Round the Clock Representation isn’t just the maxim of Academic Reps, but of all kinds of students who work to provide a voice, and all kinds of unions whose heartbeat comes from the needs and expectations of their members. As the saying goes, no two days are the same. It follows, then, that everything we do here in Lincoln and everything the student movement does nationally, should be in a constant stage of change; there’s a need to be both proactive and reactive. Clarence Darrow once said ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change’; Academic Representation at Lincoln has come a long way with this approach, to the benefit of our members, and we look forward to every next chime of the clock.
Using the NUS Round the Clock Representation structure, we adapted it in the context of Course Reps. This enabled us to work out month-by-month how we would contact our elected representatives, and when we would hold elections, training and forums. The aim was to take us away from having a system which was ineffective, with Reps not attending training, not attending their Subject Committee Meetings and not knowing what their role was or how to be a voice for their fellow students. In October 2013 we successfully trained 70% of our Course Representatives with 98% saying that the training had given them the tools to be an effective Course Rep, so we’ve certainly made progress.
In 2013 we underwent a survey, sent to our members and stakeholders, which informed us that they believed our top priority for the next three years should be ‘representing the views of students to the University’. We thought if we could improve our Course Rep system and make it more effective we could make our way towards achieving this. From the survey (March 2013) we learned that only 42% of students thought that the Course Rep system was effective; 62% were aware who their Course Rep was, however 27% did not know how to contact them. This prompted us to look at the way we were electing, training and supporting our academic representatives, to discuss this in more detail with them and to investigate how other students’ unions interact with their academic representatives.
We needed to not only change and develop the way we communicated with students, Reps and staff but also the frequency with which we did this. We started by looking at the Schools individually; each School is different – that is, bespoke in how they work and communicate with their Students and Reps. It’s obvious when you say it, but until we really looked into it, we didn’t realise just how different they all are. So, we started off by meeting with key members of staff within each School; for some Schools this was administrative staff and their Student Engagement Champion, for others we were meeting the Head of School and in a few cases we were invited to attend Programme Leaders forums or even all staff meetings.
Here we talked them through our proposed changes, which included splitting elections, with incoming second and third year elections to fall in April and first years’ to fall in October, as well as creating training by School which contained bespoke elements for each, and providing the capacity to hold online elections for all Course Reps. We had big ideas and were confident in their potential, but by no means did we tell them ‘this is what we’re doing and that’s that’. We wanted to ensure that it was no only a suitable step forward for us, but for them as well; we wanted their buy-in, and we wanted to be sure the final product would be what’s best for students. Schools were given the choice of running online or offline elections based on their particular needs.
For the October elections, along side the offline training we provided we ran, 204 online elections simultaneously, with more to add from the previous April elections. From the October elections, where 385 Reps were elected into position, we learned a lot and had some fantastic feedback from staff in the University. Altogether, with the 115 Course Reps elected in April and our 19 Senior Representatives, we had 519 Academic Reps in place for the 13/14 academic year, which we’re really proud of. It’s worth noting that over the election period, the administrative staff were so helpful in getting messages out to students about running in the elections via blackboard and would also book us into induction talks to promote Academic Reps as a whole – they are not people to be overlooked! Even though the process for us was more time consuming that ever before, we saved time and resource within individual Schools, which improved the quality of what we were facilitating and the overall results – and of course that’s the important bit.
The election period led on to training Course Reps. The School-by-School process meant we could tailor what we were delivering, especially when looking at Subject Committee Meetings. To give emphasis to the partnership practice we invited University Staff along to the training session for their School. Training also included looking at the NSS results from programmes within the School and staff who attended were able to feed information in from their individual NSS action plans and give us extra information that we may not have already known. With the tailored training this year, we’ve noticed a great improvement in the way staff and students are engaging with Course Reps; they’re becoming active partners across the University. This was especially apparent when the Vice Chancellor invited all Reps to a reception with herself and rest of the University Senior Management Team.
The decision was made to have two sets of Course Rep elections across the year, which meant that there would be less pressure on Students’ Union and University staff in October to elect all the reps necessary. Having Reps in place over the summer meant that Staff could consult these students on any decisions being made, invite them to meetings and have students in place as soon as the next academic year started to attend committees which they would usually miss out on with elections in October. As with all change processes, there were teething problems across some Schools, largely as a result of breakdown in communication from the Students’ Union to staff, between staff and the University or from both to the students. With some ironing out we don’t expect too many issues next time around.
Here and now we’ve had our Spring elections, which means we already have 183 Academic Representatives in place, and we are getting ourselves ready for the October elections by having meetings with each School, making sure we’re all still on the same page and that they are happy with the direction we’re going in. The minute hand is nearly at twelve again, so we’d best wrap up here and get ready for another new day.