NUS National Course Rep Conference

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.

Course Rep Lunches

At the University of Leicester course reps across all departments are given the chance to attend a lunch with the Vice-Chancellor Bob Burgess and Pro-Vice-Chancellor Christine Fyfe. There are two lunches during each semester and this semesters lunches have just been. The first was on Thursday 2nd December from 12pm to 1.30pm and the second a week later on Thursday 8th December at the same time. These lunches provide a chance for course reps to take any issues that are above Student Staff Committee meetings within their department to the highest level possible. The Vice-Chancellor and Pro-Vice-Chancellor take comments from the floor and answer any issues brought to light. Of course an added perk of this meeting is that a free lunch is provided.

Attendance at the first lunch was relatively good with around 28 course reps turning up. The second lunch had a greater number with around 68 reps attending. Both lunches had a slight interuption by a fire alarm at the end of the first and start of the second, but other than that ran smoothly.

The first lunch was largely dominated by international students meaning many issues brought to the floor were specific to them. These included bringing the welcome program that Leicester runs forward and how they can experience the British culture more.

Other more prominent issues were things such as problems with the new student accommodation, Nixon Court. These problems included faulty lifts and lack of required facilities in rooms.  Bob addressed the subject saying they were contacting suppiers and informed students of a meeting for Nixon Court students that evening.

Students commented one or two issues in both sessions. One such issue was the fact that the Economics department has introduced coursework for 3rd year students. Not only was this not detailed in the handbook, but it was also implemented 3 weeks into term. Many students feel that this is unfair and say they chose the course mainly based on the fact it was pure exam. Christine Fyfe responded to this saying she agreed the late implementing was not acceptable however the department will be thinking of the students in their decision. Various surveys and studies have shown students grades are better when there is course work and many students in economics have requested it.

Another pressing issue was that the January exam timetables have still not been published.  Students would like to know their timetable further in advance to be able to effectively plan things such as revision timetables. Bob was shocked by this as timetable were supposed to be out well before the end of term. He met with the exams office the following Monday and they ensured it would be out that week. This was during the first lunch and when mentioned again the following Thursday timetables were still not out however Christine promised that they were due to be released the next day and if this was not the case to contact Bob directly.

There were many more issues covered all equally important to the students involved however I have given details of a few that stood out. As well as being a chance for reps to voice their issues to the Vice-Chancellor attendance at the lunch also counts towards the accreditation certificate they will receive at the end of the year which may be either standard accreditation, bronze, silver or gold.

In terms of my gain from organising and attending the event it was enjoyable and relatively easy to plan. I informed course reps of the event in their weekly news letter (sent out via email each Monday). Bob and Christine set the dates and I booked and set up the room in the style of a theatre with Alex Nutt (Academic Affairs Officer) and them sitting at the front.One downside to this semesters lunches is that they were both on the same day meaning if reps couldn’t attend due to lectures or prior commitments this was likely to be the same for both weeks. This however will not be the case in the second semester.  Pictures were taken to record the event, some of which are displayed in this post, and an attendance sheet was filled out as reps came in to record names for accreditation purposes. I took notes during each lunch which will be passed on to the Alex and kept as reference.  Following this lunch I thoroughly look forward to seeing what next semesters’ have in store.