Rosie Makes a Post: A week in the life of a Sabbatical Officer

Hey Edgehillians!

I’ve had several people ask me what exactly my job consists of, not just the fun campaigning stuff, but the day-to-day,what I do stuff. So I figured I’d blog a week, keeping a record of what I’ve been doing day-to-day. So, here’s a week in the life of your Vice President Academic Representation!

Monday 7th December

Today was super busy, preparing for the Westminster Lobby tomorrow! With NUS #CutTheCosts campaign we’re taking 13 students to Westminster to speak to MPs, ask them questions, and talk about the very real issues that are affecting them.

Planning to take a contingent of students to Westminster is stressful.

All of the pre-planning for the event has obviously already been done, so today I was sorting out emergency contacts and writing a briefing document for everyone, including details about the #CutTheCosts campaign, and what issues presented by the Autumn Spending review specifically impact Edge Hill students and how, and I drafted questions for the MPs based on these.

I also had a brief meeting with Edge Hill Students’ Unions Black Students Officer, Jane Chiwaya, to talk about Prevent (a government anti-radicalization initiative, that often targets BME students and students of particular faiths,) and work on a little project to do with this, coming very, very soon! (I hope.)

After printing off a million copies of the briefings and questions, the day was over. Whew!

 

Tuesday 8th of December

It’s the #CutTheCosts lobby day! I had to get up at 3:30am to get ready and catch a 5am bus from Edge Hill to London. Ew.

The day was long, but good. We met with three MPs, two of whom we’d previously met and had agreed to support the campaign. The MP we had not met before was very good at dodging points, and when he started talking about the £3 billion  renovation of parliament, it gave me great pride to see EHU student Lewis Greenwood, (President of Fantasy and ScFi society,) give him what for,  asking how the government can afford to spend £3 billion on a building, and cut funding for education?

When the MP tried to side step and said that both health and education are important, but it’s about prioritizing, our students grilled him further, asking how we can not prioritize education, as students are the future?

I really love Edge Hill students. <3 (and I feel my briefing document may have helped inform their arguments. Just saying.)

That was my personal highlight of the day, (that and getting everybody back to Edge Hill in one piece,) if you want further information about the day as a whole, you can read a blog written by one of our students, Charlotte Clark, who came with us on the lobby here. But in summary the day was super successful, and I got to spend it with super people.

 

Wednesday 9th of December

After arriving back home at 1am after the lobby (ew,) I got into work at 10:20am the next day. Today I had an Academic Planning Committee (APC) meeting. Once I arrived in work I had a briefing with a member of Union staff who directly supports me, and we went through the papers together, highlighting things we thought I may need to mention in the meeting.

I spend quite a lot of my evenings reading board papers. I get loads of them, as out of all the sabbatical officers I sit on the most boards. As evidenced by the fact that when I came in this morning, there was yet another board paper on my desk. Seriously, anything with the words learning, teaching, or academic in the title is me.

Post-briefing I’m back at my desk and answering emails I missed while I was out of the office yesterday. It’s worth noting that I get a lot of emails, from students, university staff, Union staff, NUS, other sabbatical officers in other Students’ Unions, and more, probably. Basically I get lots of emails. So sorting through those, replying and where possible resolving issues took up a lot of time.

I then had to organise my desk, as I had a ridiculous amount of papers on it. Like, couldn’t find anything under all of the paper kind of ridiculous. So that was productive.

I then publicised my Officer report for the exec council tomorrow (!!!) which if you’re so inclined you can read here. And then I worked a bit on Higher Education Green Paper stuff. Which, by the way, has taken over my life. I wrote a blog about that today too, and you can read my breakdown blog here.

From 2pm was the APC meeting, which took me through until home time.

 

Thursday 10th December

EXEC COUNCIL MEETS TONIGHT AND I’M SOOOO EXCITED!

I get to present my Officer Report, and I’m bringing forward 5 policies! These are:

  • Free Education
  • Anti-TEF
  • Environmental
  • Safe Speaker
  • No Platform

But before the exec meets I have a lot to do.

This morning I had a meeting about the elections in March (these take a lot of planning,) and our Big Student Voice meeting which happens in January (this is what we’re now calling our Annual Members Meeting.)

I got so caught up in this meeting I was almost late for some panels that I was due to sit on! Whoops!

I did however make it in the end.

After the panel meetings I read some of the policies being brought forward to the exec tonight, and made some notes on comments I want to make on some of them.

As the Executive Council meeting wasn’t going to be quorate, meaning we can’t actually pass policies, we instead are going to have to have an email vote. So those of us who can make it will debate the policies, the minutes of the debate sent around via email with a voting sheet, and everyone will vote on there. We hopefully have the results of what has passed/fallen by next Friday, which I’m really excited about, because policy!!!

So at 5:30pm we began Exec. After debating all of the policies (the minutes of the debate will be posted on the EHSU website, at some point,) we had our accountability. I had to write and present a report of my key priorities for the year, and what I’ve done so far towards them. You can read my report here. (BTW it has pictures of a giant inflatable pig so you should totally read it.)

It’s always a little nerve wracking, doing accountability, as it’s the opportunity for our part-time officers to really grill us on what we’ve been up to. Luckily everyone seemed pretty happy with my work, and our Vice President Welfare gave me a commendation for my work on the Course Representative system. <3

 

Friday Dec 11th

The first thing I did today was vote on the policies from last night’s Exec via email. Because I am a keen policy bean.

I then had a de-brief from APC, so talking through with a member of staff all that happened at that meeting. Fun times.

I then had some planning to put in place, after having report and priorities approved at exec I could put together my action plan for my feedback to the future campaign, launching in January (watch this space!) And I also had more board papers to read, this time for Academic Quality Enhancement committee (AQE.)

I also did some more work on my Higher Education Green Paper response, which will hopefully be near completion next week, depending on if NUS send me the notes from a consultation event I attended on the paper at NUS HQ in London last week.

 

So, that is a week in the life of your Vice President Academic Representation.

I’m a really busy lady. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my job, I love representing students and working hard to make sure your voices are at the centre of your Union, and that they are heard in the University, and in Westminster, and in THE WORLD. YAY STUDENTS.

I’ll stop now.

 

 

Rosie Makes a Post: Breakdown blog on the HE Green Paper.

If you’ve had a conversation with me recently, chances are I’ve mentioned the fact that the Higher Education Green Paper has taken over my life.

If you don’t know what that means, let me explain:

A green paper is something the government publishes that details ideas for things they want to bring in. They then consult with the public and sector bodies to find out what people think of these things. Then they take that consultation, make adjustments to the green paper, and present it as a white paper to go into law or practice.

The HE Green Paper is 105 pages long and has 28 consultation questions. It presents the biggest change to Higher Education since the 1992 Further and Higher Education act.

But what does it mean for students?

Well, I’ve written a basic breakdown of the things in the paper that you may/will be affected by.

nervous breakdown

 

 

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

Basically, the idea of the Teaching Excellence Framework, or TEF, is to create a system by which higher education institutions can have their teaching assessed. Metrics will be graduate employment data, student retention data, and student satisfaction data from the NSS.

This is extremely problematic, because what field of employment someone ends up in after they graduate is not, in any way, an indication of how ‘excellent’ the teaching they received on course has been. Whether students stay on their course or not is also not an accurate reflection of teaching excellence, there are many other factors in students’ decisions to leave higher education. There can be several reasons why a course, department or faculty is not retaining students. For example, it could be down to financial reasons, like, I don’t know, raising tuition fees by 0.8% per year.

Which brings me nicely on to fees. Yes, the TEF will allow those universities that are deemed to have ‘teaching excellence’ by their metrics to raise their tuition fees. Higher education providers that meet the requirements of tier one of TEF will be entitled to raise their fees in line with inflation up to this amount for new students from 2017/18.

The only positive I can take from that is that the move is not retrospective, it won’t affect current students, only those attending university from 2017/18 onward. But that is the only positive.

The paper also makes references to the CMA (Competition and Markets authority,) and about its regulations. So to achieve teaching excellence Higher Education institutions will also have to be CMA compliant. Of course it’s a legal requirement that Higher Education Institution’s (HEI’s) are compliant with the CMA’s regulations (hurray for marketisation,) but including that in the TEF framework is only furthering the trend of treating education as a product and universities as businesses. Ew.

But going back to fees, another thing I’ve noticed is there’s no mention of international students? Given they already pay far more than home students to come to university, some up to £35’000 per year for the same degree a home student would receive for £9’000 per year. One would think they might be made exempt from the percentage-linked rise. But apparently not.

To achieve higher tiers on the TEF will be linked to meeting targets on helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and focusing on BME students’ attainment gaps. Which is a positive move, obviously we want universities to work on widening participation and helping everyone to achieve. But how are they going to do that when the most disadvantaged students have been priced out of education?

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Widening Participation

The paper talks frequently about widening participation and social mobility. The paper is actually titled ‘Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility, and Student Choice.’

How can you preach widening participation when the strategy and rhetoric you’re laying out literally prevents it?

And access to Higher Education is so much more than recruitment. It goes beyond getting BME students and students from low participation neighbourhoods through the door. Access includes student resources, particularly what resources are available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Access includes support for these students, and for students who define into a liberation or section, (LGBT, international, mature and part-time etc.) Access includes a focus or provision to tackle BME attainment gaps and attainment gaps for students from low income backgrounds. Access encompasses all of this and more, and it most certainly doesn’t end once a student has enrolled on a course.

 

The Office for Students & Student Protections

Speaking of pricing out disadvantaged students and BME student attainment gaps, the government is getting rid of the Office for Fair Access. Yes. That’s happening. They’re also getting rid of HEFCE, which is the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and making them one organisation. The Office for Students.

The paper claims that this will ’empower students, strengthen competition, drive quality, eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and save taxpayer money.’

I don’t think that the government knows what empowering students’ looks like. No where do they talk about asking students what they want, surely giving students a voice in what this ‘Office for Students’ looks like would be far more empowering than dissolving two Higher Education organisations, merging the remainder together and seeing what happens?

Oh, if only there was an organisation that championed the interests of students already. *cough* NUS *cough*

The government states concerns over the BME attainment gap, but also the low attainment of disadvantaged white men, and low levels of access to selective institutions for disadvantaged groups. They seek to make improvements in this area by joining up work on access and widening participation in the Office for Students so that it can set institutional targets and goals on access, and the ability to reject an access agreement if it fails to meet the set targets.

They’ve also written in an exit strategy plan into the Office for Students remit, to provide student protection. There will be increased protections for students if a course or institution fails.

Here’s a quote from page 54 of the green paper:

‘As the sector becomes increasingly driven by student choice, this may also bring an increased likelihood that a provider may need to exit perhaps as a necessity or alternatively through its own choice. “Exit” may happen at provider, course or campus level. This chapter considers all of these possibilities’

Please feel free to read that as ‘we know some HE providers will not survive these changes. Please form an orderly queue to leave the sector.’

Also saying that the sector will become ‘increasingly driven by student choice,’ is another among countless nods towards the further marketisation of higher education this paper proposes.

 

Freedom of Information Acts

Universities may be made exempt from the freedom of information act.

This will make it much harder to hold them to account, as it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get documentation from institutions in order to either back up or disprove queries.

The Office for Students will, alone, have the right to request documentation from HE providers, and that’s more in order to award funding. See:

‘Responsibility for protecting the public interest in their governing documents would transfer to the OfS, with the principles of public interest incorporated in to the terms and conditions of grant funding.’

The justification of this is to create a level playing field with private providers, who are exempt from Freedom of Information requests and other public body requirements.

So, marketisation and privatisation, awesome.

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Private Providers

Which brings me nicely on to private providers. The Government aims to remove barriers to entry for private providers. They want to streamline and speed up process of obtaining degree-awarding powers. Under the new proposals, a private provider could get degree awarding powers in less than four years and university status in less than five. This new process would be administered by the Office for Students. The issue with this is if the institution lost its degree awarding abilities after 5 years, then graduates from that institution risk having their degree invalidated. This isn’t fair on the graduate, and frankly it’s too high-risk. As I’ve previously mentioned, the Government have written an exit plan into the Office for Students remit. The OfS can both give, and take away, the ability to award degrees.

 

Sharia-Compliant Loans

The government has set out plans to introduce an alternative to student finance, which is Sharia-compliant.

My handy friend Wikipedia says Sharia-compliant finance is: ‘…banking or banking activity that is consistent with the principles of sharia (Islamic law.) …Sharia prohibits acceptance of specific interest or fees for loans of money whether the payment is fixed or floating.’

This is something the student movement and NUS have been fighting for, and is a very welcome announcement from the government. This is one of the very few wins for students detailed in the green paper.

 

Students’ Unions

This part of the paper starts out by saying Students’ Unions have an ‘important role representing student views and promoting the provision of academic and other services.’

Then the next paragraph reads:

‘The Government is currently taking steps through our trade union reforms to improve union practices and increase transparency around how funds are spent. In this consultation, we are asking for public views on the role of students’ unions and what further steps could be taken to increase transparency and accountability to individual members.’

No further information was given on this, but it’s clear that this thinking is linked to the government’s current reform of trade union democracy.

Because this government has shown how much it loves trade unions, with the trade union bill specifically designed to silence their voices, and try and stop their collective power.

And with regards to our accountability to our members, well, that’s just it. We’re accountable to our members. To our students. We work for them. And I think the government should be asking students what they think of their unions, not the general public. We can see how this is going to go.

‘Oh, Students’ Unions don’t have high engagement.’

‘Oh, they don’t have high voter turnout in their elections.’

‘Hmm, let’s make them an opt-in, rather than an opt-out.’

It’s going to be bad.

We know that we do incredible things. Student opportunities, e.g societies and sports teams, make people’s lives at university better. There’s really exciting research starting at the Liverpool Guild of Students on the effect that joining a society has on retention rates. It’s early days, but I think we can predict, from hearing multiple personal stories from multiple kinds of people, that societies, sports teams, etc. do keep students in university. And that, right there, speaks volumes for the value of Students’ Unions.

We provide campaigns on issues that impact our students. We represent their views to the university. We make sure minority groups are heard. We’re here to improve the student experience, for every student.

We need to make sure the government knows that.

 

Summary

They talk about social mobility and BME attainment gaps, and then price students out of education. They talk clarity and accountability, then open up the consultation to the public we’re not accountable to. They talk about giving universities an equal playing field with private institutions, then have an exit plan for the HEI’s they are obviously predicting won’t make it through these changes.

I think Higher Education is facing the biggest fight it’s had since the 1992 Further and Higher Education act. And I think that we, students, should be leading that fight. As the ones who are directly affected by the measures laid out in the green paper, we need to fight back. As the next generation, who are having barrier after barrier put in our way, making it ever more difficult for us to build a future for ourselves, we need to fight back. As people living, studying and maybe working in this country, we need to fight back, and tell the government that enough is enough.

You cannot take our grants, raise our fees, and blatantly threaten our Students’ Unions, without a fight.

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