On Wednesday 7th December the NUS National Course rep Conference was held at the University of Leeds’ Students’ Union. I attended the event on behalf of the University of Leicester. The event consisted of an opening plenary with Usman Ali (NUS Vice President of Higher Education) and ‘Course Reps of the Year’ – Francesca Rust and Emily Short (Anglia Ruskin Cambridge), two workshops, a talk by Derfel Owen (Student Engagement and Participation Development Manger at the University of Exeter), a dsicussion group and finally a closing panel debate on the topic “Just for show? The future role of reps“. I gained alot of information on ways to improve our own course rep system as well as details on up and coming campaigns that the University of Leicester should definitely support.
I would probably say that I found the opening plenary the most useful part of the whole day. Usman highlighted several issues that I will encourage our reps to get involved with. The main point i took away from his talk was the introduction of Post Qualification Admission (PQA). This is where students looking to start University will apply after they obtain their grades e.g. A-levels and not before. This eliminates the often stressful process of clearing which is part of the reason the NUS and Usman are pro PQA. Usman highlighted that many Universities and the Government are not quite on board with this and wants our reps to help students have their say on the matter. He proposed to us that we should encourage our reps to go to local schools and ask the future University students what they feel about this change. Furthermore we should get these students to write to Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Education) to make sure their views our heard. It will be their education this effects so they should have their say.
The first workshop I attended was titled ‘From Negative Complaining to Positive Campaigning: CAn we Change the Face of Student Enagagement.?’ It mainly focussed on student-led-teaching-awards (SLTA). At the University of Leicester the Students’ Union has ran an ‘I Love My Academic’ campaign for the last two years, which is our version of this. This is a positive side of the role of course reps and enthasises the fact that universities are about teaching and not just reasearch. It allows teaching to be assessed by students and not just what academics think is good. The workshop discussed different ways of funding such awards which included making the award ceremony an event people pay to attend, sponsorshiop and the Vice-Chancellor. We also discussed how to chose the criteria upon which academics are assessed. This could be decided by students in a forum or by the Education Unit. It is important not to let big departments dominate the results so qualitative data is oftern best. This is a really great way to unite the students, university staff and Students’ Union so I really hope our campaign runs again this year.
The second workshop which was held in the afternoon (following a free lunch and talk by Derfel Owen) was titled ‘Developing Training For Higher Level Reps’ . This was held by Ian Delworth who is a training development advisor for Sparqs (Student Participation in Quality Scotland). At Leicester we do not have higher level reps although our course reps cover a lot of the tasks that other universities give to their higher reps. Many of the other universities had a much larger number of course reps to start with which may increase the need for higher rep roles.If we were to implement such a role at our university the extra responsibilities on top of being a course rep would include mentoring other reps and helping at course rep training, sitting on college committes, attendance at events such as this conference and a general increased accountability. Many institutuions recruit their higher level reps from exisitng course reps by interviewing them which I feel is a more productive and better approach than electing them or taking volunteers. Training for our higher level reps would perhaps be given by qualified trainiers such as NUS staff rather than by myself as for the rest of the course reps. The amount and content f the training would depend on the level they have already received. The number of Higher level reps would need to be discussed howeer i would suggest one per college. There were several other points raised on this topic which we would consider before implemting it in our institution. A point made by a member of staff from another university was one worth thinking about, he highlighted that higher level reps may have its downfalls and rather than being a positive thing it may demoralise the other course reps and make them feel their role is less important- just something to think about.
The debate on the topic “Just for show? The future role of reps” that took place at the very end of the day (following a discussion group which was aimed at our own personal growth in our careers and not really course reps) was cut a little short due to over running of other sessions but still raised so important points. These ranged from advice on how to engage international students to what is the biggest challenge for course reps and student engagement this year. A point which I found particularly useful and will be sure to inform the Univerisy of Leicester course reps of was the answer to the question ‘ Is there anything set up to allow course reps from other universities to interact?’ A member of staff involved ins tudent support from the NUS answered this question. She said that there is a student engagement hub on NUS connect. This isn’t a forum but there are case studies with contact details provided. She went on to say that next year there will be more regional events and next summer a new student course rep netwring group should be. I feel that its important for different universities to interact to improve the learning experience across the whole country and am sure that this information isn’t known by many of our reps so am really glad it came up.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and am glad I attended and that Leicester had representation there (depsite the three hour journey filled with train travel mishaps and bad weather). Unfortunately due to the cost we were unable to take any course reps with us which I would of liked to as there were several other workshops targeted at them (I attended those meant for staff). In this post I’ve mentioned aspects of the day that I felt were particularly useful and I hop our University will take action on them where they can.