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It’s not very often that I take to social media to voice my opinion, and I am also aware that I am not great at publicising some of the good work the SU is doing to help students at Bangor. On this occasion I feel it worthwhile to do so, and to provide some context to some student issues as someone who has been working as a student representative in 2020.
Allow me to unpack a few FAQ’s being put to me lately:
A hot topic at the moment, to say the least. I’ve had many students put to me the question; ‘how is it fair that I am being charged the same this year?’. First of all, let me say that on a personal level, I totally agree. However, when the question is asked in a Bangor context, of asking the Uni for money back, I feel this is unfair. The issue of Students not getting value for money from their tuition fees this year is not unique to Bangor, but rather all students in the UK. The fact of the matter is, whole-scale tuition fee refund is only achievable through Government intervention, not least because they set the price. No single institution is going to break the sector trend by issuing tuition fee refunds, as doing so could be considered institutional suicide, especially for Bangor. I urge students to understand this and take action by signing national petitions for the government to take action on. We’re working with our colleagues at NUS to raise this with the respective national governments.
Now, I’m not saying that refunds cannot be considered on a case by case basis... If you’re serious about feeling like your learning outcomes are not being met, and wish to take action, you can! Students are consumers and the University is bound by consumer rights laws. It’s a drawn out process, but do some research and feel free to contact me with any questions.
Another hot topic! And one that I totally understand! Students shouldn’t be charged for accommodation that they have not or can not use as a direct result from the COVID restrictions and guidance coming from Universities and government. As an SU we continue to pursue this, but no surprise this is also a national issue. Many universities have been backed into a corner as a result of governments not offering institutions enough support to tell students to stay home... more on the politics at play here later.
In Bangor the SU were successful prior to Christmas in securing a 10% discount for all students in University owned accommodation. You may be wondering, ‘why 10%?’, well at the time of negotiation, the total amount of time that students were instructed to vacate university accommodation by government guidance was equivalent to roughly 1 months rent(40+ week contract). 10% to all , instead of only offering rebates to students that actually left was also preferable to us as this refund did not discriminate against those that couldn’t leave, even if they wanted to, such as international students and those with vulnerable family members. We understand that following the recent developments, that 10% may not go far enough... but it is worth mentioning that we are currently the first and only university in Wales to offer rebates so far. This is something the SU is incredibly proud of, and we are continuing to seek even better outcomes for students. We have also contacted all private hall providers in Bangor, to see if we can enjoy some success for our students in the private accommodation sector.
NO DETRIMENT/SAFETY NET
For those of you that don’t know, this is a policy to ensure no student is disadvantaged academically as a result of COVID 19 implications (how this is achieved varies). In March, following the move to online learning, this was deployed by Bangor to ensure every student achieved at least as good as they had on record prior to COVID. This is something we are pushing for, again. Where it gets a little bit more complicated - HEFCW & QAA (Higher education funding council for Wales and the Quality assurance agency) specified to universities prior to this academic year, that Force Majuere regulations (aka safety net/no detriment) were not permitted, as universities should have had the time to plan their ‘blended learning’ offer to ensure learning outcomes could be met via online means, if necessary. Now, there’s this whole twisted school of thought that is against a no detriment policy for reasons such as it ‘devaluing higher education’ and going against the ‘academic rigour’. There is also a fear that acknowledging a need for no detriment, is effectively acknowledging that online learning is not up to standard, potentially opening the door to more genuine cases for tuition fee refunds... In my view, not having a no detriment policy is foolish, unnecessary and unfair to a whole cohort of students who have moved away from home, paying hefty fees, enduring the worst learning and university conditions and still being expected to produce the same standard of quality work. Think about this - the same institutions that recruited students and told them the importance of coming back to the physical campus, because of the ‘benefits of in person learning experiences’ are also telling those same students that ‘online is good enough’... begs the question about incentive here... accommodation rent and tuition fees (learning outcomes) being the obvious?
It’s not all bad news, Bangor has in-built COVID mitigating circs into the existing special circs. It could be suggested that this is deploying a no detriment policy underneath a layer of unnecessary student self-administration. I personally can’t see many COVID special circ requests being legitimately declined...
Aware that many are still concerned with staff changes etc following a university restructuring exercise. Whilst this is rubbish for students, the ugly reality is that when the university sees significantly reduced income, they cannot enjoy the same levels of expenditure. Now I am fully aware that this is opening a can of worms with regards to what is considered the extent of savings necessary, but as an SU we fed back to the university with a collated response on behalf of all students, which can be found in the website. This was no easy task, as the restructures impacted all departments in the university... we are pleased that several changes as a result of students input have been made to the restructuring plans, and we are imploring the university to communicate all relevant changes to students ASAP.
POLITICS AT PLAY
For me, the 2020/21 academic year is a story of expectation vs reality. Students were marketed and sold their place at university founded from an ‘experience’, only to be entered into a legal contract surrounding what does and does not meet their learning outcomes the second they’re through the door. My professional opinion as an SU president in 2020/21 is that the higher education sector as a whole is being choked out by not enough timely, comprehensive support from Government. The issues above merely scratch the surface... I haven’t even gone into the adverse impact on student mental health, wellbeing and the huge sacrifice students and young people across the country have made. Unfortunately for me and many others juggling the unenviable task of trying to effectively represent students this year, this is the nightmare that we are living.
So in conclusion, we are doing our utmost to bring positive change, but this year minimising damage can often be considered a massive win for us. We are and will continue to be here to support you! As ever, please feel free to message or email me or any of the Sabb team.
Hi everyone, I'm Henry, and I’m your President for 2020-21, after having spent a year as the VP Sport in 2019-20. I’m very much looking forward to representing you all again this year in my new role and I have already been very busy in terms of engaging with the University since beginning in the role. I am here to ensure that you get the best possible experience in terms of both your academic experience and extra-curricular opportunities. We are lucky that here in Bangor we have a free offering for sports clubs, societies and volunteering projects and I would encourage you all to take the time to view all of these opportunities and join in as many as you would like as it’s best way for you to meet and make new friends at University. Aside from this, the Students’ Union offers a wide range of support to ensure you are fully represented throughout your time here as a student. With examples of opportunities to become a course rep, we offer academic advice for those that need assistance and we also have opportunities for you to get involved in activities such as our campaigns and raising and giving (RAG) initiatives, just to name a few.
Both myself and the other sabbatical officers have been working flat out throughout the summer in terms of attending various training courses and events in order to ensure that we are able to place ourselves in the best position possible to represent you at all times. Although this has taken up a lot of our time, it’s been essential in order to gain the skills needed to represent you as an effective officer team. It has also been great to network with other sabbatical officers nationwide to share good practice initiatives with them, as well as sharing common issues that our students are facing.
I can’t emphasise enough to you that I am really looking forward to representing you this year, I had a great experience studying at Bangor and I want to ensure that you do as well. In order to do so I want to encourage you to make sure that you get fully involved in the array of opportunities that we offer and if there is anything else you would like to see, or if you have any queries or thoughts then get in touch with me or one of the other sabbatical officers. I can be reached through my email firstname.lastname@example.org or through my Facebook page where you can find me as ‘Henry SU Williams’. Aside from that, ensure you are keeping up to date with everything we are doing at Undeb Bangor by liking all of our social media channels!