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More emphasis is being placed on the role of department representatives this academic year, as departments attempt to engage students with their subjects and encourage them to become more active with their degrees by holding elections in the first few weeks of Michaelmas term. LUSU’s newsletter Squeak described department reps as a “vital link between students, the University and the Students’ Union”. The role of the department rep involves speaking on behalf of the student body academically, by working with the departments and providing a voice when issues with courses arise. This involves being present at departmental meetings and working alongside relevant staff to bring positive change for the students.
Criticism of the effectiveness of the role became one of the key issues for Joe O’Neill during the LUSU Full-Time Officer elections last year. O’Neill, now Vice President Education and perhaps more commonly known for his Twitter hashtag #FTjOe, described the role of department reps as “an invaluable part of the structure of the university”. However, he admitted that changes are required to make the position more effective. Speaking to SCAN, O’Neill made it clear that the departmental representative system was here to stay, whilst also stating that there were ways of making it better. The measure he proposes is the introduction of a pilot scheme where elections for future departmental representatives occur in a number of departments.
Students and departments alike have sought such improvements, with Professor John Schad, head of English and Creative Writing, stating that although it is a ‘reasonable system … it could be improved’. More prominent issues have been pointed out by representatives such as Marguerite Walley, who argues the training given to department representatives should be organised by the departments themselves, allowing for students to understand the mechanisms within the department. Training is currently dealt with by LUSU, which Walley claims is inadequate. Another representative, Lauren Riley, also pointed out that there is no job specification given to representatives, and therefore no guiding hand to make them effective in that position.
However, there are still signs that the department representative system is seen as a useful one. Caroline Arnold, Cross-Campus Officer for Education, stated that they are ‘extremely worthwhile’ as they ‘provide student opinion and conduct essential student consultation’. This opinion is expressed by some representatives and heads of departments as well, with previous representatives Emily Tarbuck and Alasdair Hughs stating that they are ‘invaluable’ and act as an ‘important channel’. Professor Ivan Paya, Head of Economics, also stated that they ‘play a very important role’.