Comment: LUU View

As Education Officer Abiha Khan‘s term draws to a close she provides an update on education developments across the University from the student perspective.

We’re already three months into 2020 and what a year it’s been so far!  

We kicked off this year with the iconic LITE Student Education Conference with a focus on Student Success. My personal highlight was getting to learn from so many inspiring colleagues who really showcased just how much our University cares about its students. Another highlight was Dr Meera Sabaratnum’s keynote speech on Decolonising the Curriculum. Back in October, I ran two decolonising workshops – for Black History Month – inspired by Meera’s project so it was an honour to meet her and to discuss how to extend the decolonising project at Leeds. It was a privilege to sit on a student panel alongside three inspiring students. I spoke about the individuality of success for students and how success is  multifaceted as no one student views success in the same way. As a panel, we all stressed the importance of community and building a sense of belonging, with societies and other co-curricular activities playing a huge part in our success at University. Ultimately, student success is about how university prepares you for life and it has been great to collaborate with colleagues since then to innovate our approach to student success.  

As a university community, we are responding to a rapidly changing and unpredictable set of challenges presented to us by the coronavirus crisis. I am confident that we can work together in partnership to meet these challenges and learn as we develop the solutions.  

Digital resourcing and upskilling are part of the range of solutions we need to develop and implement. These provisions are vital for improving student accessibility but also help us to provide continuity when faced with a range of challenges, such as those being presented by Novel Corona Virus Covid-19. It’s really important that we implement these technologies ethically and inclusively. We already knew that we needed digital enhancements on campus,  not least because of the pedagogical advantages they deliver. But it’s not a tool to be used ‘instead of’ but alongside other educational delivery. Since my election I’ve been pushing for improvements in this area and I will continue to do so. Despite an increased demand for online delivery stemming from a crisis, I am confident we will all benefit from an increase in capacity of skills and resources.  

In February I chaired an important and powerful panel discussing the BAME Awarding Gaps and how Universities must act to close them. We invited only staff members of the University – those people who are most responsible for creating and enacting change – and our panel was made up of inspiring higher education experts.

My goal was to ensure that our University community understood the complex issues which cause these awarding gaps, acknowledge their role in creating them, and feel empowered to create institutional change and break down the structural barriers that our students face.

We also worked with Nifty Fox Creative to design unique visual storyboards which articulated real student experiences – I wanted to ensure we had the student voice prominent in the discussion.

It is easy to get so fixated on data that we forget that there are real students with real experiences whose lives are affected by the decisions our institutions take. Laura Evans and I helped BAME students to articulate their positive and negative experiences at the University of Leeds with a yearning for a cohesive community. The University has pledged to close the gap among all BAME students from 12.7% in 2017/18 to 5.5% in 2024/25. We can only reach this target through a thorough understanding of the challenges and an open approach to future dialogue.  

Part of our discussion included rejecting the deficit model and how we can help students to navigate a system that is structurally designed to disadvantage them – moving them from the periphery to the centre of knowledge. The panel encouraged universities to take a much more proactive role in hearing the student voice continuously, especially through co-creation. We must not rely on the efforts of staff or students of colour as the panel discussed how they are already overburdened with the added emotional labour. Universities must dismantle our own structures and policies rather than interventions for students. LUU has been working in partnership with senior leaders in the University to help close the gaps. However, I want us to be truly sector leading in this and we simply cannot do this alone. We must have partnership at all levels to truly make an impact. I would highly recommend listening back to the event to play your part in this institutional pledge to close our awarding gaps. 

My other manifesto work:

Alongside other activity, I am working with a team who are committed to improving the Joint Honours student experience in Arts, Humanities and Culture. Most recently we have successfully implemented deliverables to improve induction, frontline support, community building and timetable clashes. I have also been working with the University to create dedicated study spaces for our postgraduate researcher community. The provision of available study spaces for postgraduate researchers is not distributed evenly across the University. It is really important that we do more to make PGR students feel part of our campus – research has shown that researchers who can work alongside their peers form stronger social and professional communities and so are less likely to experience feelings of isolation commonly associated with research degrees. 

Lead LUU results:

I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed supporting candidates for this year’s Lead LUU. It was fantastic to see students from both undergrad and postgrad, home, EU and international backgrounds joining in the campaign. I was particularly proud to see so many of our brilliant School Reps taking the next step in student leadership. That was my journey and I cannot recommend my experience enough. Congratulations to the incoming Student Executive team!  

Find the results here

Closing:

The big news recently was the announcement of the new Vice-Chancellor! It was a real privilege to represent students as part of the recruitment process for this important appointment. I am really excited for the incredible Professor Simone Buitendijk to join us – she brings a wealth of experience in student education, inclusion and has an innovative approach to HE.