VP Education and Democracy Joanne Lisney Candidate Interview

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Wessex Scene interviewed Joanne Lisney, 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 am someone that’s undertaking their placement year as an English teacher, while still at college, so I have gained experience and skills that are appropriate to this role. Whilst teaching at a secondary school is different from the VP Education role, it has allowed me to work with a wide range of people from different backgrounds, thus harnessing negotiation skills and compassion. Likewise, it has driven me to want to make positive changes to the university.

I have also become more confident and learned to become a leader as loads of people at this age don’t really know what they’re doing and need something to look – someone to look to for reassurance and that’s something I can offer. I’m constantly accessible through media – and social media as well, obviously, just all whatever, but also in person which is key. And what was the other one sorry, what makes you different?

What differentiates you from other candidates?

Ok yeah, so whilst Jess and Evelyn have made excellent points about postgraduates and PHD engagement, I want to not separate the different undergraduate, postgraduate and PHD students. For example, I would like to set up like hubs or breakfasts’, or social events which don’t separate undergrads from the postgrads as in, you know, we’re all here, we all need to be engaged. And, you know, undergrads can learn a lot from the older students and vice versa. And also, it’s a great thing to have a network of undergrads with postgrads etc. because obviously that’s not something we have currently – it’s something that needs to be worked on and implemented to improve the experience for all students.

How will you handle the responsibilities that have been added to the position due to the merging of the roles VP Education and VP Democracy?

So I would be using a calendar. So I’m very much orientated by a diary – so on my wall I have a planner that says x,y and z so that you have deadlines, so you have deadlines for an education thing, I’d put that on there so I can work towards it and have it and visualise it because it’s easier for me to do it that way then it is for me to remember it. And also it’s making sure to have a rota so that you’ll be like two days a week dealing with education stuff and three days a week doing the democracy, and the next week it would be three weeks – three days on education and etc. like that throughout. It’s about dividing the time and making sure I implement and stick to it, and still feeling it – not being overloaded.

I know it’s a big position and they’ve added more responsibility to it but I also have to take care of my welfare as well. So it’s about finding balance between my own welfare and actually doing the job properly as it needs to be done.

If you plan on kind of looking at it and separating them and how you scheduling your thing, how are you going to work with the overlap between the two roles?

So it’s not just a job that’s 9-5, Monday to Friday, it is constant and it’s about, you know, making sure that if I sit down and if it starts to get a bit too much, it is working with the rest of the sabbatical officers. If I need help, not to take it all on myself but actually delegating it – if it needs to come to it. You know because, obviously, at the end of the day, say it’s a welfare issue in education: well, obviously, you have the Welfare and Community sabbatical officer which, you know, you can work with them. It’s not all just on one sabbatical team, therefore, things will overlap, regardless of it being Education, or it could be, you know, President, or it could be Welfare etc. like that. So it’s like if you need help, asking for help, and not being afraid to do it.

Increasing support for students experiencing mental health issues is one of your key manifesto points. One of the main complaints lodged against Student Services is that it cannot provide frequent mental health care appointments to students who need them. How would you look into increase the availability and more personalised attention toward students requiring mental health care assistance?

So obviously we have, you know- as someone that has suffered with it myself I know it’s quite hard to get a hold of it, but –

When you say ‘it’, what do you mean?

Get hold of an appointment to see them. So, you know, obviously I’m a humanities student. I’m based in humanities, in the Avenue – supposed to be, anyway – so obviously we have different campuses, it’s about having one on every campus. It’s a lot of strain on the one service that we have, it’s about finding ways to put the – even if it’s just like the Life Support we have in Halls. Having that just, say, even like twice a week on different campuses just so you can have somewhere that’s like, ok…

Whether it be like a team that we have – something similar to that on different campuses so that people who feel like oh stressed, or start to feel like it’s taking its toll on them, so they can at least, the uni, will become aware and then obviously, you know. It’s not something I will be able to fix instantaneously – I think that’s the word – but the fact is putting things – implementing things that will make things better. Once you’ve got that in place, it becomes easier to then work on the times etc. and stuff like that. And obviously working with the Welfare sabbatical officer, as that is obviously what they do.

On the Education side of the role, you’re responsible for representing postgraduates, as well as undergraduate students. How will you handle this responsibility and further help integrate postgraduates in the university?

So yeah it is very much, the team as it seems, is very much undergrad-based. It’s about I guess, as I said, putting on things such as socials that aren’t just for postgraduates, it’s for all. But also, making sure like if you put say karaoke at Stag’s – but make sure it’s like postgraduates, PhD students and undergrads welcome. So making sure, you know, getting people out there and also using it, publicising all these kind of events for all students within the building.

A lot us spend a lot of time up here and we can see it, and obviously you have postgraduates at WSA [Winchester School of Arts] and with the free shuttle, welcoming them up here, you know have that sense of community, but also to be like there are things up here to like show them and welcome them here. Like, we have Student Services and then obviously, as the sabbatical officer, it would be engaging with them and being like “so, as a postgraduate” for example at WSA “what do you need there that I can pull some strings, see what I can do for you?”. Because obviously I’m up here and I can’t be there all the time but it’s about still being open and welcoming people up here and obviously going to them.

You talk about socials and activities like Stag’s Karaoke and stuff – they’re not explicitly advertised towards specific groups of students, so they are technically already open to everyone. How would you try to encourage postgraduate and PhD students to actually attend them, since they’re not necessarily advertised towards just undergraduate students, even though that’s the main kind of demographic?

I’ve thought about this and I was talking with my campaign team and they were saying what about getting noticeboards. So obviously, in, for example, the Avenue Campus, there is a postgraduate study room. Even just having a noticeboard outside, or inside, for postgraduates to see that there is actually events going on is something that’s simple, but I feel like it’s effective because obviously you can change it – it’s not like permanent and obviously if you want to add things to it like, you know, sports social for postgraduates and undergraduates you can add it on there. It doesn’t have to be just you know social sided, it can also be like oh you know, help with – I don’t know, psychology study, like postgraduate study, I’ll help you with, I don’t know, structuring or something of essays for students. Something like that, like what we have on the language board exchange, but obviously I offer you this, you offer me that kind of thing.

You talk a lot about the lack of resources in the library, how do you plan on making reading and other materials more readily available to students?

So obviously we have to have a what’s it called – I’m trying to think what it’s called – but it’s one of the copyright laws it is, trying to think what it’s called, but it basically allows you to use it if it’s for education purposes which we have to attain anyway to do that and it’s about prioritising course collection, for example, because, obviously, being an English student specifically it is a pain to try and get a hold of –

– it’s extremely expensive.

Yeah expensive and it’s not just that, but if you have the physical copy – just the one where it’s like 30 students – it’s very hard to get hold of.

If you digitalise it, which you already have the permission, but you already have the copyright’s protection law thing on your side it’s not illegal if you’re using it for that intended educational purpose. So by doing that and prioritising it, it makes everyone’s life easier – especially like humanities students because there’s so much reading and it’s difficult to get a hold of. It also means that, for example, if you’re on holiday, you know, over Easter or something like that, you can access it regardless of where you are in the world as long as you log in online. So it’s about being accessible, regardless of where you are.

How do you plan on making sure that students are made aware of where their tuition fees are actually being spent?

I spoke to Steve Gore [current VP Sports, and acting President of the Union]about this so far, and he said that while the University now has to publish where they are spending the money, he did say, he raised the issue that it’s not broken down or justified. So obviously I would be doing, adding that to the course of you actually having to justify where it is going. So he said that some people, you know, he’s looked at the accounts and some of it’s like £4,000 on business flights. Obviously to a student that’s like woah – that’s like, you know half my degree, half my degree for a year – but then with justifications it’s a lot more to be like it’s transparent, this is why we’re justifying it.

Also he did say that it’s already published, but I didn’t know about that and I know that loads of students don’t know that actually it’s now, you know, required. But I said to him with the Union building, what about our Twitter or on our Facebook saying “here’s a link”, just something simple as here’s the link you can click on and you can go through yourself, there’s nothing that we can hide and we are the ones that are the bridge between the students and the University, and we are the way to use our resources. So online and stuff like that, Twitter, as a way to outpost the information that students are  – easily, it’s easy to be found and easily broken down for them.

You say in your manifesto that you feel that not many students are aware of what the VP Education and Democracy exactly does and how to approach them if there are issues. However, the role for VP Education and Democracy is new for the next academic year, could you clarify if you meant both previous VP roles which are combined, or just one of the two, and how would you try to remedy the lack of awareness you feel students have?

So obviously it’s a new position, so it’s obviously not like clear, obviously it’s a bit hazy, so obviously to do with all democratic issues such as where the fees is going, any concerns you have with VC stuff, you know, stuff that has happened in the past. Obviously you have the education side, which is all to do with educational issues, so this needs to be improved.

But what I was saying, as before, the role separately was also a bit unclear on what students – ok, Education, but what specifically? So a breakdown of what things you can come to them about. Same with Democracy. So obviously making it a bit clearer and having on the presence on all campuses. So I said in my manifesto about potentially having office hours so that students, if it’s pressing can come straight to you or obviously a suggestion box so that you can put in there so ways of being – not just an online presence, but you also need to have a physical side because not everyone actually likes online. It’s about having [a]physical presence. Presence at every campus.

Do the sabbatical officers not already have drop in sessions – how would the office hours be different?

I mean, I’ve never been made aware that there is office hours, so I mean, I don’t know if there is still – there might have been previously. So it’s about setting time – even an hour, or having like three hours a week – that students can come in, and having online where students can email, can use Facebook Messenger kind of thing, and also a suggestion box. And it’s making sure that you spend your time – dividing my time – at each campus because obviously neglecting… A lot of things I’ve seen in other people’s campaigns is, and I’ve seen it myself as a student, that other campuses are neglected, so it’s about delegating that time. So maybe like every two weeks being at WSA for a few hours, stuff like that. I can find times – even if it’s like on the weekend, I’m willing to work and spend my time on the weekend going to do things to make and improve Education and Democracy at the University.

Tell us a bit more about the thinking behind your deadline email idea and how it could be beneficial to students.

So some of my housemates, and myself included, have had issues with the deadline thing. So obviously it works similar to the library system – so it works for the library and I don’t see why, you know, it couldn’t work with like Turnitin for example. For example, you submit an essay and you think it’s gone through – some people don’t check for receipts, that’s a silly thing but sometimes it does you know – it’s an easy mistake to make. For example, if you have a deadline at 4pm on the Friday and you misread it and thought it was the following Friday, it would send you within half an hour of missing that deadline to remind you that we haven’t basically got your work on the system, so submit now and save yourself like a 10% deduction. So you are aware.

Or there is a thing you could say where introducing a warning 24 hours before a deadline, so you have a prior warning not just once, but twice. So, you know, it’s a silly thing but it’s easily fixed, because it works for the library it is easily transferable to that online submission. Obviously I know there are still some people who have paper hand-ins, so it would be looking to a system about getting QR code and scanning it in that way so you have a physical copy and also an online version.

Certain degrees actually already do those 24 hour online email things – I know, for example, that they do it for Medicine. Would you then want to implement it for all degrees?

Yeah. It’s like science degrees – or Medicine degrees – that have a heavy workload, but there is obviously like, for example, humanities students who I mainly live with – they’ve had this issue several times and it’s about you know… If it works for Medicine, and it clearly does, why can’t it be implemented across the board?

On of the democratic side of your role, You Make Change – the Student Union online questions and ideas feedback system – falls under your remit. You also plan a suggestion box to put in the SUSU building. This has, however, received querying on your manifesto page as to whether a physical box is necessary, or that it may, inadvertently, undermine the already existing You Make Change portal. What’s your response to this and your view on the You Make Change currently – does it need any changes to the way it works?

So speaking to loads of students when I was researching these ideas, a lot of them didn’t even know what that was. So, you know, even my housemates were like “I had no idea what that was and I didn’t know you could do it”. So I guess obviously putting it out constantly on either through email, or the Union website to highlight that it’s still a thing. But I think it’s nice to have a suggestion box because it’s not going to cost a lot – you could literally make it out of a shoe box that you can find in my room – you know. It’s not expensive, it’s not adding any extra expense to the University. The only thing that would be an expense is time. But obviously, it’s about having that physical option to feel engaged.

So, for example, Charlotte’s [Charlotte Colombo, Community and Volunteering Officer] food-bins – they worked very well and obviously many people came in. So it’s about having that opportunity to be like – you know I could be sitting in Stags’ and be like, “h yeah, this isn’t really beneficial”. It’s about being able to pop over, you don’t have to fill out this long thing. Obviously Eduroam can be a pain, so you can do it by person.

Also, some students don’t like online stuff, so they’d rather do it in person. Some people like digitalised editions of books, some people prefer the physical copy – so it’s about offering that to all, so you have a choice. It’s not just being oh, there’s one way you can do it – and online can be ignored, whereas the suggestion box can be ready and checked, and I can’t ignore that.

Finally, you say you want to work with other university student union officers to improve UK Higher Education. If you could change one aspect of UK Higher Education, what would it be?

I would say probably the whole divide between universities. So, you know, obviously we have Southampton and Southampton Solent – obviously we have rivalry there. But at the end of the day, a degree’s still a degree and we all need – it takes a multitude of degrees to make up a world, and it’s about de-stigmatising that. So you know, you didn’t go to Oxford – well, I went to Southampton and that’s not Oxford is it, or Oxbridge, but the value of our degree isn’t any less than those at Oxbridge or other Russell Groups, or like Winchester.

We all need these degrees – the world needs these degrees, even – because it’s what makes us who we are, I guess.

Find out more about Joanne Lisney and her policies by reading their manifesto here.

More articles in Union Elections 2019: Vice-President Education and Democracy Candidate Interviews
  1. VP Education and Democracy Jessica Harding Candidate Interview
  2. VP Education and Democracy Joanne Lisney Candidate Interview
  3. VP Education and Democracy Evelyn Hayes Candidate Interview
  4. VP Education and Democracy Sebastian Graves-Read Candidate Interview
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Opinion Editor 19/20, Features Editor 18/19. Third year BA English Lit student with a passion for intersectional feminism, dogs and iced coffee, currently on a YA in Hong Kong.

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