First Student’s Union general meeting of 2021 semester takes place; first motions passed

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The meeting saw 3 motions discussed with concerns for student accommodation, access to digital resources, and international study of paramount importance.

On January 21, the Students’ Union met for its first general meeting of the semester with a primary goal of improving circumstances and opportunities for studying at Stirling University.

Three motions were raised and discussed; the ERASMUS motion, the NUS Tenant Union motion, and the increased digital access motion.

The Erasmus+ programme has existed since 1987 with a focus on providing funding for education, sport, and training in general, primarily allowing students to travel abroad within the EU member states for a cultural and educational experience different from ones own. Students gain qualities from such an experience, including increased confidence and independence.

The European Credit Transfer System allows for the academic credits earned while abroad to count towards their degree.

However, considering the implications of Brexit and the UK’s officially announced departure from the programme, UK students no longer have access to this invaluable international exchange, while international students no longer have the opportunity to come to UK universities via the Erasmus+ programme.

At the general meeting, concern for the proposed replacement of the Erasmus+ programme, the Turing Scheme was high on the agenda, noting that many members of the Scottish and UK Parliaments have spoken out against this decision by the Prime Minister, called the Turing Scheme “unacceptable” and “watered down”.

Concerns for the quality of the scheme were raised, with fears amplified regarding the lack of a quality assurance charter or similar marker of standard that was present within the Erasmus+ programme. Prestige and reputation are essential components of study programmes, with students entitled to reassurance that educational programmes are credited, worthwhile, and ultimately worth undertaking with a positive experience aimed for by those developing the programme.

The Birthday of the Erasmus programme - Youthreporter
Credit: Youth Reporter EU

At the general meeting, members found that, “The Turing Scheme, does not provide the same opportunities or quality of experience as the Erasmus+ Programme. It places the burden on Universities to set up and administer individual partnership exchanges with Universities in the EU, which is likely to result in fewer partnerships and therefore fewer opportunities.

“The lack of information available on what the Turing Scheme looks like or involves demonstrates the lack of consideration for students in the negotiation of the Brexit deal, and is yet another source of national embarrassment throughout the Brexit process.”

The outcome or proposed action of the Erasmus+ motion was that, “individual Student Unions, and National Union of Students must lobby the Scottish and UK Governments to negotiate a better deal for students, so that more funded opportunities to study abroad are available at the same level of teaching quality that was present under Erasmus+.

“Individual Student Unions and the National Union of Students must lobby the UK Government to put in place a better system than the Turing scheme, which ensures academic quality, provides funded places and equal opportunities to those who would have been able to make use of the Erasmus+ Programme.”

Concerns over students’ access to both study and support materials have been raised by countless groups and individuals since the COVID pandemic hit; with an unfair disadvantage to students without internet access or internet-capable devices, it is evident that there is a huge disparity between not only students’ experiences, but universities themselves with regards to access.

The motion at the general meeting focused primarily on improving students’ access to support services and other services. Students often require the obtainment of documents to pass along to other institutions or individuals in order to complete needs assessment or applications. This process has been stalled drastically with information getting lost or altered along the way in some instances.

This is especially vital to combat in cases where students accessing student support are evaluated or assessed by staff, or given resources in a non-electronic format.

The Students’ Union members asserted that it is not enough to have access to educational resources, that administrative resources and direct access to the administrative team is required especially for the aforementioned circumstances.

“Increased digital access not just to education content but also administration would help decrease the workload of administration teams at Universities impacted by new restrictions, and allow for students to gain some individual oversight.

“Having a clear overview of how to access student support will hopefully ease any confusion on who to contact and what the status of a request is.”

The proposed action posited by the general meeting involved the potential creation of a one destination portal, similar to how other services are available through student and staff portals, or a 24/7 live chat that can direct requests and signpost students to the appropriate destination or contact.

“Online access should also provide an overview of which team handles what enquiry to ensure a request lands with the right people (ex: academic documents, learning disabilities, mental health support, general enquiries, accommodation enquiries).

“Students should be able to open cases and get an update on the progress of an enquiry. If multiple administrators are working on a case it would help if every member can see which steps have been taken and what has been resolved rather than having to work in circles.”

The last motion discussed at the general meeting involved the inclusion of the relatively new Stirling Student Tenants Union under the umbrella of other official organisations, postulating that the SSTU should receive official help, support, and backing from the National Union of Students and other student unions at other universities in their endeavours.

It is a formal acceptance of the organisation and attempt to further legitimise the SSTU in its future aims, conflicts, and objectives, proposing solidarity between the Stirling students union and the SSTU.

Over the last couple of years, many tenants unions and similar groups petitioning for fairer accommodation terms and attempting to hold universities accountable have risen over the UK, providing a vital service for students to make their voices heard over any accommodation concerns, with a current focus on rent refunds in light of the pandemic restrictions. These groups together are known as the Union of Scottish Student Tenant Unions.

The proposed action to be taken by the general meeting consisted primarily of increasing the links between the SSTU and the SSU, formalising and legitimising the relationship between the institutions, and proposing that in future endeavours, the SSTU is supported by wider institutions.

The GM resolved that, “Stirling Student Union will call on the National Union of Students  and other Student Unions to assist student efforts to establish Student Tenant Unions and support their aims and objectives.

Stirling Student Union stands in solidarity with the SSTU and wider Student tenant movement. The union resolves to provide assistance and support for these actions when possible and calls on the NUS and other Student Unions to do the same.”

Featured Image Credit: Brig Newspaper

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