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Postgraduate Officer

Blog: Charlotte Boulton, Postgraduate Officer 

End of Term Report - PG Officer March 2021

END OF TERM REPORT FOR  

STUDENTS’ UNION COUNCIL MEETING  

 

What have I done this term? 

 

  • Responses to COVID-19 impact on education – Worked alongside officer team in response to the latest national lockdown and its impact on plans for a return to campus. Our continued efforts to support students included multiple update statements publicised to students and many meetings with key university staff to mitigate effects on students. 

  • Safety Net Policy 2020-21 – Worked with EO and President to lobby the university, including PVC Education, to implement safety net measures to support students impacted by COVID-19. After negotiations, we were successful in reaching agreement to a broad safety net policy, which adopted some of our ideas. Our ideas included: introduce a sliding scale policy for late assessments, adjust deadlines to avoid clashes, ensure all markers take into account the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on assessment performance and remind Board of Examiners of the need to consider whether to exercise discretion for every student whose degree average was within the grade boundary of 2 marks (which the University also increased to 3 marks for this academic year). 

  • Safety net measures for PGRs – Through discussions with the University about the near miss policy proposals, I secured some measures and commitments to support PGRs as the Safety Net Policy applies to taught students only. This includes a commitment from the University to review the eligibility criteria and process of applying for their PGR funding extensions, continuing the option to submit a 500-word supporting statement to APRs and theses to outline COVID-19 impact on research, encouraging APR Panels to consider the impact of lack of access to facilities on research when judging progress, and ensuring the University prioritise PGRs for return to facilities when safe to do so. 

  • Postgrad Mental Health Campaign – In January I ran the first ever NUSU mental health campaign for PGs. This included securing a page for PG support on the University Wellbeing website, creating content for a Postgrad Mental Health webpage on the NUSU site, creation of a 30-page mental health support guide and organising over 20 events. Events included CBT group workshops and a mental health panel featuring researchers and staff speaking about their experience. This was a success and reached good engagement for online events, with over 40 attendees at the panel, and good engagement on social media posts. 

  • PGR Listening Exercises – After speaking to the University about gathering feedback from PGRs, we organised a series of listening exercises with PGRs from each faculty and different stages. I attended these alongside the Academic Registrar and the PG Deans for each faculty, to listen to student views on induction, access to facilities, community and socialisation opportunities, funding and any issues they’ve been facing. These have helped to inform the University about the reality that PGRs are experiencing and informed a student email to outline opportunities for community building (including linking to NUSU’s PG Hub and my Facebook group), updates to funding extensions, printing, wellbeing support and access to buildings on campus.  

  • PG Hub – I created a webpage for postgraduates to give them a place to find useful information and links on the NUSU website, as lots of information is spread across the University webpages and can be hard to find. This also links to the dedicated PG Mental Health webpage so this remains easily visible after the campaign end. 

  • Senate – In January’s Senate we approved the proposed Safety Net Policy 2020-21 with strong support from University staff. We also discussed changes to the academic year 2021-22 with different dates for term starting and ending, changes to the university’s Student Protection Plan and the role of Senate in decision-making. In February's Senate we discussed the government's roadmap to exiting lockdown and the implications for higher education following guidance from the Department for Education. We also discussed student survey results, Government's planned reforms to education and reviewed the Student Protection Plan.

  • Futures Paper – Co-wrote and presented a paper on assessment and feedback to the University Futures Group, chaired by the DVC. We discussed opportunities for the University to apply principles to its marking practices, considering decolonising assessments, support for widening participation students and encouragement for the university to ensure all core texts/materials are freely accessible in the University library.  

  • Decolonising NCL – Continued work on Decolonising NCL alongside EO, WEO and President. Working with EO on presenting to a Career Service staff event on Decolonising Professionalism in early March, alongside ongoing conversations with LTDS on including decolonising best practice in their website materials. I was also involved in the hiring process for our Decolonising NCL Interns, shortlisting and interviewing for 2 candidates to support the decolonising work of Decol Pledges and a report. 

  • Universities Minister Money Planning – Attended a meeting with President and university staff to decide how to allocate the money received from the government for hardship support. We agreed to offer £200 flat rate to those eligible who apply for the funding – eligibility criteria prioritises PGT and PGR students which is a welcome funding opportunity. 

  • PGR Funding Extension Motion & Lobbying – Lots of my time has been spent on supporting PGRs in lobbying for financial and non-financial support from the University, mostly relating to funding and temporal extensions for researchers. I seconded a Student Council motion relating to this and have since been negotiating with the university on the introduction of minimum 3 month funded extensions for all PGRs. Through these negotiations, changes have been made to the COVID-19 Impact Funding Scheme – although the University are unable to provide a blanket extension scheme as I have lobbied for, I feel that the changes to the existing funding system is a positive change in itself. 

  • PGR COVID-19 Impact Funding Scheme – Following lobbying efforts, the University agreed to review the criteria for their funding scheme (formerly known as the COVID-19 Impact Scholarship Scheme, renamed under my suggestion). The details are still being finalised but I have made comments and am confident that the updated scheme is one of the most broad and flexible schemes across other universities, as it included self-funded and international students who are often missed out of funding schemes. The changes have also meant that people can apply for up to 6 months of funding if they have been particularly severely impacted by COVID-19, which was originally a 3 month maximum. I have also pushed the University to remove the need for evidence and be more flexible about considering exceptions and impact.  

  • Our ImpACT videos – I filmed a video about my Postgrad Mental Health campaign and filmed a video with Sian and Dorothy about the safety net, as part of the Our ImpACT campaign raising awareness of the work NUSU and students have been doing this academic year.  

  • Rep Forum with VC – Hosted a Rep Forum with VC and other key University staff members to give student reps chance to ask questions about education and their university experience directly to staff, and will hopefully be able to plan another for future months.  

  • Submitted motion to review the Student Financial Support Fund - I have submitted a Council motion to see how feasible it is for the current University hardship funding requirements and process to be changed to be more accessible and less invasive for students. If this passes I will work with other officers to make sure there is a comprehensive review of the fund. 

  • Wrote a speech for the retirement of the PVC Education - I delivered a retirement speech on behalf of NUSU to thank retiring PVC Education Suzanne Cholerton for her work and support of NUSU Officers and students in her 10 years as PVC. 

 

What has been your biggest achievement? 

 

  • Postgrad Mental Health campaign successfully reaching a significant number of students with positive feedback 

  • Agreement from the university to change the COVID-19 Impact Funding Scheme to include more students and be more flexible for those who need longer extensions 

 

What could you have improved on? 

 

  • Faster email replies – With so many emails coming in, and personal issues, it can be difficult to keep up and some projects have been slightly delayed by this. 

 

What do you plan to do next term? 

 

  • Development of the PG Hub webpage – I plan to add more information to the webpage, particularly to support final year UGs considering a postgraduate and explaining the different options available for PGT and PGR courses.  

  • Plan more PG events and activities – I hope there will be scope for some small group in-person events as COVID-19 restrictions ease as it would be a nice opportunity to meet students, encourage interactions and plan some fun and interesting events before my term ends. 

  • Talk to the University about PGR teaching contracts and workers rights – I began this work in semester 1, but the worsening public health situation meant focus shifted to safety net and funding extension work. I am hoping to review this again, drawing on existing testimony from students I spoke to in November, and open discussions with the University for more robust procedures and contract opportunities for postgraduates who teach.  

 

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