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Wessex Scene interviewed Evelyn Hayes, who’s running for the role of VP Education and Democracy in the 2019 Union Spring Elections.
What makes you an ideal candidate for VP Education and Democracy and what differentiates you from other candidates?
So, I’ve had a lot of experience with representation both academic and non-academic during my time in University. I’ve moved through being in my halls committee in my first year to being a course rep and now I’m English Department President* and I sit on the education zone open place, so I’ve managed to get a lot of experience in representation, the issues different parts of the University are facing at the moment. But in those positions I’m kind of coming up against some of these walls that are things that I just can’t change because the roles that I am in do not abilitate that but these are things that the Union have been working on for years to solve. It’s an ongoing thing that needs more work, or there are issues that haven’t been looked at enough yet, and I think I’m in a really good position to look at that.
I think as well that, because lots of the candidates for VP Education and Democracy this year are from humanities, I think what I can bring to the role well is a perspective that looks beyond the humanities. Of course, there are issues there, and issues that I would want to face but there are broader issues as well that I’m really keen to look at those and really represent all Southampton students.
*Editor’s Note* : This article when originally published stated that Evelyn described herself as ’English Society President’, rather than ‘English Department President’. We are happy to clarify that this was incorrect and apologise for the transcription error.
How will you handle the responsibilities that have been added to the position due to the merging of the roles of VP Education and VP Democracy?
Yeah, this is an interesting question as it’s interesting in it being a new role. So the way that it is being structured is so the role is about 80% education and 20% democracy because the democracy role was with creative industries before so it’s not as huge as a merging as two roles becoming one as it can kind of look like initially. I think it is a merging that works in quite a cohesive way. A lot of the democracy stuff is academically related anyway so it’s stuff that Sam [Dedman, VP Education] and Evie [Reilly, VP Democracy and Creative Industries] have been working on together for a long time so it’s quite a natural combination of the roles. I think I would manage the responsibility of merging those roles in the way I’ve adapted to all the new roles that I’ve taken on. You go into openness and consulting the people who are more experienced than you and asking what worked, what hasn’t and bringing forth your new ideas and the fresh input hopefully I have that would make the combination of those roles hopefully something exciting for next year.
Over the past couple of months, the University has faced criticisms over the new Vice-Chancellor’s selection process and the salary which he receives. Considering your reference to the selection process in your manifesto, what is your opinion on this issue?
It’s one that comes up a lot that we can think, you think, we can’t really escape but that is because it’s a really big issue and an issue that affects so many students. I find it slightly baffling that we can have an all-student vote where 96% of students say “We don’t think the Vice-Chancellor should be paid this much” and then a pay review is done and nothing changes. It is so rare to get that kind of consensus from the student body and I think if I was elected into this role I would be really, really keen to get transparency from the University about what their processes are, why are they not achieving something that serves the students and what the students want, considering that we are a vast amount of the source that the Vice-Chancellor is getting paid from. It really should be something that serves us and I think perhaps it is fair enough for them to say he is doing a massive job, he deserves massive pay but I’m not quite convinced by that and I would really like to use the opportunity to give this role to interrogate that a lot more and to really look into how the University can show itself how it is really helping to serve its students.
In your manifesto you mentioned several times the difference in upkeep between the campuses both in terms of study spaces and facilities available. How serious do you think this problem is and how do you plan on addressing it?
So, I think there can be a big temptation for the University to go “okay, so we can build one massive, flashy building like the Centenary Building and assume that because it is going to go on the front of the prospectuses and because it is so appealing that in terms of getting students in that solves things”. But really the fact that we are still surrounded by rooms on Highfield even, where there is not suitable ventilation and you can’t record lectures, it’s just really important that we pay attention to the small day-to-day differences that sabb officers can make in terms of just ensuring that the student experience isn’t hindered by tiny issues like that because they seem like tiny issues, but can be things that can distract you from learning.
Our study spaces are spaces that some students spend 40 hours of their week in and it’s probably the space that lots of students spend most time in compared to their homes, so I’m really passionate about making a difference and really using student feedback to make sure the spaces we have are meeting the needs of students and the needs of students which are changing constantly because the way people study changes, the different ways people want to use these spaces change. I think the last year it has become clear that students want spaces to relax on campus as well not just highly intense quiet zones in Hartley and also I think we need to be looking beyond Highfield a little bit as well and thinking about how WSA and NOCS and Avenue and the Hospital can be meeting the needs of students [which]may vary slightly. I think we need to be investing outwards as well as inwards.
You also mentioned ensuring that facilities meet the basic minimum requirements. Which do you believe are these requirements?
I think it’s these things that I’ve mentioned like ventilation and lecture recording because it is all well and good for students to be asking their lecturers to record and that’s the things that’s kind of moving slowly and slowly across the board, but if a lecturer then agrees to record their lectures and their room doesn’t facilitate it, there’s only so much that can be done, that’s just the way it is when really lecture recording can make a huge difference. Suppose students in the classroom that want to look back and students who are having trouble and need that extra support so as to cope with their studies.
On the democratic side of the role, You Make Change, the student union feedback system, falls under your remit. What’s your view on You Make Change currently – do you think it needs any changes to the way it works?
I do think that is one of the things that is working quite well currently but I think one of the things that we need to be thinking about across the board with feedback is having longer term reviews of how feedback is being “actioned” upon because a lot of the feedback that gets fed in sometimes “You Make Change” is more focused on the Union side of things and what the Union can do. I’ve spoken as well in my manifesto about the student forums which is more towards what the University is doing and sometimes in both cases it’s, we get a response of “We’ve seen your issue and we are planning to do this” and I think there need to be better systems put in place so we can then kind of check back in and say “so, what’s the progress?”, “You’ve said we’ve got a plan; how is the plan going?”, So that students can really see not just that their feedback is being listened to, but it’s also “actioned” upon and that would hopefully help boost engagement with the democracy side of the role as well.
On the education side of the role, you’re responsible for representing postgraduate as well as undergraduate students. How will you handle this responsibility and further help integrate postgraduates in the University?
It’s a really difficult question. It’s one that’s really been at the preoccupation that the University does not usually give as much attention as is needed but I think that this year it’s going to provide a really exciting opportunity to give this good attention because postgraduate representation is coming completely under education rather than being split between communities and education. So I think in the first instance we need to be thinking about how we can work with the induction processes that postgraduates have so that they can come into the university and feel part of the student community that we have there. They make up a quarter of the student population. That’s a massive proportion. We need to be thinking about what we can do to ensure that they feel part of the community and also making sure that we are making the most of the resources that they have.
Many of them have been at other institutions before. That means that they have feedback about what’s worked well in other institutions; things that they can share that we can be making the most of. One of the big ideas that I have is because the social elements of setting up events for postgraduates haven’t always received the engagement that the Union would have liked, I’ve been thinking about ways we could combine employability and training events with more social events like the postgraduate breakfast which don’t happen as much anymore. Now they are used to it but people enjoyed it at the time but were stopped because of the engagement issue. Hopefully, if we could combine those events with tangible information, the way events like how postgraduates can make the most of their academic qualifications and academic CVs to enhance their employability both within academic circles and beyond them, going forward from their masters, postgraduates and doctorates, whilst combining that with the social elements, which can show more of a sense of community.
You state that you want to work towards free printing. What would you say to those who may suggest this to be an overly optimistic policy considering the extensive lobbying the outgoing Vice-President Education undertook to achieve a minimum 20% reduction in printing costs per page for students this academic year?
It is a difficult one but also one that has worked well in other universities so University of Portsmouth is one example where there are printing companies that provide services solely for students, where they provide printing in exchange for advertising basically and that has worked. It is not something that would work across the board in terms of every piece of work kind of thing but it could be positive for the way that students need to be accessing these resources on a kind of day-to-day basis without it draining resources because again this is an issue that varies quite a lot across campuses and across faculties but there are some students who are required to be reading vast amounts of material on a week-by-week basis that need that printage because of how their degrees work and it becomes a huge drain.
I think that Sam has achieved some brilliant things with reducing the costs. That took a vast amount of work, but I think that if we can maybe put in place a perhaps Union-funded or union-subsidised system which uses one of these companies that other universities have successfully used, then it could be a really possible option. So I do recognize that it is optimistic, but I think it could really be achievable.
Finally, you mentioned the issue of recording lectures. In many cases lecturers choose to not record lectures while many others face technical issues with the equipment. I think you’ve answered it a lot with the equipment but I will ask you again. What is your opinion on the matter and how will you help promote the recording of lectures?
I think a lot of the issue with recording lectures is two-fold. Firstly, you got the fact that some lecturers still don’t realise that it is something that students really value. There are many lecturers and you can see this in how it has been developing in the past year with the increase in recording lectures that lecturers just do not realise that there is a need but if they are asked by students they will just get up and do it. Then there’s the other side which is just lecturers who have got ethical issues with it who say, “Well, if I’m recording it then I’m transferring my content onto the university’s system”, which then in some cases is university ownership of their content, which really poses some interesting and difficult questions about the needs of lecturers and all of these things.
For that first kind of issue, I think about implementing an opt-out policy which I realise could be challenging because implementing any across the board policy in a university this size is very difficult but the fact that so many lecturers will say yes if asked means that I think that it could be really successful if we manage to put a policy in place where the default answer is yes. You can still say no if you’ve got an issue with it and you really do not want to; no one is going to force a lecturer to record a lecture because that is just not the education environment we want to be in, but I think that could really help in bringing a kind of consistency across the board where there’s actually not that much resistance. On the other side, I want to have more conversations with staff, kind of bearing in mind these reticence that they have and be thinking about ways we can tackle those because all of these things like whether students are actually going to attend lectures if they record them, is there a possibility that maybe it could work if lecturers record lectures up until the point where their attendance falls below a certain point.
There are many different options about what could be but I think there needs to be better dialogue between the Union and staff so that students’ desire for more lecture recording can be brought to kind of a good result.
Find out more about Evelyn Hayes and her policies by reading her manifesto here.