SU President Blog

Education Officer Candidate Questions

Jack Kitchen

Hi Jack, being the Education Officer can sometimes be thought of as a bit of a boring role and not something loads of students want to engage with, Academic Reps are great though. What will you do to ensure students actually want to engage with the curriculum transformation and ensure that all students understand what it is?

Also within your manifesto you want to “overhaul faculty representation, increasing the support for Faculty Reps to engage with academic reps (e.g. through faculty forums).” I was the Education Officer who decided to get rid of Faculty Forums because they weren’t working due to engagement. What are you going to do differently to ensure that these are engaging and successful for you?

Hi Ben! Thanks for your questions. I think it’s an exciting role - otherwise I wouldn’t be running! With the curriculum transformation and a new VC coming, the university is going to go through a huge change - and that’s something I want to be able to influence. 

Regarding your question, taught academic council is a great forum to begin engaging with students, and Chloe has already begun Town Hall events with Peter Lambert. Indeed on my own SSLC, I’ve added Curriculum Transformation as a standing item, so our Associate Dean updates us at every meeting on how he plans to engage students, and explains what is actually happening. If we did this on every SSLC, you immediately reach a wide body of reps - who can then diffuse this information down to their cohorts.

Also, as you are aware, there is a project in the pipeline to have four placement students shared between the CLT and SU. As Education Officer I would of course work to support these students in running focus groups etc. However, you are right - it is certainly a challenge to engage the wider student body. If we put the same level of energy into engaging with student views as we do campaign elections, however, I do believe that we can get a level of excitement and engagement!

I’m aware that you removed faculty forums - but I think that at the moment there is a real disconnect between faculty and academic reps. Both do great work in their own areas, and I think integrating both could strengthen both parties. I highlighted faculty forums as a potential option as, having spoken to academic reps and indeed having been a faculty rep for many years myself, the initial faculty rep-led session at the conference is a great forum for speaking with reps, but it only happens once a year! If elected I would begin working with the current officer immediately, to find out what reps are expecting and how we can best address this. I want faculty forums to be led by faculty reps, with appropriate support from myself, Ryan and Kia (the academic rep support team), where reps can raise issues, or bring issues to the attention of faculty reps before going to SSLC. 

Another potential avenue for “overhauling” the rep system is to focus on SSLCs themselves. As chair of the Management SSLC, I am planning to have a “Student Briefing” before the next SSLC - so that I can explain items to reps, and make sure that the meeting is appropriate to what they want to focus on. We’ve got some great student chairs - so why not utilise them in such a way?

 

Tamara Reid

Hi Tamara, one of the main points of your campaign is running on your passion for inclusivity, equality and diversity which is great. One of the issues the University has struggled with is closing the attainment gaps for certain groups of students. One of your main manifesto points is to “increase the awareness of the attainment gaps” but what are you going to do to help close them?

Also on your manifesto you say you want to “lobby for more paid placements and some form of financial support for those on unpaid placements.” The majority of unpaid placements come from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and they have a pot of money available for those who need it if they are going on an unpaid placement. What else are you hoping to implement? In terms of lobbying for paid placements what does this consist of? Getting a paid placement is often down to the individual to apply for one. The University can’t necessarily force placement providers to pay our students.

Hi Ben,

Thanks for your message! There are many reasons that the university has struggled in the past regarding diversity issues and the attainment gap in particular. On the whole, we have not been as proactive as we could have been in tackling these issues, i.e. “the numbers are too small so we’re not going to do anything”. Currently, there are various groups doing fantastic work on the attainment gaps that affect some of the marginalised communities (BME, International and Disability) separately. However, what I would do is bring them together, alongside the Centre for Learning and Teaching to ensure we include their input into the new curriculum.

As you probably know, there are organisations within the university that cater to and help disadvantaged student groups to have an enjoyable and accessible university experience. These service providers include: Widening Participation, Equality and Diversity and Disability Services, among other helpful groups. At present, these service providers are external to the learning curriculum which creates an issue because help is not easily accessible to these students. Instead, if you have not, or feel uncomfortable disclosing that you are part of one or more of these groups, it’s difficult to receive assistance from these services. As most students are unlikely to look outside of their department for advice with their struggles, we need to be more proactive to help them.

I want a different system. A system where these students are allowed to provide their input about restructuring their course to really engage the needs of students that would be otherwise left behind through no fault of their own, but because of barriers in their education. Students all learn in different ways, and it is important that policies are in place to incorporate essential study skills and different learning styles. For example, The University of Derby implemented generic strategies such as study skills workshops and integrative tactics which resulted in a 50% decrease in their BME attainment gap. This framework is available to other institutions so there’s no reason as to why we can’t emulate this by working with the Centre for Learning and Teaching.

On to your point about paid placements, there is current legislation that makes many if not most unpaid internships unlawful in the UK, but many companies find loopholes around this (please see article below). As it is also the product of and exacerbating factor for social mobility, the university has a duty of care to its students, especially when a company is acting illegally. In our SU mission statement, one of our core values is inclusivity. How can we be an inclusive university when certain students cannot afford to go on placements?

Furthermore, we know that having a placement under your belt increases your attainment. This further feeds into our existing social mobility issue.
Many of the placements advertised by placement departments include unpaid placements. And while the HSS department might offer financial support, is it sufficient to cover the living costs, tuition fees students pay whilst on placement, transport, rent, etc.? Some students go on 40-hours-a-week placements because they believe if it to be the only way of increasing their graduate job prospects but end up coming back to university in serious debt. As a university, I believe that we can do a better job of setting the expectation that students should be paid and compensated for the work they do and encourage companies to work in line with the current legislation. Change needs to start somewhere. Why can’t we lead it?

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