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Our response to ARU 'Green Paper'

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Introduction

Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) are developing a new strategy which will have a life of 8-10 years. All staff and students have been given the opportunity to provide comments and feedback on a discussion paper (see ‘Designing our future’ ARU 2017-26). This discussion paper gives suggestions for what the institution will need to deliver if they are to succeed. It also looks at the range of challenges and opportunities that must be considered, acknowledging that at the same time there will be many issues that will arise in the next decade that will have not been foreseen. There are a large number of specific questions in this discussion paper. It was not expected that everyone would respond to every question and we have therefore responded - to what we believe to be - a number of key questions. We will continue to work in partnership with ARU, representing the views of our students, in the development and delivery of their plans. The strategy will be launched on 16 June 2017.

PG2: What are the key aspects of ARU which are, or could be distinctive, in your view?

ARU has a proud history of upholding the student voice in our academic structures. Together we can make this an area of true distinction. Our students should be full and active partners and co-creators across ARU; preparing them for the world of work by inviting them to participate in the development of our university as a learning community. We already work towards this through an established and effective representation structure, and we can develop this by together delivering further partnership activity across the institution.

We certainly feel that the diversity of ARU is one of its truly stand out features. ARU is a community that doesn’t only give people a chance but invests in and develops those people to be the best they can be. Quite simply, we are proud that this institution gives people opportunities from all walks of life.

PG6: How do we craft the best possible co curricular and extra curricular structure that will help students’ time at ARU transform their lives?

ARU can support the delivery of our own strategy (see ARU Students’ Union plan 2016-19). We continually strive to create opportunities and deliver activities which make students proud to be a part of the ARU community, and will be aiming to build on this over the next three years. We will create a related student-led society for every course with the core objectives to provide opportunities for co-curricular learning and extra-curricular activity. Societies provide students with the opportunity to develop a number of transferable skills including but not limited to communication skills, a strong work ethic, leadership, confidence and the ability to work as part of a team. ARU can support us to achieve this goal by providing encouragement, greater promotion and visibility of our opportunities and appropriate funding and space for such activities.

We also want to work with ARU on curriculum design, with an element of work based learning (for example, volunteering) included as a key component of each and every course.  These opportunities also equip our students with the necessary skills to stand out from the crowd and excel when they enter the workplace.

PG6: What should we emphasise and grow in the extra curricular portfolio?

Students today have a number of competing priorities for their time; the need to work to earn money and care for dependants as well as finding time to study and socialise. To grow extra-curricular activity take-up more support needs to be provided to students to relieve other pressures in their lives.

As we continue to develop and grow our own extra-curricular portfolio, improved access to appropriate spaces both new and existing, on and off campus is vital; in particular multi-purpose recreational space prioritised for student-led activities. This lack of space can be a barrier to participation. It will also continue to hinder our ability to effectively deliver and support particular activities. Students have, for a long time, been asking for improved social space. We know that work is underway and we would strongly support the development of other spaces on campus for our students. We also hope to be engaged in any discussion around the purpose of any new or additional space if and when it should become available (see ‘Save our space’ Feb 2016).

Students have also continually lobbied for a bar on the Cambridge campus (see ‘Bar on the Cambridge campus’ Nov 2016) as a place to unwind, chill and have a drink with friends. We would be very keen to discuss this with ARU.

There is a big institutional focus on competitive sport. We hope see more support for, and growth of, non-competitive opportunities for students.

PG6: How do we balance the needs of full time undergraduate students with the needs of more diverse student groups?

Full-time undergraduate students are a diverse group themselves with challenging and competing needs. It is important to remember that many full-time undergraduate students will also be part of diverse groups. A more constructive question is; ‘How do we support students with multiple competing priorities to achieve comparable degree outcomes?’ We believe that with the rise in fees and ever increasing pressure on students to achieve, we need to ensure that ARU is able to provide the necessary support. ARU and the Students’ Union must work collaboratively and equip themselves with the knowledge and expertise to identify the struggles of all of students and combat them efficiently.

Our priority campaign ‘Let’s be honest’ focuses on mental health and aims to make ARU a community that cares for each other. We have found from our own research - which is yet to be released - over 75% of students (there were 2317 respondents in total) are aware of their personal tutor as a source of support, which fell only behind family, partner, friend and doctor as a favoured route for support. An ongoing priority for ARU needs to be the development of both academic and wider support, through both the personal tutoring system and central service provision.

PG7: Do you agree that we should focus on undergraduate degree level study and above/What role should we play in the delivery of Foundation courses and Foundation Degrees?

No. Foundation courses and degrees are an important part of ARU’s delivery because of the access routes and opportunities they give students to enter HE. We believe ARU should continue to attract students from widening participation backgrounds. ARU’s direct delivery of these courses is a valuable contribution to widening the diversity of our student body.

PG7: What are the main issues we should reflect on in considering whether to move to a whole of year, modular calendar?

We have big concerns. The campus identity would fundamentally change. We believe this would significantly disrupt the ability for students to support each other, form communities and succeed. Operationally, it would have a significant impact on how we function. It would increase the complexity and cost of delivering a number of key activities and events inside and around the curriculum - and their likelihood of success will reduce.

PG9: How do we build and support our PGR student body?

The PGR student body are the future of the academic community; their treatment, responsibilities and engagement will set a precedent for the future of HE and possibly the future of ARU.

We believe that ARU could follow the University of Essex, as an example, who have tailored their postgraduate experience in response to the research of the National Union of Students (see ‘Postgraduates who teach’ 2013), and taking the University and College Union’s employment charter (see Postgraduate employment charter) fully into account; both of which we wholeheartedly support.

We’d particularly like to highlight:

  • ARU and the Students’ Union working together to enhance and develop postgraduate representation to a new, more impactful level
  • PGR students should have equal access to ARU’s support funds
  • Ensuring PGR students are given appropriate and fully accessible spaces and facilities to complete their work and studies effectively
  • Guaranteeing that all PGR students are paid adequately for teaching and are treated equally with access to holiday and sick pay and other benefits
  • Providing mandatory training for their teaching, learning and assessment responsibilities, and the appropriate pay for this
  • That PGR stipends and scholarship opportunities should not hang on a requirement to teach

We would be delighted to work with PGR students and the institution to develop and improve current provision.

PG11: How should we best support our students to maximise retention?

Early engagement is vital. Events aimed at helping students to settle in quickly to their new world. The budget for this has been cut year on year, and so there is less and less that can be provided at this very important time.

The institution must ensure the personal tutoring system is sustainable and equipped sufficiently to be able to provide the support and guidance that students need and deserve throughout their studies. A particular issue currently is its inability to cope with high demand; some personal tutors are expected to maintain contact with 60+ students in this capacity. Students and staff working together, not only in the development of the curriculum but in the development of each individual. The (now centralised) Faculty Student Advice Service that works closely with our own Advice Service has undergone a recent review, but is also under-resourced and often cannot cope with high demand. There are real benefits of supporting students to deal with issues quickly, fairly and informally where at all possible.

A real focus on the growth of the extra-curricular portfolio. Extra-curricular activities play a huge role in creating support networks and a sense of belonging; allowing students to feel part of a community whilst at university.

Finally, it is important to stress that one of the biggest challenges facing students is their own mental health. Universities, directly or indirectly, are normalising the stress and anxiety that academic pressure can put onto students and our top priority is to make sure these issues get the recognition and support they deserve. Our research has told us that 28.6% of students are concerned about their own mental health, 7.3% are concerned about the mental health of a friend and 22.5% are concerned about both. 17% of students rated their own mental health a bad. We are ready to start talking about mental health in an honest and open way. We hope ARU are as well.

PG15: What would be your top three investment priorities for your campus?

Social learning spaces
We believe in the development of current (and introduction of new) social learning spaces on all campuses to meet the needs of our diverse student body. We feel peer learning is an underrated and integral part of the learning process which should be encouraged not only collaboratively in class but through access to other appropriate spaces on campus outside of the classroom.

Social spaces
We believe the ongoing development of student ‘hubs’ and/or social spaces is an important addition to our campuses; key to building a sense of community and unity across our student body.

Accommodation
We believe that maintaining and improving where appropriate, the quality of student accommodation should be a priority, especially in the context of the high costs students are asked to pay.

PG18. Are there values that should be added or removed from the list?

ARU should add:

Collaborative
We work with students as full and active partners and co-creators, inviting them to participate in the development of our university as a learning community.

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