Scanning the Horizon
The Wider World:
Post the Brexit vote, we may well be at the end of a 30 year political consensus on social and economic affairs. While a new model emerges, the country is set to lurch from minority government to minority government, which presents the prospect of significant threats and opportunities to both students and students’ unions. The need to be nimble and agile to ensure we take advantage of opportunities and see off threats is therefore more important than ever- as is the need to be closely connected to other SUs, wider society and Europe.
Even pre-Brexit the HE sector was going through rapid change, with a new Teaching Excellence Framework based on metrics replacing existing methods of assuring quality in Universities that will challenge the role of SUs in providing the student voice. There’s a bleak medium term financial picture for Universities caused by reduced research funding and poorer student recruitment from each of the key student markets. This should cause us to be cautious with SU finances in the medium term and ready to defend the student interest in the event of budget reductions around the University. And University fees are back on the table- we need to be ready to contribute to the debate and ensure that access funding is protected in any revised model.
Our Student Opportunities:
Some of our students are able to take advantage of the extra-curricular opportunities UEA offers but many are time poor or are on programmes that prevent participation. UEA’s Graduate Employment statistics hold it back from getting “TEF Gold” and students consistently feed back that they are worried about work, both while they are on their course and after graduation. And research suggests that participation in our activities isn’t diverse enough, with many students missing out on the friendship building aspects of activities altogether- and we’re missing out on talent from under represented groups.
Our Student Advocacy:
We’ve done deeper research into our students this year and that’s helping us (and the University) adapt services and plans to meet the needs of our members. Despite major strides forward we know that students still think that we ban too often and consult too little. We know that when students want help, they turn to other students first and this needs to be central to our plans. And too few students are aware of their rights as a student, tenant or employee- or how to enforce them.
Our Social Enterprises:
We know students love the SU and the LCR, but our entertainments programme is not seen as diverse and many students go elsewhere. Some students are under real financial pressure, and they’re demanding faster change to our services and value across our services. Crucially, expansion means there’s 1,000 extra students at UEA come September and our services need to be able to serve them in their volume and diversity.
The UEA Student Experience:
The University’s Vision says that students will have “heightened student expectations - as students are increasingly likely to demand the best choice, value and highest quality. They will review and share accordingly”. They’re right. UEA has some student experiences issues it needs to fix, needs to be ready to tackle the looming cost of living crisis that will bite during the life of this plan, and needs a plan to retain and improve its league table positions. Although UEA is a TEF Gold institution, NSS tells us that there are problems that need fixing (especially on assessment and feedback), and the University will also have to respond to student contracts and implement (at subject level) the Teaching Excellent Framework in coming years- students will need to know their rights (and how to enforce them) and will need a counterbalance to individualism, consumerism and an over-reliance on league tables and metrics.
The SU itself:
The SU now has good processes and management, a strong team of staff, volunteer and officers and a stable financial model. However we’re still heavily leveraged on our trading activity, our corporate governance isn’t open and involving enough, and our staff are telling us that their wellbeing and training and development needs are not being fully met. We also need to ensure that we’re keeping up with the latest developments in IT to ensure we are being as efficient and engaging as possible.