Over 100 days ago, coming back to university seemed so far into the future that it didn’t seem worth stressing about. While some of us probably didn’t have a care in the world, your sabbatical officers at Stirling had a lot of work to do before the new semester started.
Brig has been speaking to the people who represent students at Stirling to find out if they have been delivering the promises they made in their manifestos. I met with VP Education Matt Adie to find out what’s been different about his role the second time around.
“You’re coming into the role knowing the key people, knowing what you want to do, knowing how long it takes to get stuff done. There hasn’t been as much as a transition period as there was last year.
“I’ve actually enjoyed it a lot more because I’ve had a really productive summer. Having those relationships there and being able to have discussions with members of staff around issues that I maybe hadn’t intended on tackling this year, but they’re maybe interested in working on.”
Though I’ve mentioned that your sabbatical officers had been kept busy over summer, it doesn’t illustrate what they’ve been doing exactly. Matt shares what his responsibilities were before students arrived back in September.
“During the summer for me in the academic role in summer is a lot of research and groundwork. Because a lot of the changes I want to try and make always have to go through committees, and they have to get approved and endorsed, that can be quite a long period of time. So the more work we can do over summer, the easier it is to get the ball rolling.
“If you look at Listen Again last year, we started the conversations about that in August and it was March before we got it signed off just because it went through a committee cycle. This summer especially, we done a whole review of our student representation system.
“We found that in the past, we have really good systems for representing undergrad students who have course reps and faculty officers, but when we were starting to look at those roles we don’t have as strong of a voice for postgraduate students.
“I was looking at how do we ensure they have that voice. In the past we were just taking what worked for undergraduate and sticking it in for postgraduate. That didn’t work because they are two very different natures of courses, so we stripped that all back this year. For postgraduates we have moved to programme-based representation. So there will be a rep for the whole degree programme rather than just one module.”
Just because Matt knew what he was getting himself into this time didn’t mean it would make the job any easier.
“I would say the biggest challenge is thinking about how much you can accomplish in one year because now you know for definite come May 31 you are out of here. So you want to do as much as you can, as best as you can and as quickly as you can but it’s realising there will be someone taking over from you next year.
“It’s the ground work now for future issues and making sure they have a seat at the table and they can tear into it. It’s probably one of the biggest challenges to get around in terms of thinking but it’s probably the most beneficial in the long run.”
Car parking is something that seems to be an issue regardless of which university you go to. This is something Matt had to deal with in his first year as VP Education and is something he is hoping to improve this year as well.
“Over the course of last year when car parking was again an issue in my first manifesto, we managed to get just over 100 new spaces on campus. Part of that was obviously with the completion of the Into centre which opened up a lot of additional spaces and we’ve managed to keep the two overflow car parks as well.”
“Car parking is still quite high up on the agenda, but there’s a lot of issues coming through in the next 12 months which are going to be big projects for the university campus which will affect us for the next 5 years or so. It’s going to be a significant investment, it’s going to make a huge change to the campus as we know it.
“Car parking is going to be a key consideration in that so I’m not going in as full throttle as I was last year in terms of what can we do here now. It’s to let’s see how these projects develop and make sure that car parking is included in them, otherwise we end up getting a good solution that’s only temporary and then these projects come along. Students in the university will find out more about these projects in the next couple of months. It’s going to be a really exciting time.”
Jess Logan, the VP Communities from last year, was successful in ensuring that students who didn’t attend their graduation wouldn’t have to pay the associated fees. Matt explains he is keen to keep the momentum going for this achievement.
“Last year Jess managed to secure graduation in abstentia being free and I would like to do is keep the ball rolling on that. We started to look at what students are getting for their money and is that value for money?
“Does the cost limit any students graduating, because we want to make sure that when students are coming to university it’s not just about getting here – it’s about getting them past the fresher’s fayre to their graduation.
“The plans for that going forward is that over the next 3 years the whole of Scotland is going to focus on this new enhancement scheme known as Evidence Based Enhancement, so it’s how we use evidence to inform and show the need for something.
“Because of this scheme there’s going to be a lot of resources available that we can tap into, so my hope is that with this and the academic timetable priority that I highlighted in my manifesto is that I want these to fund two of the big projects.
“I want to be able to speak to students on what their thoughts are on graduation costs as they currently stand and the package they get for that. If they feel there is a need for us to do something about this here and now or even put in plans in place for the upcoming years then we’re interested in getting these conversations started now.
“As you saw with the abstenia one it took us a number of years to get that done so it’s one of the things that I want to get the groundwork done now so future VP Eds will be able to secure in the long run.”
Now that their first 100 days has come and gone, what lies next for your sabbatical officers is what they hope to achieve before the newly elected take over next year.
“For me what would be nice is for students to have a stronger understanding of what we do in education. We do so much work every year but I don’t think we’re necessarily very good at communicating that back to students and letting them see the difference that we’re making. If we can make a difference for one student or 100 students then that’s us having the kind of impact we want to have.”