Last year the Students’ Union decided it was time to make some changes.
There have been changes to staff, changes to the way we use our buildings, and changes to the leadership of our Union.
At the AGM last year students voted to say that they wanted a review of the positions and remits of our Sabbatical team, the students elected every March to run our Union for a year.
12 miles away, in a lesser known campus called Winchester School of Arts (WSA) students were going about their normal daily business, preparing for the degree show, going to lectures, relaxing in the evenings, unaware of the period of change their union was about to undertake.
At the beginning of the Sabbatical review I saw the changes that were needed as simple. Split VP Welfare and Societies, and turn Winchester President into a President for all the satellite campus. Job done.
But as time went on the Sabbatical review went much further than initially expected, exploring what the real needs of students are from the Sabbatical team, and how best the Union can support them.
Right up until the summer when many creative ideas had been proposed for our Sabbatical team I still thought that, although important to the students it supports, the position of WSA President could become more flexible once they had a manager, who could “hold down the fort” during the times when a potential VP Satellite Campus’ was not around.
But then I spent 4 months working at Winchester, (as a Presessional Social Organiser) with the students who study there. It gave me a much greater understanding of the challenges they face, and how important their Union is to their experience with a President who can provide for WSA students and represent them in a time of very real, and very disruptive change that faces our University.
Through my work over the summer I got a real sense of the scale of what the WSA Students’ Union needs to provide, and how far it still needs to go to be able to say that we are offering a service which is of the same quality that Highfield students benefit from.
A Unique Campus
Supporting over 1200 Arts students, and around 200 Nurses on placement is no easy task. Although there are other campus’ with large numbers of students, WSA is unique due to the the distance it is away from the core activities of the union. Students from both the General Hospital and National Oceanography Centre can attend events, activities, and receive support from Highfield’s Union buildings and staff; but it is the location of WSA, some 12 miles away, that puts it out of reach of easy access without ever increasing transport costs.
The other consideration I came across is the climate of change that the University is now facing. The faculty changes have left WSA grouped with Law and Management, in the Faculty of Business and Law, which leaves it in an awkward and very vulnerable position when the university considers its next series of cuts. Without a strong voice which understands those students and courses, the union risks doing its students a disservice when attempting to represent and support them at what will likely prove to be a very difficult time.
The big change over the summer was the inclusion of a general manager to the small team at WSA, and has greatly improved the development of what the Union can provide. It has also been able to free up the WSA President to be a Sabbatical Officer again, rather than a Venues and events Manager, as necessity has dictated it be for as long as the position has existed. For the first time in years the WSA President has had the time to really focus on the students needs, and create a building that’s not just a bar, but a real Students’ Union.
My final thought is about the effect the sudden removal of the WSA President would have on the students who study there. For many years the union has struggled to engage with its student membership of WSA, and in the past year there has been an increased interest in the students’ union from both UK and international students. I would fear that the sudden withdrawal of a dedicated president could cause students to become disenfranchised with their union, and go back to seeing it as just a venue.
If a dramatic change to the nature of the position were to take place (such as the change to a VP Satellite Campus’) it will be essential that time is spent consulting with the students who live and study there before this was to happen. A consultation process has been going on for a long time on the review as a whole, but the views and opinions of WSA students is almost non existent.
These thoughts are not set out to underplay the need to support our students on placements, and at satellite campus’, but merely that possibly more extensive research into their needs and problems may be beneficial before any big changes take place.
It may be the case in the long term that a Satellite Campus’ Sabbatical, may make the best use of the resources the Union has, and that once WSA Students’ Union has become more developed it will not need the support of a dedicated Sabbatical, but in the short term for WSA to continue to develop I strongly believe it will need a full time President.
Have your say
If you are a student from Winchester, on placement, or on any of our campus’ now is the time to have your opinion heard, before it’s too late and big changes are made that will affect you, and the students who come after you. Although the review is a is a long way into discussion already you can give your input at evolvesusu.wordpress.com, or email the WSA president firstname.lastname@example.org (Winchester),
Deciding on the nature of the new team is not as simple a task as I had once thought, and there will be many factors to consider before an outcome is reached, but the one thing I know for certain is that the results of this review will help the Union push forward into a very bright and exciting future.