from ALs as well as guest speakers from the cultural and creative industries, ranging from National Gallery to Time Out. Organising site visits, workshops and talks by professional guest speakers, volunteering and interning opportunities etc is a time-consuming process that requires attention to details. We would not have been able to offer the wide range of opportunities to connect with the industry without the help of our excellent admin staff.
The administrative staff provides a sense of continuity for students. They are often the first point of contact both for current students and alumni. Vivien Ten Have especially has played a key role in retaining students. With her training in mental health, she has dealt with many cases where students have considered or been on the verge of quitting the programme, as she has come up with tailored solutions and study plans, as well as providing mental health support, which has made it possible for the students to continue study and successfully graduate. I would approximate that there have been at least two cases each year, often more, where Vivien’s expertise and dedication has been fundamental for retention of students on the MA EEM.
Vivien, Nk and Vero are essential for ICCE and the expertise they provide is invaluable for both students and staff.
Student, MA Arts Administration and Cultural Policy
I wanted to write in support of our programme administrative team at ICCE, and also to thank on record and acknowledge the incredibly hard work of Vivien Ten Have, Nk Ike and Zehra Arabadji.
Nk was very instrumental in getting difficulties with my re-enrolment sorted this 2021/22 year, engaging several different departments to do so. She ensured that I was added to the learn.gold page in the meantime so as not to limit my access to important course messages at the start of the year. She has made sure that I am enrolled on the correct modules this year. Vivien kept myself and student rep colleagues fully informed of marking processes for coursework, including any necessary changes influenced by EC extensions. She ensured I had swift access to the learn.gold page for module I audited last year (Contemporary Issues in Cultural Policy). She made sure I had contact with the correct link administrator into the music department for music pathway modules.
Vivien kept details of our 2020/21 timetable regularly up to date, communicating all Zoom links and any necessary changes on the rare occasion they were needed. She Helped me out in a difficult financial circumstance (my bank account was compromised via my PayPal account at the time) with being able to attend anyway an important course day event at Trinity Buoy – and also to meet several of my peers finally in person in June 2020. I can’t understate how valuable this was, in both senses, having been stuck in front of a Zoom screen in my flat outside of London for the majority of that academic year – thank you!
Zehra kept myself and student rep colleagues fully informed of ICCE student meetings at Deptford Town Hall – great and friendly support.
All three have been heavily involved in one degree or another in ensuring that our coursework marks are input, verified at exam board and our awards generated – all aware of extenuating circumstances arising from the pandemic. They have kept us up to date on learn.gold of important placement opportunities, employment opportunities, useful webinars and have processed our extenuating circumstances claims during the COVID pandemic with efficiency and empathy in an incredibly challenging time.
In general, I feel that all three ladies have been instrumental in our course delivery being as thorough, efficient and engaging as it has been, certainly in 2020-21 which as we all know happened in incredibly unique and challenging circumstances. This undoubtedly would have caused very unchartered and new work territory for anyone to adapt to quickly, and also the need to move course resources online with limited notice. I write this being aware of the role directly as a former programme administrator for a university course, and that these necessary adaptations to work practice would only be one component of a role that normally has regularly vast, varied responsibilities anyway that require efficiency – which I feel that all three ladies have delivered pretty consistently. Their contributions are critical to the department, and especially so should we end up in our lifetimes again in unusual study circumstances influenced by national public health emergencies.