It’s UGM report time!
Timetabling: I don’t have any major updates on this front as the university is currently in the process of hiring a new Academic Registrar which means at the moment I don’t have any contacts in the timetabling department. Once the new registrar is in post, I’ll catch up with them.
1pm deadlines: Again, I have nothing major to report here, there have been a couple of incidents of modules using a different deadline time, but as soon as they are brought to our attention those have been rectified fairly quickly (and more often than not been accidental on the school’s part).
Content capture: There’s no major updates here. This is still university policy and should be happening on your courses, though I have heard of many instances where this hasn’t been the case. Later in the year I hope to raise this issue again and get some clearer guidance out for content delivery next year.
Personal tutoring: I’ve been reviewing the personal tutoring role with the university and we’re hoping to implement changes as early as next academic year. We’ve been discussing transforming the ‘personal tutor’ into two separate roles, an academic mentor role and a more pastoral support based role, a change that will be beneficial for both staff and students who don’t feel adequately supported in the current model.
Amplifying the Student Voice: This has been the main thing I’ve been doing since the last UGM in December, I dropped into SVR meetings during the Winter Break and worked with Voice Reps on the letter that was sent to the Vice Chancellor on the 8th. Since then I’ve been in Student consultations, Faculty Education Committees and University Education Committee representing your views on the necessity of a Safety Net, the closure of the Music department, rent rebates and more.
Anti-racism: As part of our Be Better, Do Better campaign we responded to the feedback you gave us last year and put it out on January 15th - check that out here!
Accessibility: As you might expect, accessibility issues have changed pretty dramatically over the last academic year. My focus has shifted from the powered doors of buildings on campus to online learning accessibility.
I’ve been lobbying for longer exam submission periods on all courses to enable student carers, international students, and disabled students to take exams at a time and pace that suits their needs. I’ve been heavily involved in the “webcams discourse” and I’ve pushed to ensure students aren’t being forced to put their cameras on to engage with their learning. I’ve co-produced guidance with the university on how to both deliver engaging content and as a student how to engage in your content. And I’ve been involved in numerous one-to-one cases ensuring that individualised exam arrangements are being upheld, and where they haven’t that resit opportunities have been offered.
Climate emergency: Nothing major to report here other than I’ve been eating a largely vegetarian diet since we went into lockdown and I’d really recommend Linda McCartney vegetarian burgers if you want to make your diet more environmentally friendly and don’t know where to start!
Value for money: In November I surveyed on campus students about their accommodation and generated this short report. I took this to the University Student Voice Committee on the 3rd of December 2020.
We pressured the university to consider rebating students on their rent, but this seemed to fall on deaf ears. Attached are the minutes of this meeting, but no actions were noted by the university.
Following this meeting, I emailed the chair (minuted briefly on page 10 of the attached) and said this wasn't good enough. The matter was then taken to Education Committee where I raised again that rent strikes were likely, again no actions were taken (sorry I can’t share these minutes, they’re still confidential!)
But after the latest lockdown announcement over the break, the university finally relented and (in-line with the sector) offered rent rebates from the 4th of January for those not currently in their accommodation, though this rebate did not account for the December student migration period. So in the first Education Committee of the new year in section 2.1 I wrote that rent strikes had now been planned and were ongoing despite the rebate. Currently I have no further updates on this, but I will continue to raise this until I have a clear response from the university.
It currently seems unlikely that the university will offer further rebates without sector wide pressure, as the majority of universities across the country have not rebated for the December period. Though there are a few exceptions, Manchester rebated their students fees in part last semester in reaction to the bad PR this story generated, and Edge Hill were one of the first universities to offer rent rebates last academic year and so offered rebates again for December of this academic year too (as frankly they are in a much better financial position than Keele).
Mental Health: All of the officers have been involved in the #GetKeeleTalking campaign which ran in the last week of January.
I’ve also been lobbying the university to provide more support to all students in the form of a Safety Net policy for 2021. There’s nothing to report at this stage, but trust me you’ll know when we have updates!
Outstanding UGM motions:
Computing for all course: In the ancient times before Covid, I was mandated to explore the possibility of introducing computing skills into all courses. At the time, I did explore this with the university, though the logistics of it seemed rather daunting. Then, Covid hit, and the logistics became even more daunting as students and staff alike suddenly had to grapple with online learning and teaching.
Next academic year all students' accounts will be fully migrated over to Microsoft, and in theory, online learning will become significantly smoother, so once this has been achieved I am assured that the next education officer will be able to continue working on this.
In the meantime, as stated above, I have been working with the university to co-produce guidance both on how to deliver engaging content and as a student how to best engage in your content. The guidance for students can be found here.
Covid communications: We have been lobbying the university for improvements to their communications with students. We lobbied for more frequent communications when you said there weren’t enough, and we lobbied for more useful and readable communications when their emails became incessant. We’ve been hosting more Q&A style sessions with the university and have worked with the university to improve the overall tone of these communications.
That said, improving Covid communication will remain an ongoing policy and we’re always looking for ways to improve, so please keep your suggestions coming!
Library use and opening hours: I have also been working with the library to improve their current offer, and it is worth noting the significant win that throughout this lockdown, the library has been able to remain open to students as a study space when this was not possible last year. We’ve also been able to re-open up the Chancellors group study space whilst the libraries group spaces are under review.
- Group study: A proposal for reopening the library’s group study has been to the universities Covid secure group (the group that approves all on campus activity) and once we exit lockdown, hopefully group study for households/ bubbles will be able to reopen!
- Flexibility with library slots: I was mandated to allow for more flexibility in booking slots and also to allow booking on the door. When I chased this up it was clarified that the booking slots had always intended to be flexible, the reason that there are only two bookable slots per day were to manage the flow of students in and out of the library, so whilst this hasn’t officially been changed, this has since been made clearer on the library’s FAQ page. Similarly booking on the door is also allowed, though it is still recommended to book in advance when you can to avoid disappointment!
- Longer opening times: We explored this with the library, but at the time of the discussion the Head Librarian was in the process of retiring, so it would be up to the new library lead to make this decision, so I will be booking a meeting with the new library lead as soon as possible.
What else have I been up to since the last AGM?
Music closure: For those of you who don’t know, the background on this can be found in this blog post I wrote in December, but the long and short of it is that Keele is in the consultation progress around closing its Music department due to the shrinking numbers of incoming students, the cost of running the course and the sector’s continued laissez-faire approach to the humanities.
This is not the first course Keele has closed (Music is closely tailing behind with American Studies and the hundred of combined honours courses that were discontinued in the past two years - the key difference between these courses and music however, is that music modules cannot be transferred in the same way as American Studies modules were transferred to other courses and thus staff will have to be let go) and it will not be the last course Keele cuts unless something drastic happens. I have been lobbying the university to publicly recognise this.
Me and Holly attended the student consultation on the 20th of January (the minutes of this can be found here) and we will be fighting against the closure of the department again in the university Senate in March.
Lobbying for a Safety net 2021:
In the academic year 2019/2020 all students benefited from the university’s Safety Net Policy (my breakdown of last year's policies can still be found here) which ensured that marks from semester 2 could be negated if they were significantly impacted by the Covid-19 disruptions to education. A ‘two algorithm’ approach was developed that calculated your final degree outcome based only on the credits obtained in (the covid-free) semester 1 of the year, and also calculated your final degree outcome in the usual way, whichever of these algorithms you performed better in, was the outcome you would receive. This provided a “Safety Net” for students whose grades had been affected by the pandemic, but also ensured that students whose grades had improved were not held back.
This year the same approach cannot be implemented, as there is no semester 1 that was unaffected by the pandemic to compare against, so I have been lobbying the university to implement a new approach.
At this stage there is nothing I can publicly report, but as soon as there is, I promise you will know about it...