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June 2018 - First month in office!

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Hi guys! I just finished my first month as the VP Education in Hertfordshire's Student Union! And I want to tell you how it's been :)

First of all, let me clear a frequently asked question, my role as Vice President is a full-time job, I work usually 10am-6pm Monday to Friday and get paid a typical graduate job salary of £22,214 (before tax). As this has been my first month on the job a lot of it was introductory and training – where we (the elected officers) learn about the objectives of the Student Union, how it runs, and what our relationship is with the overall management of the university in terms of influence and decision making. Besides the training, I have also attended some of the university's' regular meetings, whilst there I do my best to speak out as the voice of students and how the university can run in YOUR best interest.

This month some of the topics of these meetings were:

- The role of course reps and how they are best elected to become a rep Whether a recorded version of your lectures should be made available online on studynet/canvas (I was an adamant YES to this motive)

- What freebies we give out during freshers How the careers department can tailor their career fairs to actually be beneficial to ALL students rather than only the super engaged and career-focused students

- How accommodation contracts can be more student-friendly, wherein I advocated for the option for 38-week contracts (the university was not too keen on this) and for the contract weeks to begin for early September (this idea was more positively received and has good potential for the near future)

- The awareness campaigns the Student Union should roll out during the 2018-19 year

When I put myself up for the VP role I had a vision for the university: that it became more academically centred. Achieved by ensuring students have fast and easy access to the most critical information, such as how their degree is graded, less of an emphasis on clubbing events, and that this university challenges students to study hard but also equips you with the resources which enable you to achieve your best.

So, you're probably wondering: am I fulfilling on my manifesto promises?

Well, let's look back on what they were. In terms of Library, Module guides and Studynet/Canvas services I promised three things:

1) A raise in printing credit

2) Transparency on compulsory attendance and degree grading

3) Study room booking to include information on space and resources available per room

My progress on these points:

In the past couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to identify who are the departments/UH staff which regulate printing costs, the layout of studynet/canvas and the information which goes on module pages. Now that I (generally) know where to go with these initiatives I will be working on building a strong argument for these proposals so I am ready to present it to them in an effective manner. I will be getting in touch with as many students from other universities as I can so I can record how they give printing credit (if they do), and I am also going to review the information available on how studynet/canvas is changing for September 2018, so I can identify how my added information requests align. We will see how it goes!

4) Another promise I made was to have maximum 3-hour gaps on timetables. I have learnt that each school of the university (currently there are 10) has their own small team of the timetabling composer (sometimes this is just one person per school). However, they all have a set criterion of how they go about timetabling the students into all their classes. I have read through this criterion and it is quite student-friendly. It includes policies such as "The maximum number of taught hours in a day for any student is 7 hours". However, there is not a mention of the maximum number of free hours students should have on their timetables in-between classes. I believe it's time that such a mention was in place and I am working on writing up the policy so I can then propose to the timetable regulators that it is included on the list of timetable policies. We will see how this goes!

5) I also promised to encourage free speech at our uni. I have decided to do this by running a monthly or bi-monthly Debate Club! Open to all students, so see you there ;)

6) I promised that staff would receive training on the ways to academically accommodate students on the autistic spectrum. Autism awareness and support in the education and work sector is something which I am very passionate about so I will never put my goal that the University of Hertfordshire continuously works towards becoming an autism-friendly institution to rest. I have done a lot of research on where to find training programs for Higher Education lecturers specifically aimed at how to best teach autistic students – these programs are quite specific so they are hard to find but not impossible. Going forward I need to convince the university that we invest on and implement these courses for our staff. However, as previously stated, I have already been adamant during my conversations with senior UH staff that courses adopt online availability of lecturers (on studynet/canvas) and I believe that will help accommodate the needs of students which learn in non-traditional ways.

7) I also promised a Hertfordshire PhD conference event as a networking opportunity for PhD students. So far, I have managed to speak to three Herts PhD students from differing schools and they have given me ideas on what kind of activities they would like to engage in. I will be conversing with the relevant UH and SU departments on how I can roll these ideas out for the 2018-19 year!

8) I have promised a re-branding of the Student-Led Teaching Awards so it is more engaging to students. Currently working on this re-branding and I have a pretty good idea for it. It will need funding, however, so I need to present the idea to the relevant UH and SU staff for approval before I can reveal the surprise! Watch this space!

9) I promised that lecturers should deliver revision sessions during exam periods. From the (many) conversations I've had with students, it seems like these revision sessions are best done for the modules which have a significant number of students re-taking exams. I will need to identify the schools which do not provide these revision sessions so I can meet with their senior staff and tell them for £9k+ your students deserve better!

10) And finally, I proposed that communication skills are prioritized when recruiting lecturers. To be completely honest I had a look at the job criteria of lecturer vacancies and this was already the top priority. With this reassurance, I will be putting this proposal to rest. So that’s all ten promises covered folks! Let's see what progress is made during the July month in the next blog post :)

Any questions or anything you want to talk to me about my email is z.hakim@herts.ac.uk so please send me a message!

Alternatively, feel free to comment on this blog :)

Until next time, thank you and enjoy your studies,

Zaina Hakim

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