Academic Rep Conference Round-up

On Wednesday 29 January we held our fantastic annual Academic Rep Conference. This year’s theme was Inclusive Education in tying with the campaign week I've been running.

The debates, interactions and insights that occurred throughout the day were brilliant, I hope everyone who came along found it a useful space to share their thoughts and ideas. For those who were unable to attend, here is a quick summary of what went down.

Introduction and Launch of the Student Voice Report

The conference kicked off with an introduction from myself and James Knowles (Senior Vice Principal Education at Royal Holloway) discussing Inclusive Education as a theme and launching our anticipated Student Voice Report on BAME Inclusive Student Experience. After a year and a half of work, we've published an extensive report that collates all of our research into the experience of BAME students at Royal Holloway.

It addresses Royal Holloway’s current BAME attainment gap and the University’s plans to reduce it, the various ways we engaged with the BAME student community about the project, and 25 recommendations which we hope will have a substantial and long-lasting positive impact on the current and prospective student experience at Royal Holloway.

You can find more information about the report below.

BAME Inclusive Student Experience Report

Keynote Speech

For our keynote speech, we invited Jim Dickinson, Associate Editor at think tank Wonkhe to give his take on Inclusive Education. His lively presentation got attendees to think critically about what a ‘normal’ Royal Holloway student looks like, and whether University education is changing students to fit that ‘normal’ or finding a new ‘normal’ that better fits the demographic of students we see at University now.

As Jim said, we need to work on both the ‘getting in’ for students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as the ‘getting on’ once students arrive at Royal Holloway. Students found the session incredibly helpful, and we'll be publishing a video of his talk in the coming days, so watch this space for more. 

The workshops 

Over the afternoon we had seven incredible workshops on offer for attendees – allowing everyone to think in-depth about different aspects of Inclusive Education.

Dr Thanda Mhlanga led a fantastic session looking at the BAME Awarding Gap. There is currently an 11% gap between White and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students achieving a 1st or 2:1, with the gap between White and Black students being 15%. Dr Thanda dissected this further, empowering and enabling academic reps to take action on this injustice in their roles as champions of Inclusive Education.

Student Rebecca How and Academic Representation Coordinator Stefanie Cooper ran a brilliant workshop on diversifying the curriculum, allowing attendees to critically unpick what it actually means to diversify the curriculum, looking at which voices are present and which voices go unheard. Academic reps are now able to take this into departments to have discussions about creating a more inclusive curriculum.

VP Welfare & Diversity Lucy Simpson and VP Sport Dom Brown delivered a version of the ongoing Mental Health Awareness Training that the Students’ Union has been providing over the last year. The session looked at reducing stigma and empowered students to be able to create more open discussions about mental health in their roles as academic reps.

CEO of the Students’ Union Tom Flynn ran his workshop on what we actually mean by student representation. What is ‘student voice’, ‘student insight’ and ‘student interest’ and how these different concepts can help academic reps fulfil their role.

VP Societies & Media Sophia Bolton and Democracy Coordinator Phill Dowler delivered a session on campaigning, equipping our academic reps the skills to campaign to make big changes within their courses and the wider community.

Student Rebeka Erdelyiova and Academic Representation Coordinator Stefanie Cooper led a great workshop on LGBT+ Inclusivity. Rebeka was chosen through our student ballot, she submitted the concept and plan for the workshop and worked with Stefanie in the run-up to the conference to deliver a fantastic session for attendees looking at the issues the LGBT+ community face on campus, alongside looking at tackling some common misconceptions.  

Myself and School Rep and Women’s Collective Convenor Emily Howling ran an interactive session entitled Taking Up Space that looked at empowerment techniques and dissected the concept of imposter syndrome, exploring what the problems are, why students may feel this way and how we can tackle it. It was brilliant to see students engaging and discussing so openly.

Panel Discussion

We finished the day with a panel discussion on the topic of ‘Learning and Unlearning’, which explored the theme of Inclusive Education from a different lens. Our panel included: Renee Landell, multi-award-winning previous BAME rep, founder of the Beyond Margins project and Royal Holloway PhD student, Dr Thanda Mhlanga, Teaching Fellow at CEDAS, Sammy Miller, Disabled Students Collective Convenor and Adeola Olajide, Student Experience Officer at the International Study Centre.

Discussions formed around whether university education is reacting appropriately to the changing demographic of students alongside discussions on unconscious bias, its use as a phrase and how it plays into this discussion. We use the phrase ‘unlearning’ in this context to mean unpicking and revaluating what you have been taught before in order to ‘unlearn’ what you have learnt, especially utilised if what you have previously learnt discriminates against some groups of people.

Questions around the mechanism of this and its relevance to the future of Inclusive Education sparked interesting debates and discussions. A huge thank you to all the panellists involved for providing interesting perspectives on all the questions. We'll be publishing a video of the panel in the coming days, so watch this space for more. 

Looking ahead

It was a fantastic conference, provoking exciting and interesting discussions through really embracing the theme of Inclusive Education. Thank you to everyone who came along, it is by no means the end of this work especially in relation to the Student Voice Report, which we will continue to lobby the University to implement the recommendations going forward.

Continue to utilise your brilliant academic reps and get in touch with me so we can continue to lobby, represent and empower your voice and interests.

Kate Roberts // Vice President Education