Democracy

Postgraduate Officer:
Lucy Gill

Lucy Gill is the SU's Postgraduate Officer.

I’ve been here at Warwick for four years now, completing both my undergraduate and Master’s degrees in the History Department. I got involved with the Union for the first time as a postgrad: I represented my course through the SSLC system, worked on SUHQ Reception and helped to run the Social Enterprise Project. Engaging with the Union has played a massive part in making my time here more memorable and has really made me feel part of the Warwick community. It’s never too late to try something new and take advantage of all the opportunities that the Union offers!

It’s really important to me that Postgraduates can be just as involved in campus life as their Undergraduate counterparts. Whether you’re a Taught or Research student, your time here at Warwick will be packed. I’m here to make sure that the Union not only supports you with any academic issues you may have, but also provides you with opportunities, social events and activities that take into account your distinct needs as a postgraduate community. In order to get this right, we need your help – get in touch if you’ve got any comments, concerns or suggestions!

Officer Objectives

Click here to see the progress of Lucy's aims and objectives for this year.

Blog

  • Mon 07 Jul 2014 12:35

    Ah… we’ve reached summer at last. If you look out of the window, it might actually not be raining for once. Campus is suddenly much quieter, and dissertation season is in full swing. And with the end of the undergraduate academic year comes the end of my term in office. Let’s face it – I wasn’t going to go out without a final blog, was I? So, here I am with three quick updates and one last set of reflections!

    UPDATE 1: Postgraduates Who Teach

    Throughout this year, we’ve been lobbying the University hard to improve pay and conditions for postgraduate students who teach. (Why’s this important? See here and here for a quick reminder!) Now, the University may not quite be ready to commit to the NUS’s Postgraduate Employment Charter, but I’m hugely excited by the work we’ve done this year to develop a new policy on their employment of postgrads. What will this mean? Hopefully standardised job descriptions, access to teaching mentors, more transparent information on expectations and better training. More importantly though, each department will be visited over the summer by senior management to identify concrete changes that can be made to improve pay and employment conditions. Transparency in remuneration and employment practices even made it to the last strategy for postgraduate education at Warwick - this is excellent news and shows how far we’ve come on this issue over the course of the year. I look forward to seeing the University follow up on all these promises in the near-future – let’s hope it’s not just idle lip-service!

    UPDATE 2: Postgraduate Welcome Week

    Arriving at Warwick as a postgraduate student has, quite frankly, always been a bit rubbish. The red carpet gets rolled out for the undergraduates, and it’s very easy to feel a bit lost in the rush of Freshers. Never fear – from this year, “Week 0” (that’s the week before undergraduate term starts in October) will be a dedicated Postgraduate Welcome Week! We’ve worked really hard with the PG Hub, the Graduate School and other University departments to come up with a programme of events – from film screenings to Postgraduate Question Time, skills sessions to family picnics, sports, societies, tours around the local area and even a good quiet drink in the pub! – to help new postgrads settle in. Crucially, however, Postgraduate Welcome Week is all about fostering a sense of community – so current postgraduates are more than welcome to come along too. Keep an eye on the Union and University websites for more details over the coming months!

    UPDATE 3: Postgraduate Social Space

    That “community” word again! Many of you that filled out our Help Us Help You survey told us that you want a social space to call your own: somewhere to relax all year round, to catch up with departmental politics and research, to hold your own events, or to grab a pint or cup of coffee on the way home from the office. Well, we’ve been listening and are currently developing a plan to convert part of one of our existing outlets into just that. Plans haven’t been finalised yet – again, keep an eye on the website in the coming months – but the Union is working hard to make sure we’re accessible and open to all of our members, and a postgraduate social space is at the heart of that plan.

    FINAL THOUGHTS: It’s Your Union – Use it or Lose it!

    And that final, take-away point? It’s been an honour being your Postgraduate Officer this year, and working alongside such a passionate group of students and staff here at the Union has only made it better. The following remarks do, however, apply as much to Undergraduates as they do to Postgrads!

    Last week, the University’s Senior Management team came to the Union for an open consultation with students about the upcoming University strategy revamp. This was our chance as a student body to feed back our views to the very highest people on the direction that our University is taking and what it’s really like to be a student here at Warwick. Now, from the emails and messages I receive, it’s clear that many people have strong opinions on Warwick – opinions on teachers’ pay, opinions on facilities, on accommodation, on their courses and the staff they’re taught by, on the increasing presence of industry at Warwick, or on campus feeling like “a conference park rather than a university”. And yet, you could count the number of students who attended this session on two hands. 

    We’re often told that the “ordinary student” doesn’t care about politics – in fact, who could blame them for not wanting to engage with the aggressive, and often downright childish, party posturing that takes place in Westminster (and at times right here in our own Students’ Union)? As I’ve said before, I really wasn’t even remotely involved in student politics before this year – indeed, I might have thought it was all a bit of a waste of time – but my time as a postgraduate student here at Warwick made me quite angry. To put it simply, there were a lot of things I wanted to change. I realised that “politics” (with a small p), is much broader than Prime Minister’s Question Time: education is political, paying fees is political, housing is political, pay is political. Indeed, as the rock group Skunk Anansie once said, “Yes, it’s f***ing political. Everything’s political”.

    University used to be about opening yourself up to new ideas and ways of thinking, rather than closing yourself off to them. Yet as a student body, it feels like we’re doing the opposite – the more fees we pay out, the more insular we become, and our tendency to focus on our experience and our entitlements seems to trump all.  Over the course of this year, I’ve increasingly begun to question the direction of our University and I’ve seen many things behind the scenes that trouble me: the increasingly rabid pursuit of “market share”, global expansion prioritised over the tackling of issues closer to home, the courting of corporate interests at the expense of wider ethical or social concerns, and Senior Management’s increasing removal and isolation from issues affecting students and staff. And why are these our priorities? Because, apparently, that’s “simply the way the world is going.” But, to my mind, keeping our heads down and plodding along comfortably in the status quo isn’t enough. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: we are not a graduate-spewing conveyor-belt for business or industry - we are a university. More than any other type of institution, we should be striving to remain the last oasis of integrity, openness and critical thinking in the increasingly barren social landscape we’re being presented with. We should be aiming to produce functioning, engaged individual citizens rather than faceless clones packing identikit “skills” and “experiences”. Warwick University – or ‘Warwick University Ltd’, as it’s often referred to - is not doing this.

    So this is my final rallying cry. As students, it’s time for us to step up: to look beyond our individual situations and to start fighting for the values and ideas which ought to be the unshakeable bedrocks of both this University and our society as a whole. Changing things isn’t easy – it’s a long, hard slog that’s ultimately much more difficult than ‘liking’ a post, re-tweeting a witticism or pouting in a selfie. But treating ‘politics’ as a dirty word – or, indeed, shaming those who do stand up and fight  - does us all a massive disservice. Going into a General Election year, we need to break out of the cycle of self-interest that leaves us judging everything by its impact on our own pockets, and instead take some responsibility for critical assessment of the broader issues at play. We’re not going to simply get a fairer society served up like it’s a pint of Purple at Pop!, and revised conceptions of social justice aren’t suddenly going to start trending on Twitter. More broadly, however, we should not allow ourselves to become defined solely by our jobs, our income or our procurement of the latest Apple gadget. Despite what we’re being constantly conditioned to believe, we are not simply “drivers of economic growth”. We are human beings, and this requires us to be in constant touch with our ability to empathise with others.

    There are some who will tell you that the Students’ Union shouldn’t be engaging in discussions about wider society, and should bite our tongue on any issue more controversial than Bread Oven queue times. There are even those who actively attempt to undermine the efforts of the Students’ Union to address students’ broader social concerns. However, the fact remains that the SU isn’t “just” here to sell you a sandwich, a pint or a night out, and the university experience as a whole isn’t “just” one big quest for “value-for-money”, an internship or a well-paid graduate job. Both institutions stand for more than that. Like it or not, as young people, we represent the future of this country. What sort of society do we want to live in – one that is in constant stagnation, entrenched in deep-seated inequalities and exists solely to serve individual self-interest, or one that is progressive, open to new ideas and moves with the times?

    As students at Warwick, we may live in what’s known as ‘The Bubble’, but that does not mean that we should exist in a vacuum. When presented with the opportunity to have our say, to contribute to the debate, to shake things up or to re-shape our community, we should seize the opportunity. Otherwise, someone else - whether that’s the University Senior Management with their own agenda or those unscrupulous voices from the grubbier end of student politics – will, in turn co-opting our voices to their cause. The Union is here to help you become more engaged – but you have to make the choice to get involved, to offer constructive suggestions for improvement, and to harness our representative power for real change. I can promise you though, from my own experiences this year, that if you choose to do this, you’ll get so much more out than you put in.

  • Wed 14 May 2014 11:30

    At Monday's All Student Meeting, a question from the floor asked what the Sabbatical Officers thought of Student Council – whether we thought it was representative, effective or accessible, or indeed if it achieved anything for students. This question really got me thinking, and tapped into some of the frustrations that myself and, I think, the Sabbatical Team as a whole have felt this year. As a membership organisation, democracy goes to the heart of what the Union is and does, and I think some of these issues desperately need addressing if we’re to move forward next year. In particular, these questions deserve a wider audience than those in attendance at the ASM.

    Firstly, some background. When I ran for a Sabbatical Officer position, I considered myself to be not particularly ‘politically-inclined’ – ‘politicised’, perhaps (after all, everything’s political in some capacity!), but certainly not aligned with any specific party or ideology. I considered myself a fairly “ordinary student” in the sense that I was not an activist on the right or left, but simply saw some things that I wanted to change. I had voted on the odd ASM motion, but never contemplated going to Student Council before I decided to stand. A Union ‘hack’, I most certainly was not.

    The first thing I learnt as a Sabbatical Officer was that everyone, both staff and officers, at the Students’ Union works incredibly hard every day to better the experience of students here at Warwick. Our outlets keep you fed, watered and entertained, Student Activities staff help you have fun and develop skills, the Academic Representation team help you enact change and the Advice Centre help you at when you’re at your most vulnerable. The Union helps to make your time here at Warwick special, and can literally even save lives.

    The second thing I learnt, however, is that a vocal minority of Student Council don’t seem to care about this. All too often, the Union’s best efforts and intentions are stymied by activities which take place behind the scenes. Certain members of Student Council – for whatever reason (though it appears mostly due to their own personal political affiliations) – seem to take active pleasure in creating as many roadblocks to change as possible by complicating matters unnecessarily. (These same people are, of course, happy to claim all the credit when something goes right – even when it’s largely down to the hard work of others!) Over this year’s student meetings, we’ve endured insults, demoralising and disparaging criticism and – worst of all – one sitting officer publicly questioning the value of Sabbatical Officers. As a result, I’ve become very disillusioned with the state of student politics here at Warwick.


    Before you get out the violins, this isn’t just a rant or a plea for recognition. This is about taking a step back and asking what we want from student democracy - what the spirit of our Union is, and what we want from our Sabbatical Officers, our councillors and, most importantly, for ourselves. Of course, we can always improve – there are things I wish I’d done better this year, the Union and all of its officers (both full-time, part-time and councillors) should be more accountable, and we should strive to engage more members of our community. However, the last thing I want to do is spend hours nitpicking over the minutiae of our by-laws when we could be discussing issues that actually affect students. We need a change. We won’t, however, achieve this by continuing on the path we’re going down.

    The first thing I’d change? The atmosphere of Student Council. Our meetings are dominated by a minority of councillors who seem to enjoy nothing but pontificating back and forth and hearing themselves speak, in turn drowning out the voices of reason. (Yes, believe it or not, these do exist, and they work incredibly hard for the students they represent!) Currently, our sessions are dominated by personality clashes, power plays and party-political posturing - both from the right and left.

    If you go back to the Autumn elections and take a look at councillors’ manifestos, I’m pretty sure party politics didn’t feature highly in their list of promises. Nor did their list of experiences make much of their heckling skills (“Shaaaaaaame!” is a fairly common utterance heard), aggressive ‘banter’ techniques, or ability to employ tactical walk-outs when numbers are low or things aren’t going their way. As it stands, too much of Council business often comes across as the antics of silly little children on power trips, jeering petulantly as if sitting in the Commons at Prime Minister’s Question Time. We constantly ask ourselves why student groups are underrepresented - why we lack women, ethnic minority, LGBTUA+, disabled, mature, postgraduate and international members of Council. Frankly, is it any surprise? Straight, white, privileged, able-bodied men dominate our representational structures, and those old tactics of aggression, domination and the marginalisation of diversity (and, some might even say, rationality) still hold sway. All these tactics reduce our accessibility, actively impede the progress of Council business and, more pertinently, have nothing to do with representing students. “Shaaaaaaame”, indeed.

    Worse, these power-plays have come to dominate the ways in which your officers are held to account. We’ve seen barrages of anonymous questions directed at certain officers this year in what’s been a gratuitous misuse of an accountability mechanism for party-political and personality reasons. In contrast, no-one has held me to account on my performance as Postgraduate Officer. Now, I’ve not been a quiet officer - plenty of the things I’ve done this year would have warranted questioning or further explanation. But either postgraduate issues are perceived to have no relevance to “normal students” or, more likely, the majority of Council doesn’t care because ‘holding Sabbs to account’ has simply become an extension of the power-games and political tactics talked about above.

    One of Council’s reasons for being is holding officers to account - celebrating what we’ve achieved (and there’s been lots here: take a look at our team’s objectives and blogs!), and allowing us to explain when things haven’t gone so well. Frankly, it has been disheartening in the extreme to see fellow officers face criticism time after time in meetings or simply be ignored for the hard work they’ve put in and the progress we’ve made. Of course we’re not perfect – this is our first real job, the Union has financial and resourcing constraints, the University won’t always say yes – but to question our efforts (and that of Union staff) due to some sort of misplaced grudge against the Union and the people who work here is hugely unfair.

    It’s also time for councillors and part-time officers to hold themselves to account - to step up and attend meetings, and to ask themselves what they’ve done for the students they’re supposed to represent. Does the Union need to support these students more? Certainly - and I know Cat will be working hard on this next year. Do Sabbs need to take more initiative in renewing policy? Probably. But, just as part-time officers have other constraints on their time, so do we! If Sabbs lost some of the bureaucratic tedium caused by the sort of power games outlined above, which often sees Council debate the placing of commas in obscure sections of the by-laws for… well, for no good reason whatsoever, then we might actually have the time to talk about something important and relevant. And then, who knows, people might be more interested.


    Ironically, the very councillors, officers and students who complain about Sabbatical Officers focusing too long on bureaucracy and refusing to engage more students are often those who actively go out of their way to create that bureaucracy. Indeed, the amount of unnecessary time wasted in the Union this year on petty complaints (often on dubious and, again, politically-motivated grounds) beggars belief. Indeed, some even seem to take active satisfaction in this - particularly when it then grants them free reign to beat the drum on behalf of “ordinary students” who consider themselves otherwise disinterested in student politics. But I think it’s time someone stood up and stated publicly that they can’t have it both ways.

    It’s clear that there are many problems with Student Council, but some councillors don’t seem to want to take responsibility for their own actions or consider how these reflect on the general perception of our SU among the student body. Hopefully next year’s councillors will focus on the issues that are important to the student body they’ve been elected to represent, rather than taking part in petty games and one-upmanship. As it stands, however, most “ordinary students” don’t want anything to do with Union politics for these very reasons. And to perfectly honest, I don’t blame them. 

  • Fri 09 May 2014 10:37

    So, the Registrar’s meeting has been and gone. The marking boycott has been and gone. And that progress on pay for Postgrad teachers? Well, that feels like it’s also been and gone. It hasn’t, of course – but in endless cycles of committee meetings and working groups, February feels like a very long time ago. A fan of University bureaucratic time, I am not!

    The fight for better treatment for our postgraduates who teach goes on and, in the coming months, the University will be unveiling their new policy on this issue. With impeccable timing, the NUS and UCU have released an updated version of their Postgraduate Employment Charter, which calls on universities to recognise their role as employers and commit to the basic requirements laid out in the charter.

    How does Warwick stack up? Well, we’re improving. But there are some basic points that we still fall down on. The following are, to my mind, most important:

    * Fair, transparent and equitable employment procedures.

    Put simply, this means you know when recruitment is happening, you know how to apply and, if you get the job, you receive  a contract outlining not only what’s expected of you but also basic information like your rate of pay, expected hours and sickness provision. Over 40% of Warwick’s Graduate Teaching Assistants received no contract, and only 27% received all of the basic information outlined above. This continues to be a sticking point – and many departments are still resisting implementing fair recruitment procedures.

    * A fair rate of pay for all hours worked.

    One of the perennial problems facing postgrads who teach that they are often only paid for their direct teaching hours (i.e. the lecture, seminar, demonstration or session itself) – when preparation, reading or experiment design, marking, office hours and admin are taken into account, many earn less than equivalent to the minimum wage. While some cash-rich departments are able to pay prep time (or at least a rate higher than the “Warwick Standard”), those in poorer departments struggle. We think it’s grossly unfair that hourly-paid teaching in a University should essentially be operating according to the principles of free market economics, and unequivocally support the implementation of a standard rate of pay across the University. Though UCU have also recommended payment of 2.5 times the hourly rate for every teaching hour to take into account preparation time, many departments argue that they simply don’t have the funds to do so. With some subjects relying on postgraduate tutors to deliver nearly 80% of first-year teaching, however, to my mind this excuse does nothing but try to whitewash the exploitation of our fellow students – it’s time for the University to cough up!

    * Supervision or mentoring by a staff member who is not your research supervisor.

    PGs who teach tread a difficult path between student and staff status. Making sure that those in charge of teaching performance are, wherever possible, not a PhD student’s supervisor helps to keep this distinction clear, and ensures that PGs are not negotiating employment conditions with a member of staff who has a crucial role to play in their academic progress. We’ve made some good progress on this with the University thus far, including ensuring that module leaders are aware they need to mentor the PG teachers on their course.

    * Access to facilities and resources necessary to teach.

    Need to print handouts? You should be able to use a department printer. Need somewhere to hold your office hours? Your department should provide space. Want to teach creatively? You should have access to audio-visual equipment. Every Warwick student deserves  the same standard of education, and every Warwick teacher needs proper access to facilities in order to ensure this happens.
     

    * A reasonable balance between employment and research.

    It’s often rather snidely stated that postgraduates who teach should be “grateful” for the opportunity to do so, or that “back in my day, postgraduate tutors were paid a pittance” – essentially, that without the kindness of departments, they’d have nothing. And of course, many departments do work hard to ensure that postgraduates who teach are well supported and are able to develop teaching skills that will benefit them throughout their careers. However, what deserves no gratitude is exploitation and poor treatment. Postgraduates who teach are students first – teaching may be key experience, but you can’t get onto the career ladder without completing your degree. So why, one might ask, does their student experience not matter? Or, is that only a priority for the University when there’s a survey to complete?

    So - what should you do about the Charter?

    First, probably best to have a read of it yourself!

    If you’re a postgraduate who teaches, share the charter with your fellow teachers, ask your department whether they comply and, most importantly, let me know what you think – email postgrads@warwicksu.com with your thoughts, so I can ensure I’m accurately representing you.

    If you’re an undergraduate, ask your department if they comply with the charter? If they don’t, ask them why not. The other thing to do is to give your postgraduate tutors feedback on their teaching – feedback they can use to actually develop as teacher. If you think they’re great, tell them what you like or why you enjoyed their class. If things weren’t so good, let them know. But remember, “Your biscuit selection was rubbish” or “Your mustard yellow cardigan put me off” doesn’t help – offering constructive suggestions for improvement does!

    In the meantime, what will I be doing? I’ll continue to press the University on this issue – after all, improving pay and conditions for postgraduate teaching assistants is a win-win situation for all of us. The University has publically acknowledged that we have a problem – now it’s time to push for tangible progress via concrete solutions.

  • Thu 24 Apr 2014 09:28

    So, finally some good news! It’s no secret that postgraduate funding in the UK is in crisis  -  with no national loan scheme, the number of home and EU students on postgraduate courses has been falling, with many students getting into dire financial straits in order to fund their degrees. This, clearly, isn’t good. Rapidly-rising fees and a lack of financial support not only affects the wellbeing of current students who have to take out expensive loans or juggle part-time jobs with their studies, but it also ensures that postgraduate study becomes the preserve of the lucky few privileged enough to have thousands of pounds sitting in their bank accounts. (For more on the background to the funding crisis and my thoughts on the recent budget statement, see HERE).

    In order to keep postgraduate studies - and, by extension, an increasing number of professions - open to all students regardless of their background, financial support is key. It’s therefore great to see that the University are putting hard work (and cold cash!) into tackling this problem here at Warwick.

    As part of HEFCE’s Postgraduate Support Scheme, the University has just announced an extra £600,000 of bursaries for students applying to study a taught Masters degree at Warwick. The Warwick Taught Masters Scholarship scheme will cover the full cost of tuition fees (or pay £7,050 towards them) and will be accompanied by a non-repayable bursary of £4000. This is incredible news, and the Union has been working with the University to ensure that this cash reaches the students who need it the most. Scholarships will available to unfunded Home /EU students who meet one or more of the specified criteria, such as receiving a means-tested bursary from their University or being in receipt of Disabled Students’ Allowance. You can find the full details here.

    What’s the catch? The cash has to be spent by the end of the year, so only students applying for courses that start THIS OCTOBER are eligible. If you’re a finalist, make sure you take a look as soon as possible!


    The Warwick Taught Masters Scholarships are obviously not going to solve the wider structural problems facing postgraduate study – that will require considerable investment from the government. What they are, however, is a huge step forward to breaking down the barriers to postgraduate study here at Warwick, and those involved at the University deserve nothing but credit for this. It’s great to see such a significant investment in widening access to study, and it’s been great to be involved as a Union in shaping a scheme which will hopefully impact positively on the lives of many students.  Now - time for a loan scheme, Mr Osborne…?

  • Thu 27 Mar 2014 13:39

    Recently, the Sabbatical Officer Team was asked for our input into a University strategy paper on the Warwick-Monash Alliance. In our recent Help Us Help You survey, you told us that one of your top priorities for the SU was “holding the University to account” on a wide range of issues. After consulting extensively with Ben and Erin, Cat and I fed back a number of issues that we had with this strategy, which I’ve attempted to break down and outline below!


    What is it?

    The Warwick-Monash Alliance is a partnership between Warwick and Monash University in Australia, which aims to connect two Universities with similar aims. For students, this means hopefully easier access to a global education, whether through e-learning, joint or double degrees or opportunities to take part in Alliance society and sports events. The Alliance also aims to conduct research that addresses global concerns and problems and aims to facilitate the exchange of people, ideas and information across the globe.

    What benefits will this bring?

    Both Monash and Warwick Universities make clear statements about the importance of excellence in teaching and learning which aims to produce globally-aware graduates who are highly employable. We are pleased to see education play such a crucial role in Alliance strategy – Universities are, after all, first and foremost teaching and learning communities! Equally, we are keen to see the Alliance enhance the educational experience of as broad a group of our students as possible – particularly through the numerous possibilities offered by e-learning. There are loads of great initiatives already taking place on this front – those of you taking IATL’s interdisciplinary modules will already know how great these are – and the Union would support all work to make e-learning opportunities more widely available to all students. Being able to exchange ideas and research virtually across the globe, through shared modules, the Reinvention Journal and e-seminars internationalises every students’ experience!

    Nevertheless, there were several main areas of concern that we identified:

    1) Fees & Funding

    We were deeply concerned that the joint and double-degree programmes proposed in the strategy paper would, without significant living-cost funding, be accessible only to a small proportion of the student body with sufficient financial resources to be truly mobile - i.e. those from the wealthiest backgrounds.

    Monash University suggest a living cost of A$ 22,592.00/£12,251.75 for the year,[1] whereas Warwick recommend around £9,000/A$16,595.84 per year[2]. Currently, the Australian dollar is performing strongly against other world currencies, meaning that the exchange-rate is unfavourably weighted against those travelling there from overseas.  With several of the proposed degrees running into multiple years, these courses therefore remain hugely expensive propositions – particularly when wider financial concerns such as accommodation, health care and transport are factored in.

    Currently, rent prices are considerably higher in Monash, with on-campus accommodation beginning at £112 / A$208 per week[3] - though this is in no way correlative in terms of the quality received (as one Warwick student currently studying in Monash described it, it amounts to paying the equivalent of what you might pay for Bluebell to live in Whitefields). Furthermore, academic terms/years begin and end at substantially different times in Australia and the UK, meaning that there would need to be much greater contract flexibility for those Monash students arriving in Warwick to begin their academic year in January - an inflexibility which many of you have no doubt encountered when dealing with Warwick Accommodation!

    Then there’s the issue of Student Health Cover, which needs to be purchased independently – Monash OSHC currently costs A$571 (£310) for a 12 month period, and must be purchased at the time of an offer’s acceptance. [4] It’s also worth noting that with Student Health Cover, there is a 12-month waiting period before students can claim for costs arising from a pre-existing condition – thus severely limiting the potential of students with asthma, disabilities or other pre-existing medical conditions from participating.

    2) Accessibility

    All of the above points amount to a clear problem with the accessibility of these courses. More broadly, then, how many students does the Alliance benefit, and is it worth it?

    The answer: not many! For approximately 93,000 students across two institutions, it will benefit less than 1000 in its current state. It is also worth noting that a degree which requires continual student mobility will automatically exclude students with dependents, student carers, disabled students and many others for whom repeated travel far from home is simply not feasible.

    When all these factors are taken into account, it was our contention that these are not accessible degree courses.

    3) Welfare

    Currently, there are plans in place to provide bursaries to students for flights at the beginning and end of term. However, this does not cover any additional travel costs which may be incurred in the interim. Put simply, if you (or a relative) became seriously ill and you had to travel home at short notice, how would you be able to do this is you didn’t have the money / a spare £1000 handy?
     
    We are also concerned that sufficient improvements in welfare provision would also need to be put in place to support both Warwick students in Monash and Monash students here at Warwick, to ensure fair and consistent access to personal tutoring, counselling, support and other welfare services.

    4) Clashes

    Aside from the issue with term-time scheduling, NSS feedback from students studying on joint degree courses across Warwick departments repeatedly reports interdepartmental communication and administration difficulties such as the clashing of classes, weighting of years and assignment deadlines. It’s difficult to see how these issues would be anything but exacerbated when dealing with another institution overseas.

    5) University investment & motivations

    Currently, a mere 9% of the current Alliance budget is set aside for education, with the majority set to be spent on research and ‘core costs’. Although clearly we recognise a need to invest more initially in research, the Officer Team is concerned that the proposed “excellence in teaching and learning” may currently be out of reach if so little of the budget has been designated for education.

    The strategy discussion paper identifies “exclusive, high margin” activity as being the preferred option for Alliance education activities, and suggests that all courses should have the ability to generate considerable surpluses. Or, to put it another way: they’re only interested in degrees which make a lot of money. It is our belief that this would be sought through inflated, ‘prestige-priced’ postgraduate taught and international fees – none of which are externally regulated in the UK or Australia, meaning that institutions are able to essentially charge what they like.

    A lot of money is going into this initiative: the University plans to spend £6million on the Alliance over the coming 4 years, with £200,000 having already been spent on marketing alone (sadly we aren’t able to access the amounts spent on repeated flights overseas for senior management, but we’re assuming it’s not inconsiderable!) This is your tuition-fee money. Whenever we have asked students for feedback, you repeatedly cite a desire for improved library facilities, refurbished and expanded lecture and seminar spaces, improved e-resources and access to technology, fairer pay for postgraduate teaching assistants and a new Humanities Building right here on campus. Rather than being spent on improving teaching and learning facilities at Warwick, however, surpluses generated by profitable departments will be expected to contribute instead to the funding of the Alliance.

    Conclusions (a.k.a TL;DR!)

    It would surely be disappointing to students - many of whom currently view the Alliance as having little relevancy to their studies - to see much-needed improvements to Warwick University sacrificed to fund an overseas initiative that would impact only a few, privileged students.

    The current shape of the Alliance’s education provision, with its heavy focus on joint degrees, reserves these opportunities only for those who can afford to study abroad. Such inaccessibility and exclusivity undermines the ethos of ‘Go Global’ and other Warwick initiatives, which are designed to show that internationalisation is available to every Warwick student. Quite aside from this, there also remains the tangible irony of a prospective degree in Environmental Sustainability which requires taking multiple flights across the world.

    What is the University’s motivation for this? It seems noble when phrased in terms of enhanced student employability through global development and research, but their current strategy seems to focus disproportionately on obtaining access to business links and ‘untapped markets’. In pursuing this strategy, Warwick University is actively contributing to a culture in which education is accessible only to the wealthiest few. All of which begs the key question: why is Warwick University spending so much money on investment in another institution overseas when there are so many problems which need solving right here at Warwick?

    Ultimately, the aims and purpose of the Alliance still remain unclear to the vast majority of Warwick students. It is therefore easily perceived as an institutional vanity-project which has little relevancy to the lives of many. Until there is improved communication from the University which leads to greater student buy-in on the idea, it is very difficult to see what benefits this initiative brings to all but the privileged few. In the meantime, it has the potential to become Warwick’s very own Millennium Dome: a gigantic PR prestige project which is ultimately little more than the folly of senior management.



    [1] http://www.monash.edu.au/study/international/melbourne/cost-of-living.html

    [2] http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/studentfunding/costs/

    [3] http://www.mrs.monash.edu.au/oncampus/admissions/rental-rates.html

    [4] http://monash.edu/fees/oshc-price-list-2014.html

     

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