End Of Term Two Review

As second term draws to a close we've been reflecting on everything that's happened over this term. From beginning the fight against plastic straws on campus through to taking on the local council in our bid to end third year council tax, it's been a non-stop effort. And that's just our big campaigning wins.

We've also seen a new sabbatical officer team elected - along with a record SU Elections turnout, held our first home Varsity, welcomed over 800 students to Colours and Socs Ball and more. Here's our round up of the big wins over the past three months.

The Fight To End Third Year Council Tax

You might have heard that at the end of your final year, between your last teaching hour and the moment your house contract ends, you will be asked to pay council tax. Since January, we've been fighting hard to end this policy. 

We believe that this is unacceptable. To take advantage of students at such a crucial point in their lives is a clear display of desperation for cash, where those paying will see little to no benefits from doing so and are, in certain circumstances, simply unable to pay such high costs.

We decided to draft an open letter addressed to various members of Runnymede Borough Council, asserting our position on what we believe to be a great injustice. We asked you guys to sign the letter to show your support with our fight, and your VP Welfare and Diversity, Willow Wong, delivered all 157 letters in person straight to Runnymede Borough Council's doorstep

While we do not know whether or not the council will listen to our call, it is a first step in what will likely be a long, and difficult campaign. So keep your eyes peeled for any further updates that may come in the future.

'Help Us End Spiking' Campaign

Following an incident of drink spiking that has occurred in one of our venues, we wanted to reiterate our zero tolerance policy on the possession of any categorised, banned or restricted substance within our events and commercial premises. 

We took action by working closely with the Police and the University to prevent and reduce the impact of drugs on campus. Part of this partnership involves the sharing of CCTV footage of incidents and pushing for prosecution where possible.

Working with our partners, we launched a number of new initiatives to improve student safety during our late-night events, including:

  • Increased Security Presence: Conducting individual searches  anyone entering our venues on club nights and placed more security personnel on our late-night events
  • Wider Awareness: We aimed to increase awareness on campus, by ensuring students were equipped with the knowledge they needed in case they became a victim of spiking.
  • Free Spikeys Behind Bar: We offered students free spikeys which is simply popped into the neck of the bottle to prevent people from dropping a substance into your drink.

Remember, if you suspect you have been spiked in one of our venues please contact venues@su.rhul.ac.uk with the details of the incident so that we can investigate what has happened and a member of our team will get in touch.

Alpha Residential End Of Tenancy Charge

Recently, we had several students come to us saying that they have received communications from the estate agent, Alpha, detailing the cleaning process at the end of their tenancy. The letter stipulates that a cleaning professional must be brought in, and a check out must take place in the absence of the tenants, which together would cost upwards of £825.

We didn't agree with this at all and following pressure from the Students’ Union over excessive check out costs, Alpha Residential has agreed to a number of reforms to their core business practices in a great win for students at Royal Holloway.

The UCU Strikes

Following the Annual General Meeting on Tuesday 21 February, we called for an all-student vote on the motion to back UCU Industrial Action in Pensions Dispute.

In the 24 hour voting period, the student body voted overwhelmingly in favour and the motion passed into Union policy, with a total 718 number of votes were cast with 557 in favour (77.6%) and 151 against (21.0%), there were 10 abstentions (1.4%).

So in line with the resolutions of the motion, we resolved to:

  • Encouraged students to show solidarity with their lecturers by asking you not to attend lectures and seminars and not use services still in operation on strike days.
  • Encouraged you to join the staff picket lines that were set up on those days.
  • Ensured frustration around these strikes is directed towards those responsible for the proposed pensions changes, rather than lecturers themselves.

It came as no surprise to anyone that over the last two weeks of UCU Industrial Action, we have been contacted by large numbers of students on a daily basis, raising a range of queries and concerns.

The uncertainty around how long the strikes will continue and therefore how they may affect your studies, exams and graduations, not to mention the inconvenience already experienced by so many of you will naturally be causing a lot of anxiety within the student body.

The sabbatical officers met with the Principal and other Senior Management at the College, to put forward a list of the most frequently asked questions that they have received from students over the last two weeks.

They proposed that the College develop the central hub of information that they have already published, with more detailed responses to each of these questions below, and that this was publicised widely and made easy to find and completely visible to all students.

Policy To Improve Academic Feedback

As you know, we're here to represent your academic interests and one of our aims is to improve your education. Feedback on your academic work is often a point of contention and one which you raise consistently year on year.

That’s why we spent a large chunk of our first Course Rep Conference this year asking students and academics alike to discuss the ways in which feedback is most useful.

Following this, your VP Education, Clem Jones, and the Student Voice team took a paper to College which suggested three principles of feedback and several recommendations for improving the speed and clarity of the feedback you receive:

  1. Feedback can come in a variety of forms. It’s not just what you get on the paper, one-to-one chats, personal tutor meetings and any type of verbal feedback also have weight and meaning.
  2. Feedback should be clear about academic performance. You should be able to clearly see the use of marking criteria in all feedback.
  3. Feedback should be constructive. Pretty obvious to be honest. You want to know where and how you can improve, so we made sure that this is a requirement. No more lists of the things you did wrong with no explanation.

After much deliberation from the Academic Board, the highest academic committee at Royal Holloway, the paper has now passed, and the work stemming from our collaborative conference has made effective change in policy!

This means that the policy now makes sure that all assessed work (other than formal examinations) should be returned with feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline and the deadline for the return of work should be made clear when submitting, with any changes being communicated to you as soon as possible.

The only caveat is that weekends, bank holidays and dates when the College is closed (like Christmas and Easter breaks) are not included in the working days (staff need some downtime too) and certain assessments may not come back in 20 days if there are pedagogic reasons for delaying the release, which should be clearly communicated to you.

We’ve also encouraged personal tutors to include discussions on your exam performance in your tutorials, to ensure you get as much feedback as possible out of your exam experience!

Increasing Study Space For Postgraduate Taught Students

In term one, many postgraduate taught students voiced their concern over the use of the Postgraduate Research Room in the Davison Building. Previously, PGT students were able to access the PGR room for the first half of the Autumn Term, until swipe card access to the room was corrected to permit only PGR students.

The College was committed to retaining the room as a hub for research students as part of their offering for the PGR community. This was brought up in Education Council and student-staff meetings as an area for improvement.

However, thanks to successful lobbying from your VP Education, Clem Jones, and PGT Rep, Danielle Cavender, from the 9 April to the 8 June, Postgraduate Taught students will be able to access the Postgraduate Research Room on the second floor of the Davison Building.

However, in light of the confusion caused at the start of term one, the College have agreed to permit PGT students to access the room 9 April to 8 June for this academic year only. This is a one-off arrangement to remedy the confusion caused earlier this year.

The Postgraduate Research room has been re-designated as a silent study area, so as to not disturb any students working within it.

The College is supportive of the SU’s request for a longer term review of study space across campus in consideration of the needs of the broader student population. This is something we will continue to lobby for as your elected representatives. It is important to note that the sabbatical officers are here to represent all students, regardless if they are PGT and PGR. 

We are also committed to making sure PGR students feel represented at Royal Holloway, and so the VP Education will be meeting with them to discuss their concerns. If you have any questions and worries regarding this, don't hesitate to drop him an email.

No More Plastic Straws

We're always on the look out for your Bright Ideas. And as you know, we're looking to actively support in implementing the ideas with the most votes so that they become a reality. Examples of Bright Ideas that have passed include the 24/7 open backgate, microwaves in Tommy's Lounge, improving the service in the Sports Centre and more!

Three months ago, a student submitted a Bright Idea to replace all our plastic straws with environmentally friendly paper straws. Thankfully, we want you to be able to enjoy your beverages spillage free, while also knowing that the straw you just used won’t end up polluting the planet.

From Friday 12 February, the straws available in our venues became completely biodegradable, meaning that we have lessened our carbon footprint. And yes, they're available in every venue, whether it's alongside your breakfast in The Packhorse, your Tommy’s lunch, or your night out in Medicine.

You can pick up a straw from the side of the bar as usual, or simply ask for one when you order your drink, the choice is yours! But either way, you can now drink knowing that your impact on the environment will be that little bit less.

That concludes the review of all the big things we've done this term! We're looking forward to making sure you guys are supported throughout the exam period during term three, so keep a watch on all the things we've got planned for you.