Over the summer, the University decided that they would close the Islamic Centre on campus. We only found this out through a student telling us, who found out through a string of rumours. It felt like another secretive decision by the University to stop providing something good for students at UEA, just months after the School of Music was closed in the same manner. Closing the Centre would mean that there would not be enough space for Muslim students and staff to pray on campus, and there is not adequate provision in Norwich considering the required regularity of Muslim worship which can be five times a day.
Union officers immediately took action. We visited the Islamic Centre to speak with ISoc and decide what to do next. The first thing was to find out all the information we possibly could. We then decided to take a dual approach with ISoc: firstly, Muslim students and staff from UEA and from the community decided to demonstrate every Friday to show their displeasure at the decision to take away their provision. Union officers helped with this, providing placards and a megaphone.There were at least 50 protesters at nearly every protest for a number of weeks, and there was coverage in local news.
Secondly, Union officers lobbied the University to find a more appropriate solution to the problem. We reminded them of the School of Music, and how we were most upset about the secretive nature of the decision, and we advised that they take a more transparent approach.
The University, following the protests and conversations with Union officers, decided to think more carefully about the decision, making sure to gather and use evidence and feedback.
So the Union officers created a faith committee to discuss the consultation process to make sure we had the best results. We had representatives from Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jewish and Atheist backgrounds, but it was open to all students of faith. Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Prof Nigel Norris, worked alongside the faith committee and Union officers to work out the best strategy for faith provision on campus. The University then undertook an open consultation process, allowing all students and staff to tell them what they think. The responses were really varied. They also undertook an equality and diversity analysis and researched other institutions around the country. They published everything, and all of this can be found here.
We were delighted at the University’s response to student opinion, and that they sought evidence and feedback and made their decision transparent. They also reached a conclusion that we are satisfied meets the Union’s policy on faith; existing faith provision will remain and potentially improve, and students will have representation on a committee that discusses future changes to faith provision.
We want to thank and congratulate ISoc, members of the faith committee, anybody who contributed to the consultation and the University for reaching a great decision in the right way, and feel this is a really positive step towards a students being partners in their UEA student experience.