Posted on Mon 31 Jul 2017 at 16:37 by Luke Pilot
Monday 31st July marks the last day of the Sabbatical Officer team for 2016-17. My time as a Sabbatical Officer at Warwick SU - first as Welfare & Campaigns Officer, then President - have been a particularly volatile, unpredictable and eventful two years in the student movement. It is important, as we reach the end of this experience, that we take the time to reflect.
When the Officer team started back in August 2016, we set out our team priorities for the coming 12 months. The year has indeed been a productive one, especially regarding our team's Top 10 priorities. Below, you can read about our success on these commitments:
1. Secure a lecture and seminar-free Week 0
After an extensive lobbying campaign, the Sabbatical team secured a Welcome Week free from major academic commitments for the 2018-19 academic year. This is a massive institutional change which the SU has been campaigning on for nearly 10 years.
2. Mental Health
Mental health has been at the forefront of a lot of our work, with student wellbeing being the central principle behind our Week 0 campaign. This year we also launched the new ‘Are You OK?’ campaign and oversaw a doubling in funding for wellbeing support services at the University.
3. Fair Pay for Postgraduate Teachers
Significant effort has been exhausted on fighting for better rights for Postgrads who teach this year. Through the University’s Sessional Teaching Project review and supporting the Six Demands Campaign, we have made the University offer multiple concessions. There is, however, still a long way to go on this issue.
4. Zero Tolerance to Sexual Violence and Harassment
As a result of the SU's work, sexual violence has been at the forefront of the University’s agenda. Multiple new staff members are being appointed, more accessible pathways have been established, a worker from CRASAC will dedicate time to the University and we piloted an academic module with two departments, teaching students about challenging bystander apathy and institutional sexism.
5. Host the first ever Warwick Fringe Festival
The new Creative Warwick campaign culminated in the first ever Warwick Fringe Festival in Term 3. The year-long campaign celebrated the inherent creativity of our student societies and gave them a new platform via the Festival. The event was a success, bringing vibrancy to the campus, welcoming neighbours from local communities and giving students new experiences.
6. Wednesday Afternoons Free
Off the back of our Week 0 success, this was going to be a difficult ask. We submitted a paper to the relevant academic committee in Term 3 and have secured University commitment to investigating the potential of this endeavour further. We are seeking commitments to an authorised absence scheme and preventing lectures and seminars being timetabled after 12pm. The SU will continue to campaign for the University to recognise the benefits to student wellbeing and personal development by protecting Wednesday afternoons as a time for extracurricular activities.
7. Liberated Curriculum
This year saw the launch of the ‘Liberate My Module’ campaign, a way for students to record how their modules have embedded issues of equality, diversity and liberation within the curriculum and learning environment. New links have been forged with the Modern Records Centre and academic departments who have pioneered similar work before. The SU will continue to pursue this work, exploring the concept of a liberated curriculum and what it means for pedagogy with academic departments and our Liberation societies and officers.
8. Cut Out Hidden Costs
Alongside halting a tuition fee rise for current students, we have lobbied senior members of the academic community on additional course costs. We have secured a commitment to further investigate current additional course costs and how they are impacting students. The SU will continue to lobby on this issue.
9. Eco Centre
Now likely to be called ‘The Nest’, this project , pioneered by students, has received significant support from the University Sustainability Team who, alongside multiple stakeholders (including the SU) met with an architect early in the year to produce early potential models for the straw-bale building.
10. Defend Civil Liberties
The successful establishment of the Prevent Monitoring Group continued, seeking input from academics, students and staff from professional services to criticise the University’s compliance with the Prevent duty. By facilitating negotiations between students and the University, the SU was able to support the removal of the University’s authoritarian injunction against occupation-style protest, following the conclusion of the occupation of the Slate building in December 2016.
In my two years as an Officer, I have observed far more than just the work on our team priorities. As I mentioned above, the past two years have seen significant changes politically which have already impacted students' lives and will continue to do so: the result of the EU referendum, the resurgence of the far-right and right-wing populism, anti-migrant xenophobia and racism, attacks on international students, attacks on disabled students, tuition fee rises and attempts to radically overhaul the Higher Education sector through controversial Government reforms. In my time, the SU has been at the centre of its fair share of controversies, and NUS was certainly under the spotlight for both good and bad reasons. At the centre of all of this, we have students as one of the punching bags of austerity and right-wing economic exercises, with students from marginalised communities being further scapegoated and disadvantaged.
The student movement has certainly been active in all these arenas, but the fact still remains that disastrous HE reforms have been pushed through and we will be facing increasing tuition fees and more stringent rules for international students to follow in the future. Most recently, a debate on tuition fees took place in the House of Commons and recent media chatter indicates there is a growing demand for a rethink of fees and how they work. Sadly, the student movement has not been united on its stance against the Government’s plans for HE and FE - however, if there was ever a time for the student movement to get its butt in gear, it is NOW.
Over the past few decades, we have witnessed the slow de-politicization of students’ unions, the growth of resentment of student anger and the rejection of the idea of the collective. During that time, we have seen grants abolished and converted to loans, the affordability of Higher Education dissipate for lower and middle-income families, and interest rates on loan repayments soaring. We have seen tuition fees triple, while more and more barriers have been established to impede students. This cannot go on. Students are forgetting the fundamental reason for SUs' existence if we do not band together and demonstrate the power of the collective to challenge these decisions to fight for a fairer education for students and a better society for everyone. The student movement must never lose sight of this fundamental purpose.
We must also never forget the history of the student movement and the things we have achieved - and we must never stop struggling to do more. It is evident that we are at the precipice of change - let's remember we were once at the forefront of that change. Why should the future be any different?
It has been a privilege to be a part of one of the most successful Students’ Unions in the country for two years and to work alongside two fantastic teams of officers. But it has also been a privilege to represent you and to do so with the support of the staff in Warwick SU. These people truly are the backbone of all the amazing things SUs do for students every day, often doing so without thanks.
I have had an immense 5 years at Warwick, and I hope both the University and the SU can continue to be places that thousands more students come to fulfil their ambitions and dreams. But you MUST remember that university marks YOUR opportunity to seize, and never forget that there is a wider world out there for you to impact on. As we help shape you before you enter that world, it is only right that, as a movement, we seek to shape that world into a better place for everyone. We are the future, and we must never lose sight of our duty to others. Keep fighting the good fight!