SU presidents reflect on the autumn term

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At the end of the autumn term, Lars Mucklejohn speaks to the Students’ Union presidents about the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, their accomplishments, and their own experiences at university.

The Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union

Personally, how have you found this term?

It’s been a tough one, I won’t lie. The instability of government guidelines and lack of care for higher education (and everyone in it) has made it increasingly hard to keep everyone happy.

What have you achieved so far?

I have managed to strengthen our student voice processes, our recruitment of reps and having reps across all courses (undergrad, post grad, flexi and online). I have also built and will be releasing a student collaboration platform “CoLab” for our students (in the meantime ran cross-course “CoLab” events). I have also managed to help students on an individual basis fight their cases for them.

What has been difficult to accomplish?

If I’m honest, it’s been difficult to do our jobs, and we spend all day fighting with no rewards… Working on anything physical is a no go, so one of my manifesto points—to get better infrastructure for Falmouth—has been completely disregarded this term!

How has COVID-19 affected the issues your role deals with?

COVID-19 has impacted teaching by making a new virtual teaching environment, so, as my role is within academic representation, it’s been different to say the least. My role has been impacted by not giving us any sense of student relationships, student exposure at events or in-person meetings.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to try my degree out, so go into advertising!

The Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union

Personally, how have you found this term?

This term has been very intense. We’ve been dealing with unprecedented issues and circumstances and had to respond to changes in the national and local situation at very short notice. It’s fulfilling and exciting to be so busy, but I’ve also found it really difficult at times as, with a reduction in face-to-face interaction with students, our engagement has been lower than usual and so students don’t always see the work we’re doing.

What have you achieved so far?

I’ve been working on making sure the new blended learning environment is working for students, including pushing for larger class sizes to be able to meet on campus—something that is now being trialled in Cornwall. I’ve created touch points between students and staff around the two courses at the Penryn Campus whose recruitment has been paused, pushing for the future existence of these courses in some form in Cornwall. And, I’ve set up EDI reps in all departments, making sure that equality, diversity and inclusivity are at the forefront of conversations in SSLC [Student Staff Liaison Committee] meetings!

What has been difficult to accomplish?

A big challenge in the latter half of this term has surrounded mitigation and the “no detriment” policy. So many students feel that they’re not able to achieve accurate grades this year due to the pandemic, but it’s not possible to implement the “no detriment” policy in the same way as last year, for a whole host of reasons. This has been a very tricky area to navigate, making sure students feel supported and protected without the “no detriment” policy.

How has COVID-19 affected the issues your role deals with?

COVID-19 has forced us all to strip our manifestos back. For example, one of my manifesto pledges was to increase field trip opportunities—something that’s obviously not possible this year! Additionally, a lot of our original manifesto pledges have had to take a back seat to pandemic-based issues that regularly crop up. On the plus side, the move to online meetings has meant I’m able to talk to senior staff at the University of Exeter more regularly; I’m able to represent the Cornwall student voice in more meetings as I just have to jump on Teams rather than drive to Devon!

What are your plans for the future?

Once I finish my time with the Students’ Union I want to gain some more work experience in the charity sector, hopefully moving on to work in politics in the future.

The Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union

Personally, how have you found this term?

This term has been the longest of my life! I’ve found it really challenging to get to grips with everything, especially at Falmouth University, as I am an Exeter student. However, I’ve found it really interesting to meet so many amazing students, albeit digitally, and work with my team, who I adore.

What have you achieved so far?

My biggest achievement has undoubtably been negotiating a return to in-person society activity with both universities, which was going so well prior to the second national lockdown. More recently, I’ve secured out-of-hours study space and, since I started my role, I’ve also done a lot of work with our Student Voice team to set up the Student Council, which now meets weekly and provides an invaluable sounding board for the presidents.

What has been difficult to accomplish?

Everything that requires any level of certainty. For example, Cara and I are attempting to plan a grad ball but without knowing if big gatherings will be allowed in the summer! I am also currently working with the University of Exeter Students’ Guild to write a new memorandum of understanding, which will benefit all students but specifically BMBS [Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery] students who swap unions during their degrees. As I am not a medical student, it has been challenging to fully understand the requirements of these students.

How has COVID-19 affected the issues your role deals with?

It has completely overhauled them! We joke that my title should be “President COVID Response”. My focus is not just improving the student experience but working to mitigate the impacts of COVID restrictions. Whilst it is frustrating that so much has changed, I think the pandemic has meant I’ve worked very collaboratively with university staff as it is uncharted territory for all of us.

What are your plans for the future?

Next year, I’ll be returning to studying to finish my History BA. I think, after this year, it’s going to be quite strange to not have such a weight of responsibility! This year, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know senior university staff and understanding more about how both institutions are run, and I think in the future I’d like to work in university professional services.

The Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union

Personally, how have you found this term?

It has been really strange because the office has been quiet, yet it has been manic virtually. Because nothing like this has happened before, people’s well-being has been affected in a huge number of ways, so it has been incredibly hard for so many people. I’ve found this term quite hard too because I haven’t been able to connect with the students I represent in the same way that we’d normally do, and I worry about the immense challenges people are facing by not being able to socialise and make new friends in the same way.

What have you achieved so far?

We managed to support societies with an online Black History Month as well as launching the Together Wherever campaign. This is a long-term campaign to not only bring people together and help students stay connected, but it aims to bring the well-being feedback, resources, signposting and events under the same umbrella for easier navigation as it is a huge issue for so many students as waiting times for support are increasing. 

What has been difficult to accomplish?

It has been really hard to keep the spirits upbeat when everybody’s well-being has been affected a lot by the pandemic. Meeting people for a chat online can feel a lot more formal and daunting in comparison to a face-to-face coffee. A lot of people are studying on their own from their bedroom, so loneliness and isolation is huge right now. It has been hard to accomplish cultural and religious holiday events in the food outlets to help improve diversity on all of the campuses due to COVID, but I really want to push these for the new year once more people are coming back to campus. 

How has COVID-19 affected the issues your role deals with?

My role aims to bring together feedback from students around well-being as well as EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion). COVID-19 has pretty much affected all the areas by creating barriers which make it harder for students to either access resources, feel a sense of community or feel included when they’re feeling alone. 

What are your plans for the future?

Like a lot of people right now, it’s looking pretty uncertain. I have a filmmaking degree but the arts sector is really struggling and I have found a new passion for charity work within this role. So, to be honest, I really don’t know. It would be a dream if it involved a little bit of both! 

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