Students' Representative Council

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The Students' Representative Council (SRC) was founded in 1884 and gained statutory recognition in the Universities (Scotland) Act 1889. It has responsibility for representation on teaching and learning, welfare, academic services, postgraduate affairs and external affairs and also for running Freshers' Week.

Foundation

It was founded in 1884, with the initial aim of organizing student participation in Edinburgh University's Tercentenary Festival. The University authorities were anxious lest the celebrations be marred by the outbreaks of student rowdiness associated with other public occasions, in particular, the election and inaugural address of the University's Rector. The Senatus Academicus thus welcomed the initiative of a group of students headed by Robert Fitzroy Bell (1859-1908) and David Orme Masson (1858-1937), who argued that a representative council could aid in maintaining order and decorum, in promoting student social life, and in fostering a 'wholesome esprit de corps'. A first formal meeting of the Students' Representative Council was held on 17 January 1884, bringing together delegates from the university's many clubs and societies. This established the aims of the Council as representing students on all matters affecting their interests, establishing a recognized channel of communication between students and the University authorities, and promoting student social life and solidarity. The newly constituted council was the first student representative body in Scotland.

Tercentenary

The SRC's first task was to maintain order at the inaugural address of Rector Stafford Henry Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh (1818-1887) and at the torchlit process that followed. This was accomplished so successfully that the SRC was entrusted with policing the Tercentenary Festivities. It was nonetheless dissatisfied with the limited place allotted to students in the official programme of events. After protest, the SRC was finally permitted to organize five events: a torchlight procession, a performance of a drama based on Sir Walter Scott's novel The Fortunes of Nigel, a reception for foreign guests, a formal ball, and an informal smoking concert.

Student Union

The SRC used its success in the Tercentenary festivities to launch an appeal to fund its first priority: the opening of a Student Union. The highlight of the campaign was a Fancy Fair at Waverley Market in November 1886, which raised over £10,000. The objective was achieved with the opening of Edinburgh University Union in Teviot Row House, adjoining the new Medical School, on 19 October 1889. This is the oldest purpose built student union in the world. The SRC also campaigned for funds to acquire the Athletic Field and pavilion at Craiglockhart, which was ceremonially opened in 1896.

Official Recognition

In the same year the SRC gained official recognition through the Universities (Scotland) Act 1889. The Act entitled the Council to petition the Senatus Academicus on any matter concerning the teaching and discipline of the University, and the University Court on any other matter affecting students. It was also to be consulted by the Rector before he appointed his Court Assessor. It also stimulated the creation of Representative Councils at St Andrews, Glasgow, and Aberdeen Universities and the holding of annual Inter-University Conferences for the combined students' councils of the Scottish universities.

The Student

In 1888, the SRC adopted The Student, first published by Robert Cochrane Buist (1860-1939) in 1887, as its official organ. The journal's objective would now be 'faithfully to record the passing events of University life' and 'to form a bond of union between present and absent sons of our Alma Mater'. More serious-minded than its short-lived predecessors, it aimed to interpret student opinion, document student social life, and reflect students interests in arts, politics, and sports. Where previous student publications had all been ephemeral, The Student would go on to provide a permanent focus for and record of student corporate life. From 1895 onwards, the SRC also published an annual Handbook for new students (or 'freshers') providing an introduction to university life and institutions.

Female Membership

A Women's Committee of the SRC was established in 1889. Nonetheless membership of the University Union was barred to women (who formed a separate Women's Union in 1905) and it proved hard to break into the male-centred worlds of student politics, journalism, and social life. The First World War proved a watershed for the participation of women in university life. With nearly 8,000 students and graduates joining the armed forces, there was a steep decline in the number of male students, and a concomitant rise in the number of women matriculating. The greater role played by women in university affairs was marked by the election of Agnes Cunningham as the first female Senior President of the Student's Representative Council in 1915.

Rag Week and Freshers' Week

In 1932, the SRC assumed responsibility for organizing 'Rag Week'. This event had its origins in the student 'Rag' organized in 1867 by a group of students shocked by the levels of poverty in the streets surrounding Edinburgh University. They set up a body now known as the Edinburgh Students Charities Appeal to carry out a collection of used clothing to be given to the destitute. Further 'rags' and charity events were a prominent feature of university life over the next six decades. In 1931, however, the Students' Representative Council decided that too much time and effort was being expended on individual charity initiatives which would prove more efficient and lucrative if centrally coordinated. It was decided to hold a grand Charities' Week in the summer of 1932, and to divide the proceeds among the various charities that students had hitherto campaigned for. The form adopted in the 1932 Charities' Week remained constant for many decades. The centrepiece was a parade of floats accompanied by a street collection by students in fancy dress. A theatrical review was organized, taking the place of the traditional Students' Representative Ceenium, and a comic magazine published to raise further funds. The SRC also organized 'Freshers' Week', an inaugural week of social events designed to welcome new students to the University.

The SRC and the University Court

By the late 1960s, there were growing student demands for greater representation at the higher levels of university governance. In principle, it was the responsibility of the elected Rector to voice student concerns at meetings of the University Court. In practice, however, the Rectorship had remained a ceremonial role, and, although officially Chair of the University Court, the Rector seldom attended meetings. The first major changes occurred under the Rectorship of Kenneth Allsop (1920-1973) (1968-1971). Not only did Allsop regularly attend Court meetings, but, from October 1969, the Senior President of the SRC was also allowed to be present for any business which directly impacted on student affairs. A liaison committee between the SRC and Court was also formed. These concessions did not, however, satisfy student demands for full representation, leading to a campaign to present student candidates for the Rectorship itself. The ensuing election of two student Rectors, Jonathan Wills (1971-1972) Gordon Brown (1972-1975) finally gave students a direct voice in the University Court. This, however, was seen as an interim solution and both rectorships were marked by conflict between the Rector and other Court-members. Under the Rectorship of Magnus Magnusson (1975-1979), a deal was struck whereby students were no longer permitted to stand as Rector, but two students, the Senior President of the SRC and the President of Edinburgh University Union (later the Vice-President of the SRC) became permanent members of the University Court. A third student representative, chosen by the SRC, would be permitted to attend for certain business. This arrangement continued until the academic year 1992-1993, when representation was reduced to the Senior President and Vice President of the SRC alone.

Edinburgh University Students' Association

In 1973 Edinburgh University Students' Association was founded via the merger of the Students' Representative Council (SRC), Edinburgh University Union, and the Chambers Street Union (previously Edinburgh University Women's Union). This was the culmination of a campaign to unify all student bodies into a single organization. In 1971, Edinburgh University Union finally voted to admit women shortly after the Chambers Street Union had extended its membership to male students. Negotiations now began to dissolve the SRC and the two unions and to create a single students' association. It was soon established, however, that the SRC could not be dissolved as it had been officially recognised by the Universities (Scotland) Act 1889. Nor was it possible to alter its constitution in a way that would permit it to take over responsibility for the unions. In the end, it was resolved that the Students' Representative Council and Edinburgh University Union would continue to exist as discrete entities within the proposed association. Chambers Street Union, conversely, would merge entirely with Edinburgh University Union.

Related Pages

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Sources

  • Robert D. Anderson, 'Ceremony in Context: The Edinburgh University Tercentenary, 1884', Scottish Historical Review, 87 (2008), 121-45 [[1], accessed 1 August 2014]
  • Robert D. Anderson, 'The Construction of a Modern University', in Robert D. Anderson, Michael Lynch, and Nicholas Phillipson, The University of Edinburgh: An Illustrated History (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003), pp. 103-207.
  • Sir Thomas Henry Holland, 'Introduction', in A. Logan Turner (ed.), History of the University of Edinburgh 1883-1933 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1933), pp. xiii-xxx.
  • Sir Ian Macpherson, George Gordon Stott, Alan Stewart Orr, and John J. M. Shaw, 'The Life of the Student Community' in History of the University of Edinburgh 1883-1933, pp. 338-61.