A Year As VP Education

"Overall, it’s been exciting, dramatic, unexpected and absolutely bloody fantastic!" Kate Roberts sums up her turbulent year as VP Education, before she steps up into the President role for the 2020/21 academic year.

Where to even begin..! It’s safe to say this year has thrown a lot more at me than I initially expected, we’ve had some huge challenges to take on as an SU, and I am really proud of the journey I have been on this last year.

The Higher Education sector as a whole has seen huge developments over the last 12 months, not least due to the current Covid situation, but also due to industrial action and an unexpected general election - none of which was on my radar when I first took over the role in July, which now seems like a lifetime ago! These developments have had knock-on impacts on the wider discussions around educational experience and will continue to influence universities for some time. The issues affecting students at Royal Holloway are often not isolated, sitting in the context of wider national changes, which has been more prevalent this year than ever before.

What have I been working on this year?

It has most definitely been a year of two halves, with fantastic wins for students coming your way right from the offset of the academic year.

  • After a sustained lobbying period, we increased lecture capture usage in the first term to 55%, compared to 9% the previous year. Pushing the University to embrace lecture capture has really paid off in the sudden move to online teaching.
  • We elected over 300 academic reps, with 2625 votes being cast over a five-day period. These academic reps have gone on to achieve fantastic wins for students over the year and I am immensely proud of the hard work every single rep put in.
  • I chaired the first-ever Education Executive, made up of your six School Reps and PGT, PGR, and Commuting students’ Collective Convenors. The Executive has been fundamental in supporting my work as VP Education whilst also escalating student issues where needed.
  • I developed the Student Rights Hub alongside our Advice Centre, making sure you know your rights when it comes to academic issues and ensuring you receive all the support available to you when needed. You can check out all of the articles here.
  • We held a preferendum to understand your views on the UCU Industrial Action, leading to us, as the Students’ Union, supporting the strike action. I also worked to mitigate any negative effects on your educational experience during this period to ensure you were supported.
  • We released our first-ever Student Voice Report, cumulating over 18 months of research on the experience of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic students at Royal Holloway. We are continuing to implement the 25 recommendations and I sincerely hope they will have a substantial and long-lasting positive impact on student experience.
  • One of my favourite experiences this year was running a campaign on Inclusive Education which featured the launch of the Student Voice Report, our annual Academic Rep Conference as well as a number of other workshops and events. Find out more about what I got up to here.

Just after campaigning for the March Sabbatical Officer elections, the world was thrown upside down due to coronavirus. As many students returned home, it was clear that academic representation was more important now than ever before.

  • We got to work right away, attending countless meetings on exams and assessments to ensure that all students were able to finish their year and progress or graduate despite the challenging circumstances.
  • Myself and President Jack O’Neill secured blanket extensions for all students, to ensure everyone was able to complete their assignments during this difficult period.
  • It quickly became clear that students needed support heading into these assignments due to the uncertainty and difficulty with the global pandemic. We worked with the University to develop a No Detriment policy that best supported Royal Holloway students, securing both a Safety Net and Best 90 policy which significantly benefitted students heading into Term Three.
  • After the reactive needs had been met, we set about being proactive as we knew these changes to education were likely to impact the next academic year in some format. We ran a digital education experience survey to better understand your experience with online teaching and resources, we are in the final stages of developing a report that we will use to lobby the University to ensure discussions about next year have student voice at the heart.
  • I am continuing to feed into development for next year, forming a key part of discussions around what a flexible education may look like whilst we attempt to expect the unexpected. Make sure you keep up with University communications over the summer this year more than ever.

Overall, it’s been exciting, dramatic, unexpected, and absolutely bloody fantastic! I wouldn’t change any part of this year, it has taught me so much about my own skills and abilities, especially in the face of a new challenge (which seems to be weekly at this point!). It is never a dull life being a Sabbatical Officer, and it’s safe to say this was the wildest year there’s ever been. Being able to lean on such a brilliant team has really helped too!

Where am I going?

I am not going anywhere just yet (realistically we are all going nowhere in this working from home world!), but I am moving inboxes and social media accounts across to the President role, and hopping across to the other side of the desks when we are back in the office!

I am hugely excited to be taking on this new role alongside an empowered, dynamic, and impactful team of Officers. I will be leading the Students’ Union through a post-Covid world, launching a policy inquiry into student housing, and looking at our engagement, sustainability, and inclusivity throughout the year to help us make student life better for you at Royal Holloway.

What will I miss?

I will deeply miss my Sabbatical Officer team this year, I think they are all absolutely brilliant and I hugely excited to cheer them on from the sidelines wherever they end up next.

I will also miss the amazing academic reps who I get to work with so closely in the VP Education role. It always astounded me when I heard about what our reps were getting up to, they are so dedicated and have achieved so much in their roles, which is often rarely heard about. I know I will be leaving them in the most trusted hands in my successor Alissa Chohan, who I have no doubt will be a wonderful VP Education.

Why should you stand in the SU Elections?

Standing in an election was the best decision I ever made, it is the most wonderful and crazy job you will ever have the chance to do and if you are even remotely thinking about it, I hope you throw yourself into the opportunity with open arms. Being able to work so closely with student leaders and create real, meaningful impact makes for an extremely rewarding job. The skills you will gain are unparalleled, it really is a chance you shouldn’t miss.