- Sabb Interviews: President, David Mendoza-Wolfson
- Sabb Interviews: VP DCI Megan Downing
- Sabb Interviews: VP Engagement, Ellie Cawthera
- Sabb Interviews: VP Communities, Anjit Aulakh
- Sabb Interviews: VP Welfare, Beckie Thomas
- Sabb Interviews: VP Sports Development, Katie Lightowler
- Sabb Interviews: VP Education, Sophia D’Angelico
As part of the mini-series of 2015 sabbatical interviews, the Wessex Scene team are interviewing all sabbatical officers this week to catch up on their progress, what’s gone well or badly so far and what plans they have for semester 2 and beyond.
So Sophia, what’s been the best part of the job so far?
Working with my reps – I’ve been working with them and training them a lot, and it’s really good fun. They’re really good at their jobs.
So you’ve taken a very active role in working with them then?
We did an initial two-day training at the beginning of the academic year, and I work with them regularly one-on-one. We’re just a really good team.
You mentioned in your manifesto that you wanted to strengthen the rep system – is this a part of carrying that out? In what other ways have you tried to achieve that?
We gave them all an introduction explaining where their role begins and where it stops, emphasising that it’s academic- rather than welfare-based. This was followed by 2-3 hours of training. I’ve written a course rep handbook since coming into this role as well, helping them with their role – I’ve tried to make the process more active this year.
But it seems like the course reps’ reputation hasn’t changed much so far – a lot of people don’t know who their reps are, or what their job is. Are you trying to combat this?
Student engagement is a big issue. Part of it is getting students to run in the first place, and realising how it’s a really important role, getting involved and representing your peers. The other part of it is actually getting students to realise how important their reps, academic presidents and faculty officers are for them – getting them to actually approach the team is really key. It seems sometimes they don’t understand the system and that it’s there for a purpose, and also maybe we’re not getting them to know our identities in order to use us to help them.
So this year we’ve been working on using social media more – we have our own hashtags for the first time, we use Thunderclap to get the word out about elections. We’ve also got the student reps represented alongside the staff when you look them up on Blackboard. It’s just making sure students know where they need to go and who to approach, and why, so I’ve been trying to combat this.
So it sounds like you’re working well in that aspect of your role. What kind of struggles have you encountered that you weren’t expecting when you signed on?
Time restraints – the QAA has been taken really, really seriously by the university, and so they expect a lot from me. It wasn’t just the interviews, surveys and focus groups that I had to do when I first took on my role – I then had to do further research, finding data comparing us to other universities and things like that. I had to create an extensive report – it was like doing a dissertation again! So that was me producing data to present the university, essentially making demands on what we need to tweak and change within the university. Now it’s been a case of getting the university to respond to my recommendations, and the QAA basically back us up on this. I’m really happy to be a part of it but it’s obviously very time-consuming… All the stuff I want to do, the stuff that’s really exciting, is getting pushed back for stuff I have to do for the university first.
So a lot of things seem to be coming up which have been prioritised over some of the ideas in your manifesto. For example you were on the front line dealing with the backlash from the proposed marking boycott. How did you deal with the situation when you were so new to your role?
It’s quite controversial, because I can sympathise with the academics, but if they’re deciding to take action which is being directly detrimental to students’ lives and to the student experience, it’s very difficult to support it in my position. As far as I was concerned, it was a case of making sure the students understood what the situation was, and why it was happening. We brought it to Education Zone first, where we made an interim decision on the university’s attitude towards the boycott, and then it was taken to Union Council. We felt the fact that the decision to go ahead with the boycott without all members’ approval was a very dishonest move, plus we didn’t know how long it would go on for, or how much it would impact students, but we didn’t feel comfortable making this decision on behalf of the whole university at that stage in time, so we decided to essentially abstain from making a decision. Luckily it’s been dismissed since then, and they’re going into negotiations now.
Looking back on your manifesto now, what do you think you’d change? Is there anything you focused too much on, or anything you overlooked?
I would have focused a bit more on diversity – I wish I’d concentrated more on getting international students involved, as that’s something I’m now very involved with, getting support packs organised for students coming in for our campus abroad. The main thing would be that I focused a lot on employability, and I’ve realised since that that’s more Beckie’s role – I have a lot of other important roles but I can see now that, while I’m interested, that isn’t really part of my position.
Looking ahead, what’s your next move?
Well once the QAA is sorted, we’ll be able to focus on policies, on things that actually affect students’ lives, rather than just paperwork. The next thing on my agenda is tackling hidden course costs – I’ve got loads of plans for this. I’ve got events plans, and a campaign getting students to think about what they’ve had to pay for within their course, and what they could have done with their money if they hadn’t had to buy core texts, or lab equipment, or placement transportation they weren’t expecting to pay for. I’m really looking forward to starting on all that.