Friday, June 7, 2019

May – Last month in office, Goodbye!

Since I have officially completed my year I would like to again thank everyone that voted me into the role – still feels great to have the largest ever mandate for Vice President Education at Uni of Herts. 

Ever since March 16th 2018 (results night) I’ve been determined to deliver on everything I had promised in my manifesto, so here is the report on my progress for each of my ten points: 

Manifesto: 

1) £10 printing credit annually  

For this I started with communicating why it is important to the Vice Chancellor team and the CEO of the Library and Computing Service. I then contacted A LOT of sabbatical officers from other Unions asking what their uni’s printing credit is. From this I gathered a list of 20 universities across the country that were more generous with their printing allowance, ranging from unlimited free printing to a £10 annual allowance. I presented this to the university. I also made a petition on #hertsempowerment about printing credit for students to sign/express their view on this. I showed this to the Vice Chancellor team, and I believe I put forward a strong case for printing credit. I hope I have convinced them of the importance for printing credit but I don’t know if it will happen.  

2) MAXIMUM three-hour gaps on your timetables  

I began talking to Pro Vice Chancellor of Education and Student Experience and the Library and Computing Service CEO about this and it became apparent that it was hard to justify that a limit on gaps was what all students want from their timetables. I began doing research/googleing on how student experience can be improved for commuters since our conversations steered towards the effect of timetables on students that commute in. The most helpful document I found was on the TSEP document, “Student engagement in the context of commuter students”, (thank you so Jeff in the SU for sending it to me), which mentioned “at USU students are able to contact the central timetabling team and request amendments to their timetable to effectively create a ‘personalised timetable’,” and I successfully campaigned to get this implemented in UH too.  

In regular conversations around university staff about improving student timetables I found that the Business school attempted to schedule all lessons within 10am to 4pm, which sounded like a great idea. I met with the Business school timetabler who made me aware of how timetabling happens within the university, the key links and committees. By widening my network and research on timetables I started to gain a good understanding on what can be done for a better timetabled experience for students and pushed for greater scope for flexibility. With this, for start term, timetabling contacts were made available on timetable FAQs for students to express a desire to switch timetabled events that are inconvenient to another one. I was happy about this minor win and all the lead-up that made it successful but learnt that one of the main holes within my conversation is convincing staff what students want their timetable to look like. So, we, in the SU, designed a timetable survey during the winter and released it start of January. The survey gained a good response rate of 2,500. This was since I was already raising a profile of myself about campaigning for improved timetabling on my social media and multiple conversations and induction talks across the Uni – so students recognized what the email was about and wanted to contribute. This survey will serve as influential student input into the university’s review of their timetable strategy so that the university's timetabling in the coming future will reflect student needs and wants.  

3) Transparency! From the start of you course; know exactly how many lecturers/seminars you must attend to pass AND how your degree grade is classified (explained in simple terms)  

So I had a lot of conversations around the university about this with many, many staff members and realized two things. Firstly, the vast majority of programmes have no attendance requirement, so I dropped that manifesto point. Secondly, the university think that degree calculating is simple enough, students do get it, and if they don’t they don’t need to since they should be striving to do their best in all assignments. This was not good enough for me. I decided to design 11 different models that show how modules can calculated to an overall degree grade, I sent these examples to all the university’s schools in the hope that they would put it on programme sites/show it to students when they ask about degree grading. In retrospection, I should've contacted the Learning and Teaching Centre/Academic Quality to get something out for this 

4) Encourage free speech, debate and the freedom to think independently and critically 

I ran a Debate Club. I initially wanted to do this as a society but then realized an employee cannot set up a society, so a Club it had to be. At the start of term I tested the waters of which afternoon in the week would be best so I trailed a debate on Friday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Thursdays had the highest turn-out so I hosted Thursday debates throughout the year. I set up a FB group and twitter page for debate club but then realized opening a whatsapp group with the members on it was the best way. I was behind designing the posters via Canva.com and booking the rooms. I’m very proud to announce that Jeneva, law student and Debate Club member will be leading the Debate Club next year as part of her Public Speaking society – and she will do great! 



5) A Hertfordshire PhD conference event for PhD students to present their research in layman terms to postgrads across the university  

Initially I met with the head of the Doctorial College to gain an understanding of what engagement opportunities are available for PhD students. It appeared that the events I had in mind (Christmas parties and 3 minute thesis) already happen. But in my conversations with PhD students it did appear that they wanted representation from the SU. I also became interested in how BAME (Black, Asian and ethnic minority) students are underrepresented in postgraduate research student cohorts across University’s and wanted to do something to tackle this, by demystifying what it means to be a PhD student/have a PhD. I partnered with the University’s Widening Access department and ran an informal networking of current PhD students and curious undergrads/MA students called “The Secret Life of a PhD student” (title stolen from the University of York). The network event really benefited students in understanding the opportunity of doing postgraduate research.  


6) Staff to receive training on the ways to help students on the autistic spectrum keep up with their work 

I started with research. What is needed to help students with autism to learn and achieve in universities? I gained a lot of information, but it seemed like the university was already doing a lot of the recommendations. What I realized is a lot of teachers just need reminding that their students are all thinking and absorbing information in different ways – and that they are more than likely to be teaching students with autism. In order to raise awareness of autism in the University for teaching staff I found guidebooks for Higher Education lecturers and tutors on autism awareness - I printed a dozen and handed them out to all the University’s schools and senior management. I was also put into contact with a researcher on autism in UH who delivered a talk on understanding autistic individuals. The University’s Learning and Teaching Innovation Centre staff recorded the expert talk, collected the guide books, and have included autism awareness via the use of this material on their teacher training programmes for lecturer staff.  
 



7) Study room booking to include information about the facilities and space available in each room available for booking  

This initiative tested my resilience. In the summer I presented to the CEO of Library Service how different bookable rooms are can be to one another, from a tiny sparse room to a 50 person capacity with all the possible equipment. I told him there should be something like an image or description box about each room available for booking. He informed me that the site they use for student room booking is not very flexible, but they can include descriptions about the rooms available elsewhere on studynet. This was not good enough for me. I visited every single room available for booking on both campuses and drew up a chart which outlines how big the room is and what equipment was available. I sent this chart to every senior member of staff for the Library Service. With this info, they found a way to include it on the studynet room booking website itself and a lot of students recognized the change and found it useful. Also, I noticed these descriptions included “whiteboard pens available at library helpdesks to borrow” and not even a week went by before whiteboard pens where everywhere! 

8) Lecturers to deliver revision sessions during exam periods 

I spoke to many school staff and lectures about this during the summer and they all responded with “we already do”, also many students told me that they had revision sessions, so I dropped this manifesto point.   

9) Recognition of fantastic lecturers by having more engaging Uni of Herts Teaching Awards 

STAG (Student-led Teaching Achievement Gold) Awards! The SU previously delivered student-nominated teaching award but I wanted a stronger branding that will help gain momentum – which is why I came up with the STAG Awards. I also added new awards, “Best Inclusive Practice” and “Best Student Teacher” for PhD students that teach. Having worked in the uni these awards became even more important. Teachers/lecturers are constantly being told to do more, do better, metrics and changes and higher standards... So this was a way to say, actually, on behalf of the students, we think you're doing great. 


10) The university to prioritize clear language skills when hiring lecturers to improve teaching quality 

Early in the year I looked up the requirements of lectureship vacancies and this was already there as “essential so I dropped this manifesto point.  

Non-manifesto: 

I also started up a campaign on Trans awareness in Health and Social Work curriculums (which I was inspired to do during being in post): 

During my time at an NUS event I got into a conversation with a LGBT+ campaigner about what are the key issues facing LGBT+ individuals in HE. I began to learn of the importance of specifically transgender competency and awareness among social workers, councilors and nurses. There is an abundance of reports from professional bodies that stress the importance of this. So I got into a long chain of emails with programme leaders on the Social Work and Nursing courses. I also gained an understanding of curriculum change from the University's senior management team which helped in this initiative. After a lot of convincing I did eventually get success on this. The Nursing programmes will circulate to students a guidance on inclusive language when treating trans patients from next year onwards, and the Social Work programmes will deliver a session on LGBT+ and gender varying awareness. I have been invited to these classes which is very nice. I do have an important tip that comes out of this experience - don’t rely on email communication – meet the people you are trying to convince – you need to talk face to face and it will make your campaign a lot more successful if you request to meet early on. 

My Final Two Weeks in Office: 

This period is mainly focused on introducing the new elected officer team to their job roles, teaching them about their working responsibilities and the University. For this “handover” I wrote up a lengthy document for the new Vice President Education detailing tips on getting change to happen as well as what the on-going issues and discussions happening at the university are and how to have an impactful input on them. If you are curious to learn about what this job role entails and what I've learnt about the university by being in this role – send me a message on @ZainaHkm twitter and I’ll share it with you!  

Access and Participation Plan  

The University began to work on their Access and Participation Plan and asked me for an input on behalf of the SU. For this I wrote a piece which focused on the need to engage marginalized students through bold and honest awareness campaigns, a university-wide commitment to diversifying curriculums, autism awareness incorporated in teaching and a stronger pipeline into postgraduate study for students from ethnic minority backgrounds.    

Showcasing the Philosophy society  

The University do an annual Learning and Teaching conference, and theme this year was Student-Staff partnerships. As I have been attending philosophy Society events over the past couple of years and saw how their student and staff joint activities has a great impact on university experience I teamed up with the PhilSoc committee to deliver a short talk at the conference to showcase the positive impact of a successful academic society! I hope the university continues to invest and support initiatives like these.  


Universities UK BAME Attainment Conference at SOAS  

I attended a conference about tackling the inequalities around the gaining of a “good” degree (2:1/First) between white and ethnic minority students (among University's a graduate is more likely to gain a “good” degree if they are white). I was delighted to see that our Vice Chancellor, Quintin McKellar, was on the panel, showing an active commitment to tackling this disparity. I joined UH staff members and a BAME Advocate to deliver a presentation on the exemplar activity in UH in tackling the attainment gap, and my part was around the ole of Student Unions within this. I also spoke to our Vice Chancellor about what we can learn from the conference to incorporate positive action in UH, and he agreed that better sign posting about postgraduate research courses was necessary and would action this. This is to encourage and facilitate the pipeline into PhD study for BAME students so that they can potentially become lecturers and diversify the university teaching makeup.   

All in all, I've had a great time and met the awesomest people. But I can't help but feel salty about the year I got elected in. From being in a team of 5 elected down to 2 that made it to the end, the CEO of the Union leaving in the summer, vacancy recruitment and all its politics, extreme over-reactions about my tweets – basically, there was a lot of headache I didn’t ask for. But you gotta go through these mishaps to learn and get stronger. I am also grateful that this role gave me an opportunity to actively participate in awareness campaigns I am passionate about, from Autism awareness, LGBT+ to race equality. Due to this role I feel like not only do I have an opinion on these issues but know how to voice them to make real change. I am also very grateful to have learnt so much about this wonderful world I now LOVE called Higher Education and student experience – from the sector as a whole to all its intricate inner workings.  

I was all #GoHerts but it’s now time to #GoHome  

July: Football may not be coming home but the STAG is

Hi g uys! Just finished m onth two as your VP and I would like to tell you how  it  ha s  been.    First of  all ,  let me  clarify ...