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Lucy from Bailrigg FM and Syed from SCAN interviewed Bee Morgan, the returning VP for Education.
What have you been up to over lockdown?
I’ve just come home for a bit which has been really nice to see my family. I’m coming back up to Lancaster this weekend. I’ve been really enjoying spending time with my flatmates.
What is your role within the Students Union as VP for Education?
The key things that the VP for Education covers is the academic representation system which means each department has elected representatives. I help facilitate loads of forums where I get loads of student feedback. I’m also on a lot of committees like quality assurance- which tries to keep the quality of the education as good as possible. Other things I cover are employability and postgrad experience. I do all sorts of things from helping provide the student voice on Moodle upgrades to looking at timetabling and looking at new module structures. On the whole, it is just trying to make sure that students get the experience that they should get.
What do you think has gone well over the past year and if you could do re-do anything what would you do differently?
I’m proud that I got the education committee paper passed. The proposal was that in Lancaster students aren’t too actively involved in the decision process. I’ve been quite vocal about how it’s not fair on the students that big changes are being made without any student input, I said that I, as the VP for Education, should be involved at the start of the process instead of right at the end. So following that I got my consultation paper approved so if the uni needs to make a change, big or small, there is a structure including uni reps, staff and students. Secondly, in my proposal a new committee will be created, high up in the university structure, which is purely for student academic feedback.
What didn’t go so well was the realisation that I was probably the most important voice in meetings, which came slightly too late. I came up with a question that I would ask myself in a meeting- what would students think if they knew what we were talking about right now? I would have liked to have had this realisation earlier although I realise that it’s the kind of thing that comes with time. I also would have changed the fact that I kind of took summer for granted. I relied on the university keeping their promises a lot- so I didn’t chase them up on some of the things early enough. I should have hit the ground harder. I have the opportunity now to continue what I have started.
What are your main aims about the upcoming academic year?
The key aim for me is to make sure that the quality of education stays the same and ensuring that the students understand their rights in having that. One of the key platforms I have run on in both campaigns was consistency because Lancaster in certain areas has great student experience but those experiences are not felt across the board. Inconsistency in departments and their policies can be really disheartening so I want to try to get rid of that sense of injustice. I will try to ensure that the student voice is clear in all of the decisions being made this year and heard in the right way.
The VC sent out an email that mentioned a blended approach to Michaelmas term with traditional face to face learning blended with a more digital approach. What is your reaction to this and what is your idea of supplementary digital sessions?
After my vocal protest against not being in the loop about moving exams, I wanted to be part of the discussion for next year. The uncertainty means that some students might want to stay home- some people might not want to pay a significant amount for their rent. The blended approach is the idea that we will move to a face to face approach as soon as we can. Online lectures will be delivered in small chunks as staring at a screen for a long time is a bit intense. Lectures won’t necessarily be delivered at the same time as students might be in different time zones. Adaptability is key. Coming to Lancaster is a big decision that will depend on individual students because of the financial impacts of it and the risks like trying to socially distance freshers!
One of the aspects of the BLM movement is the attainment gap- do you think the attainment gap exists at Lancaster and if so how do you plan to combat this to make the university a fairer place?
The statistics are confidential but they are massively shocking. I know that one of the problems is that we recruit so few black students. The university is moving to publish a widening access and participation plan which sets out trying to make the university experience a fairer place. One of the best things that we got done last year was getting contextual offers approved- if you come from a known poorer neighbourhood you can be given a contextualised offer. This will hopefully bring more students from wider backgrounds. One meeting coming up soon that will focus on diversity in the curriculum. The example the university uses was film- there would be a module on female directors and film. There shouldn’t have to be specific modules- there should be examples of BAME or female figures in all areas. We do need to look at our staff diversity. It is easier to succeed if you can see people who are like you succeed. I’m bringing back up diversifying the curriculum again because last time it was inexplicably put on hold and I don’t know why.
In your manifesto you talk about unsustainable student number growth why do you think the student number growth at the university is unsustainable and how do you plan to make it sustainable?
One of the things I did back in January which I’m really proud of was the Sustainable Student Number Growth Policy. That policy unanimously passed. The SU is boycotting open days for 3 years until certain demands are met: stopping teaching in the Great Hall, 6-7’s scrapped, that students get a say in the new university strategy. The staff haven’t grown in line with the student numbers which means that it will take longer to get your feedback and it won’t be as good quality as the staff don’t have the time. The value of Lancaster is not in having huge student numbers.
The RON campaign was controversially disqualified in the election as an FTO how do you feel about this situation?
I definitely feel the frustration because I feel like I don’t know the situation either. Having been part of the previous team in office even I don’t know the figures. I genuinely understand the dissatisfaction that students have. It’s not really my place to comment on it as this is an issue which will affect one of my team members and I don’t feel like I have the answers. It is even more frustrating for students as it was decided upon by someone outside of Lancaster who is untouchable- the returning officer. I’m really glad that we have a President right now. I’m positive Oliver will make a great President. If the answers aren’t being shown to the trustee’s, students really aren’t ever going to be shown them.
What are you missing most about university life at the moment?
I think I miss the people, one of the things I remember when I was 18 and looking around Lancaster University was the sense of community. I miss meeting lots of different people so often and I don’t get that anymore. I miss those 15-minute interactions with different people, even if I might never see them again.
This is probably the most important question of this interview: Which is better Sultans or Ketcap?
Controversially, I have never actually eaten at either which is crazy. I did get a free popadom from Sultans even though I wasn’t buying any food, so I’ll have to give it to Sultans.
Thank you very much for talking to us today!
Thanks you so much for having me!