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Tom Burgess interviewed Amy about her new role as the mature students PTO.
How have you been during lockdown?
Living on your own can be challenging. I’ve been a vegetarian since early May and absolutely loving it. I’m a very keen cyclist. That’s kept me going. The last thing, which has been a very positive feature of lockdown, is using video to catch up with people. Since lockdown got a bit easier, I’ve been up to campus to see friends.
Why did you decide to run for the mature students role in the SU?
I’m really passionate about making a difference. I was the PGT rep in History, so I got my taste of representation in the university. I was concerned that support for particularly older mature students could be a lot better. How are we helping students with families understand what their options are? I know a Bulgarian lady who’s got a young child but had no idea of the school admissions process. Everyone who’s a PG is a member of graduate college, which does a good job. But did I feel and do my fellow mature students feel that LUSU really represented me and did we have a voice?
What are your main aims going into the next year?
The first thing is we need to bring mature students together, to give them a forum and a place beyond grad college. But also, to include undergraduate mature students. Obviously, in the UG colleges, they might not be heard.
I’ve looked into reactivating the mature student’s forum. I’ve spent a lot of time drawing up by-laws for the forum. We’ve got my officer page up on Facebook and I’ve just created a mature students forum group on Facebook. The next stage is actually having a meeting. And then actually elect some officers. Because it’s all very well having lots of great ideas and thinking I represent mature students, but I represent only frankly myself. So, I need a forum to hold me accountable.
The key points include supporting the transition back into academia for people who’ve been out of it a while. But even when people are making the transition from UG to PG, it’s a big transition. So, I’m not ignoring younger mature students.
There’s a whole issue about funding because when a mature student starts a course after the age of 60, they are ineligible for any kind of student finance. And that to me frankly is just ageism. Many may not be able to self-fund. People with career experience can bring a lot to study, to classmates. If there’s a financial barrier there, we need to look at that.
The last thing is networking and community. But there may be lots of other issues that I’m not in touch with. And then there’s the whole thing of helping LUSU become much more relevant to students with life and commercial experience.
You mentioned funding being an issue for older students. With Covid-19, has this affected any of your plans? Has it affected any of the people you represent?
The student experience will be different and that affects people in different ways. If you’re a History PhD student, access to archive material is a big deal. I know from talking to my PhD friends, some of them are finding it very difficult because they just can’t get the material they need.
Obviously, online supervisions for PhD students are very different to face to face. Not everyone is comfortable with the technology. I think in my own department, they are committed to offering the modules that they were offering before. Some hiring decisions have had to differ for financial reasons. Other departments have reduced the number of modules available. The other implications of budgets are uncertain.
A big deal for many students is access to the library. And fast forward to the beginning of next year, access to social space is a big deal, access to all the outlets on campus, the bars, the shops. We need to make sure we do everything we can to protect the student experience.
With measures like social distancing and bubbles, do you think that will damage housing options for mature students or just housing in general for next year?
Everything I’ve heard does point to students being in residence on campus next year. Whether that then means that the students in the flat with you form a bubble, I don’t know. A key part of the university experience is getting to know students from different disciplines, different cultures.
Affordability is an issue, but an awful lot of capacity has come up. There’s going to be more choice. Hopefully, that will have an impact on price, so it even may be a bit cheaper.
Regarding the disqualification of the RON campaign in the presidential election, which caused a lot of controversies, how did you feel about it?
I have to be careful about what I say. I can understand why many people felt that voting RON was an attractive option. There are big learns in terms of the future conduct of elections, in terms of the way in which the RON campaign was conducted. I think that a learn in terms of the union’s democratic processes, should be a review of the relevant by-laws to remove any ambiguity. This is the first time this has happened at Lancaster.
I’m glad that the outcome was to elect a president with a clear reform agenda. I’ve been really encouraged by the start that Ollie has made. He has reached out to the PTOs and come up with some really valuable proposals. It’s now been agreed that all the PTOs can attend trustee board meetings as observers. I think it’s a huge step forward. We really do have to move on.
In the upcoming constitutional convention, do you have any ideas that you want to push for mature students?
We need to democratise processes, particularly around the trustee board. Whether it’s possible to move to a fully elected trustee board, I would hope it is. Whether that is practical, I’m not sure.
I think the executive needs to be more open. I think that wherever possible, students should be able to attend and observe. Minutes need to be published as early as possible. One of Ollie’s ideas in his manifesto was introducing a level of the democratic forum below the executive. I’m really passionate that we need to develop that kind of forum. The fact that less than 10 per cent of students voted in the recent election isn’t healthy.
What is the first thing you are looking forward to doing once university’s back?
Seeing my friends. And one of the things I absolutely loved, was Friday night curry in Grad bar. From an academic point of view, I just look forward to being able to sit in the library again.
Have you missed anything about the city while in lockdown?
Yeah absolutely. I still haven’t been for a drink in a pub yet. The thing I really miss is, I’m a heritage volunteer at the Judge’s lodgings. I get to wear 18th-century dress. I just love showing the public around the building because there are so many amazing artefacts.