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Sabbatical Officer Report: Emi Dowse, VP Education

VP Education – Emi Dowse

 

Manifesto page on the SU website: https://www.upsu.com/representation/representatives/vpeducation

 

Manifesto points:

Extenuating Circumstances

Due to the amendments to extenuating circumstances this year, it has not been necessary to set up a reporting tool for extenuating circumstances. Despite this, I have continued to work on this point and I am planning on working with the Liberation Part-Time Officers to understand better the underrepresented issues students may be facing.

  • During the summer I met with the Academic Registrar to get advice on how best to fulfil this manifesto, I also used the appeals and complaints training to learn more about extenuating circumstances (EC’s).
  • On the 27/07 the University Teaching and Learning Committee (UTLQC) was discussing measures from the safety net they would be implementing for this academic year. I advocated that students should still receive the 10-day extension, but they should have to submit a form and self-certify to enable the University to monitor student wellbeing. UTLQC voted to retain 10-day extensions and non-submissions for self-certified EC’s
  • During a Quality and Standards subcommittee meeting, I asked to be on the subgroup for the review of the EC policy. On the 09/11 I attended an EC Policy review meeting. We discussed the current policy and the improvements which need to be made in light of an external audit the university had made or the policy. I mentioned my manifesto goals of making the document more accessible and easier to navigate for students. I also highlighted the need to include mention to some of the underrepresented issues students are facing.
  • On the 26/11 I attended an EC review meeting. We spoke about not requiring evidence for sensitive EC requests such as bereavements and sexual assaults etc. We also spoke about expanding the circumstances students can submit to include natural disasters, and terror attacks etc. We also discussed the fit to sit policy and how students who become ill during an assessment can be supported and not penalised.
  • The next meeting for the EC review will take place on the 18/03.

 

Life Skills Seminars

Unfortunately as a result of COVID and all of the emergency meetings I needed to attend during the summer I was unable to run life skills seminars during induction week. Although this manifesto point is still important I have decided to prioritise other projects which may affect an individual’s university life and studies such as the safety net and Clever Student Lets (CSL).

  • At the beginning of the academic year, I tried to adapt the idea of the seminar to the COVID period by making some around digital learning and how best to manage fatigue. One of the ways I did this was by taking part in the Life in Plym student podcast about digital fatigue and how students can manage the increase in screen time.
  • I also created the buddy scheme as a way students in 2nd year and above students could pass on their knowledge to 1st-year students.
  • Throughout the year I have been planning the seminars with the Student Voice Team, however, it has not been prioritized as there were more important things due to COVID.
  • I am still looking at ways I can achieve this manifesto point and will engage with students to find out the life skills they want and how best to deliver it to them.

 

Accessibility

This manifesto point has been difficult to achieve due to COVID. At the beginning of the year lecture staff and academics were too stretched to make changes to their materials due to the switch to blended learning. Now that staff have had time to adapt to the new way of teaching I will be picking this manifesto point up again.

  • I met with the head of the Educational Development team to discuss the best ways for me to implement this manifesto point. We decided to film a video to educate University staff members about the SU, the Sabbatical Team and my role as VP Education.
  • I filmed the video for digital educations teaching courses. This course is for people training to be lecturers. The video included how academics can improve accessibility through making simple changes to their materials such as changing the colour of their backgrounds and handouts and about how lecturers at the university should be thinking of ways they can make their lectures accessible by design and not just as a response to individual needs.
  • One of the benefits of the move to blended learning is that many of the accessibility barriers have been removed. I continue to advocate for the University and The SU to be inclusive and accessible by design and to keep the positives of blended learning when we return to campus.
  • Moving forward I will be making guides for teaching staff on how they can be more accessible, focusing on my key points about lecture slide backgrounds. 

 

Key Projects:

Safety Net

The safety net is the biggest project I have worked on this year and probably the most important in the eyes of many students.

 

Clever Student Lets

 

Faculty Lead

I am the faculty lead for Science and Engineering. As a part of this role I attend Faculty Teaching and Learning Committees, support our school reps and students within the faculty. I also support Fawziyyah and Verity in their roles as Faculty leads.

 

  • I attended the School Rep drop and supported the reps by giving advice or signposting them to relevant people or services.
  • I attended the Course Rep drop-in sessions and took the feedback given by reps to the relevant university meetings.
  • I have regular meetings with our School Reps to see how I can better support their manifesto points and raise any issues they may be having.

 

Buddy Scheme:

  • Due to my life skills manifesto point not being possible during the summer I wanted to put something in place for students to still have a way to ask those important questions about student life. I also was worried about student mental health and the difficulty making friends this year so I came up with the idea of having and SU buddy scheme.
  • I worked with Fawziyyah to research similar schemes at other universities and come up with an idea of how we wanted the buddy scheme to work. We decided that we would implement a very basic scheme, which would act as a trial for future years.
  • The buddy scheme was delegated to the Volunteering department. The scheme is now up and running with over 50 students signed up to be buddies and over 50 to have a buddy.
  • Now that the scheme is fully up and running I plan to work with our volunteering department to continue to improve it for the next academic year.

 

Personal Tutoring Policy Review

  • I was on the committee for the personal tutoring policy and academic support review.
  • Some of the changes to the policy include having a required amount of tutor sessions per academic year, introducing pastoral tutors to provide an additional support person for wellbeing and pastoral needs, and encouraging group tutorials. This should ensure that all UG students are supported throughout their entire time at the University.
  • The Policy was voted in by UTLQC on the 25/01/22 and then was signed off by Senate on the 24/02/21. The policy will be implemented in the academic year 21/22

 

Graduation

  • On the 23rd of October the University cancelled the 2020 Graduations and offered students a virtual graduation in its place. This was done without consultation from the SU or students.
  • I gathered feedback from students about what they thought about the cancellation of graduation and what they want to happen and I also spoke to the individual who created a petition in response to the cancellation.
  • On the 05/11 I met with the Graduation Manager and fed back students concerns. He explained the universities viewpoint and the plans for Graduations moving forward and agreed to work with me on the planning and communications for graduation. I then went back to students and explained how best they could influence the Universities decision around Graduations.
  • I have subsequently met with the graduation manager for the planning of the virtual graduations as well as the in person celebration event for the 19/20 cohort and the graduation ceremony for the 20/21 cohort, as well as how they plan to communicate with students.
  • I also delivered the vote of thanks speech at three of the virtual graduation ceremonies.

 

Digital Q&A

  • I worked with our Director of Student Experience services to put on Q&A sessions with the University.  The sessions aim to address students' questions on important issues such as the safety net, student mental health, fees and refunds etc.
  • Our first Q&A was on the topic of the safety net. We launched the question submissions on the 18/01 of January and closed them after 24 hours. After submissions were closed, I worked with Student Voice and the Communications Team to collate and narrow down the answer submissions to send to the University.
  • On the 21/01 of January I interviewed Julian Chaudhuri and Adele Hill in our first Q&A. The video was released to students and staff on the 26th of January.

 

University Communications Group

  • Following on from the Student communication sent out on the 08/01 and the response it received on social media, the university set up a new emergency communication group to address students' frustrations and concern, which I asked to be a part of.
  • I encouraged the University to be more transparent and open with their students, even if they didn’t have the answers yet. Students want to be kept in the loop on things and the university would benefit from doing this.
  • The group worked to address the core issues within the Universities communications such as the communications not being student-friendly, and key members of staff not receiving the information going out to students so not being able to effectively respond to student’s questions.

 

Other updates/campaigns:

  • Other meetings I attended include the AV refresh board meeting, Student Life Committee, and the Quality and Standards Sub-Committee (QSSC).
  • I sat on a task and finish group which is looking to create a policy around name changes within the university and to address issues with names being recorded on the system at enrollment. The group is mainly focusing on improving things for transgender and non-binary students as well as international students. As a result of this I have met with our Transgender & Non-Binary Officer and got him invited onto the working group to ensure there is better representation.
  • I have continued with the work my predecessor was doing around lecture capture. I attended the AV-refresh board, where we discussed the introduction of hybrid teaching rooms. These allow for lecturers to teach live sessions with students both physically and virtually attending. I made a strong case as to why this should be introduced, with the main focus on students with disabilities and improving the sense of belonging.
  • I attended a Q&A session delivered by the Student United against Fees campaign. The campaign is run by SU’s across the country aiming to tackle the issue of tuition fees. I thought that the campaign was run well and that our students would want the SU to get involved. A policy was passed at Union Council for the SU to join the campaign. I have also joined the campaigns advisory committee.
  • I have supported Fawziyyah and the Officer team on accommodation issues and campaigns. The Sabbatical Team have been lobbying the University for Rent Rebates and writing letters to MP’s and local landlords. The team also met with the Plymouth Rent Strike group to discuss ways that the team can support their campaign.
  • Every two months I meet with the library staff. Some of the items I have raised with them include students not being able to access e-resources, students not being clear about what services they offer, and the need for them to make it easier for students to find specific resources. They advised me to signpost students to their IT specialists, or to them at the library.
  • The Officer Team have created videos about the COVID Hardship fund, student safety in the library and hidden disabilities, and student housing.
  • I have met with students looking to run in the SU Elections. I gave them advice on the role as well as answered any questions they had. I also filmed a video to encourage other students to run.
  • I attended a digital strategy focus group with two of our School Reps. This strategy will influence how the university moves forward digitally for the next 10 years. I have also fed back on this strategy at UTLQC and the QSSC meeting.
  • I have been supporting Verity on her work on placements and creating a webcam policy. This has been an important piece of work and is still ongoing.
  • I created a video educating students about the appeals process.
  • I wrote a blog about my experience finishing university in a pandemic and starting my new role which seemed to resonate with many final year students.
  • I have done monthly Instagram takeovers to inform students of my progress this year.