After a successful stint as NUS delegate and member of the Education Zone Committee, Katie Gethings is running for Vice President Education in this year’s Union Elections.
At the heart of Katie’s manifesto is “making sure all students receive the high-quality education they deserve and expect” and she plans to do so by honing in on student living, student safety and sexual harassment and the academic experience at Stirling.
The third year psychology student is keen to introduce ‘Life Skills Support Sessions’ to help students, many of whom have never lived away from home before, thrive as independent adults. These sessions would teach students cooking, budgeting, stress relief and time management skills.
In an interview this week, Katie told Brig: “University is so much more than just your studies. This is the first time that most people move away from home and, although it’s expected that you will learn life skills at university, we aren’t really given any framework to help with that.
The university has the mechanisms in place where you can get help if you are struggling but, in a way, I want to nip it in the bud so that students know how to manage stress or manage money before they are struggling.”
“The sessions would be optional but really encouraged for students,” she said. “I think so many people would benefit from them, especially first years, and it would be a great thing to offer.”
In a similar vein, Katie wants to protect the university’s mental health services and continue to fight for more funding.
This follows a decision by the Scottish government to cut funding for mental health counsellors in universities in July.
Katie said: “My main priority is to protect the counsellors and mental health services that we have here in Stirling and make sure that nothing changes because of this funding [cut]. This is a massive area that the Stirling Students’ Union, as a whole, needs to be campaigning for.
“Although the university will get less funding from the government, it has other revenues and other streams of income that we can make sure the mental health services are protected.”
Student safety and sexual harassment
Stemming from her work on student safety as NUS Delegate, Katie hopes to introduce a mandatory consent and sexual harassment awareness course if elected as VP Education.
“We’ve become a lot more aware of sexual harassment over the last five years,” Katie said, “but now is the time to make concrete steps.”
“Stirling has the ‘Erase the Grey‘ campaign – which is a great step for building awareness, educating people and signposting where you can get help – but to me that’s not enough. “
“We’re in a place now in Stirling, as well as across the world, where we’re ready to have these conversations in a more structured environment so that everyone gets a good level of education about sexual harassment and consent.”
The reality, Katie told Brig, is that instances of sexual harassment do unfortunately happen but being equipped with the knowledge on how to deal with this is imperitive: “I would like everyone to feel confident in how to handle a situation [of sexual harassment] but I don’t think Stirling currently supports people enough in this.”
“This is where the ‘mandatory’ aspect of the consent and sexual harassment course comes in. We have a lot of materials already available to us, like the ‘Erase The Grey’ campaign and NUS resources, that we could use.
“So it wouldn’t be a complete built-up-from-the ground initiative, it would just be a matter of collating all of these resources and making sure that everyone learns from them.”
A significant chunk of Katie’s manifesto is dedicated to examining the academic experience and quality of education at Stirling.
She plans to look into the dynamics of online learning that has become the ‘new norm’ following the COVID-19 pandemic, as she worries that some students are not satisfied with this and would prefer to return to in-person teaching.
If elected as VP Education, one of Katie’s first priorities is speaking to students in a bid to determine what works, what needs to improve and whether the changes to teaching that were brought on by the pandemic are ones that students want to stick with.
“Student input is at the heart of the role,” Katie said.
“There are discrepancies between in-person and online learning so I would like to get input from students, across every department, as to what the experience is like on their course and how much face-to-face time they get.”
“I want to make sure that students’ voices are heard and build from there.”
However, Katie doesn’t want to undermine the accessibility of online learning and promises to ensure that “viable and high standard” options are available to students who can’t always make it into university.
She told Brig: “[Online learning] is a great option for people who need it, whether they have other obligations, care responsibilities, children or disabilities that sometimes prevent them from coming into university.
“But I would like to find a better balance between in-person and online learning so that people who are able to come into university and want that face-to-face time don’t feel like they’ve been let down by learning from videos and online lectures. These are great resources but my personal view, and also what I’ve heard from other students, is that they shouldn’t replace in-person teaching.”
Katie also plans to overhaul the personal tutor system at the university, as she believes its effectiveness “varies greatly.”
Union President, Tash Miller, is currently looking into students’ experiences of the personal tutor system and, if elected as VP Education, Katie hopes to build upon this and take appropriate action.
Katie said: “There are discrepancies in the personal tutor system – course to course as well as tutor to tutor – with some students having lots of engagement with their personal tutors while others have yet to even meet theirs.
“This is an area of work that could support a lot of students and, of course, anything that supports students should be done.”
Ready to “take a good stab” at VP Education role
Katie told Brig that her previous roles as NUS delegate and Education Zone Committee member have given her invaluable experience and the confidence to throw her hat in the ring for VP Education.
She said: “I now have a really good insight into the proceedings of the Students’ Union and how things should be run in a democratic sense.
“Being an NUS delegate was incredible and I gained so many contacts and lessons from the conferences that we went to. It’s a great space for bouncing ideas off of each other, like ‘oh we want to do that in our union, how did you implement it?’ or ‘I could see that idea working at Stirling too!’
“I’ve gotten to know Union Presidents and other VP Educations and admired what they’ve been able to do in their roles, so it’s time I take a good stab at it.”
“I have loved my time at Stirling and want to help continue that for everyone.”
Katie’s manifesto can be found in full here.
Voting opens on Tuesday, February 28 at 10 am and closes on Thursday, March 2 at 5 pm.
Featured Image Credit: Katie Gethings
News Editor at Brig Newspaper
Fourth year Journalism Studies at the University of Stirling
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