As semester 2 ended and undergraduate students finished assessments, it prompted me to reflect on the past year. When I first became Vice-President of Student Experience in September 2019, I had no idea of the huge challenges which lay ahead for our community due to Covid. From March 2020, the focus was on responding quickly to ever-changing government regulations, adapting the way we delivered support and activities for students like never before. Key to achieving this was collaboration with the Students’ Union (SU). This 2022-23 academic year has perhaps felt like the most “back to normal” year since before Covid, and has enabled us to concentrate on longer-term ambitions for student experience.
I’m going to focus on the Students’ Union in this blog, and partnership working, as The SU are key to how we make improvements year-on-year here at Bath. There are so many opportunities for students to feed into how we do things at all levels of the University - whether it’s via the Academic Rep system and attending Staff Student Liaison Committees, completing annual surveys such as Be Well or the NSS/PTES/PRES, or attending focus groups held by departments or services. The SU does an amazing job of trying to represent the voices of all students from all backgrounds, and this work is key to flagging emerging issues and topics for the University to consider.
SU and University staff work collaboratively across so many areas of the university to help ensure the student voice is heard and acted on, from Education and Research, to support services, accommodation, sports, hospitality, and beyond. The elected SU Officers are also members of many University committees and working groups, including the Student Experience Advisory Board, providing invaluable insight and sometimes a different perspective on matters.
One way that University Executive Board colleagues and I get to work directly with the SU Officers is in response to their annual SU Top Ten. Often, these ten key issues are already on our radar and we have some understanding of how we intend to tackle them. However, the SU bringing them to the forefront of our attention offers a different perspective and provides us with greater student insight. It also gives us that extra focus during the year to consider the issue and start making achievable changes where needed, working in partnership with the SU.
I was delighted to be able to give a positive update to Council in May about the progress made against the 2022/23 Top Ten. As you can imagine, some of the Top Ten areas are not going to be solved overnight, or even in one academic year, so they often become integrated with “business as usual” activity at the end of the year. Some of the issues, such as those related to the climate emergency, buildings accessibility, and assessment feedback felt very much a key part of wider and longer-term plans already in train and will continue to develop.
Other issues, such as improvements to campus food and drink provision, and putting in place support due to the cost-of-living crisis could be responded to more quickly, with a more immediate impact on students. It was so positive to see the SU and University coming together to put in place a robust package of support for our students in response to rising costs. As we are all aware, the cost-of-living crisis is not over, and it is important to see this work continue so that we can adapt our offer to the circumstances. This area really demonstrates the benefit of collaboration, with last semester’s SU cost of living survey continuing to help shape our next steps.
I’m conscious that due to the nature of elected SU Officer roles, each summer myself and colleagues have the exciting opportunity to meet and start working with new student representatives. I’m sure this can be a daunting prospect for the new Officers, but I am hopeful they're looking forward to working together as much as we are! I know SU staff and the outgoing Officers do an amazing job of handing over the reins, so I want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all the departing Officers, and a very warm welcome to the new Officers.
An exciting positive change in student experience at the University is Dr Nathalia Gjersoe’s new role as Associate PVC Student Experience (Student Voice). Thalia has responsibility for the strategic leadership of Student Voice and Engagement across the University and is collaborating closely with the SU, Student Engagement Team, and a wide number of colleagues to develop and implement a strategic plan for student voice across the University and SU. I’m excited to work with Thalia and others on these positive changes in the year ahead.
Finally, as we move into the summer period, I’m conscious that for some this offers space to relax and recharge, which is so important for our wellbeing. In contrast, for others, this can be their busiest time, I’m grateful to colleagues in Admissions and the teams preparing for Graduation ceremonies, as well as many other colleagues, for their hard work over this period. The quieter campus atmosphere hides the fact that many PGT and doctoral students remain in Bath, working as hard as ever, and some undergraduates will be preparing for reassessments in August, with colleagues both in the SU and University on hand to support them. Like our campus, which fluctuates in activity and pressures throughout the year, our work also has its fair share of ups and downs which we all face. I am, however, continually reassured, and inspired, by how much we can achieve when we work together.