News Writer Anna-Marie Fischer reports on the Education Officer candidate interviews in the run-up to the Guild Elections
On Saturday 12th February, three candidates for Guild Education Officer accepted the invitation from BURN FM to be interviewed by Anna-Marie Fischer, Ellie Reed, and Oliver Shaw about their campaigns. This is what they had to say. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order by their surnames.
Cheng’s manifesto consists of three main components, including: more detailed feedback for assignments; a simple and direct way of submitting and receiving updates on welfare, feedback and concerns; and extended considerations for extenuating circumstances unable to be covered by sufficient evidence, which he calls ‘The Heart Clause.’
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cheng believes that the education system is faced with ‘an increasing need to adapt to future scenarios’, raising the issue that ‘covid has shown that anything can happen, and the education system should be robust enough to adapt to these changes.’ As for how he would improve on the current Education Officer’s role, he feels strongly that there are ‘many specific changes which need to be made this year.’
Delving deeper into his aim of detailed assignment feedback, Cheng describes his intention to create ‘a transparent, teacher feedback rubric that accompanies students’ assignment rubrics – standardised for all schools’. This means ‘teachers will have a mandatory guide’ to follow, to help achieve this. Cheng continues that with this system in place, ‘students will also have the means and the knowledge to follow up on more feedback.’
Sympathising with what he describes as ‘a difficult student experience,’ he describes the ‘both personal as well as academic’ troubles which he has faced throughout his three years as a UoB student. Cheng further notes that there have been times where he has ‘had the opportunity to help others, my friends and peers, through their learning experience at UoB.’ In relation to this, he believes this to be a key reason why students should vote for him, suggesting that ‘I personally believe I can help other students and ease their time at UoB and give them a fulfilling educational experience.’
The interview then went on to discuss the question of whether these aims are achievable and realistic, with Cheng replying ‘I’m hopeful that I can make incremental changes in the education system with my policy aims.’ He then goes on to consider that ‘even if my aims may not be completely brought into fruition in the next coming year, I’m really hoping to set some groundwork […] with negotiations’ which would allow ‘the next education officer to follow up on my work.’
Addressing the criticisms Guild officers often face for ‘not doing anything,’ Cheng explores why this is, commenting that this is due to ‘a lack of response from Guild Officers’ and describes the amount of email traffic that officers receive as a key reason for this. To solve this, he will focus on enhancing communications with his plan to ‘set up an independent email account so that instead of a single means of contact, which is the official Guild Education email, I’m hoping to set up another email to streamline these concerns so that I can better respond to students as well as follow up on them.’
Cheng is confident that he has the leadership skills necessary to assist him in this role, stating, ‘during my first year I was a student rep, and on that year as well I was actually anonymously nominated for the Education Officer role’ – detailing this as a key reason for where he is today and why he is applying. Following on from this, in his second and third year he has been ‘progressively active in a society committee,’ serving as secretary for the Business society in second year and now currently as president in his third year. Cheng believes that this role has helped him with ‘exploring my capabilities as well as the limits as for what I can and can’t do’ and that ‘I feel ready now to support students with what they need.’
At the end of the interview, Cheng concluded that he has ‘been honing skills such as time management, my negotiation skills, as well as the ability to multitask efficiently’ which will aid him in his policymaking, ended by briefly recapping what his aims are and the methods he will use to achieve them.
The interview started with Latif outlining the three main objectives which he would hope to implement as Education Officer, firstly ‘to provide fair assessment for every single course across the campus,’ secondly ‘for student feedback to be taken seriously by staff and actually put into use, making changes to modules and courses which are practical,’ and thirdly ‘providing the materials for students who struggle to make it into campus with no errors in that information such as any sort of missing audio clips or missing video imagery.’
During his time at the University, Latif has taken on numerous different roles since the second year of his degree, including running for student rep position, being a school rep, and being a student member of the Education Committee. He chose to apply for the role as, he told Redbrick, ‘I’m passionate about students having a fair say in how they want to have their education provided to them’ saying that he wants to ensure that students are receiving ‘a fair treatment from the staff and the University.’
The conversation then moved to discuss Latif’s personal connection to the issues he has highlighted and why they are important to him, as he described issues whereby there have been recorded lectures uploaded onto Panopto which are of low quality and missing audio or video. He also mentions the inaccessibility of remote teaching, stating ‘I’ve noticed that some lecturers have struggled to be able to share what they’re showing in-person on campus also in the zoom session.’ In terms of fair assessments, Latif raises the issue of inconsistent marking and how ‘certain lecturers have different ways in which they put penalties or rules in terms of how we submit the work.’ He believes to mitigate this ‘there should be a fixed rule from the university across the campus, stating that all module leads, and all staff, should follow the same marking criteria in terms of how they deal with penalties.’
Latif believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has ‘made students question the safety of their learning environment in terms of whether they want to travel onto campus to study and in terms of international students who have to travel from their home country.’ This has been exacerbated by the fact that not all lecturers provide online zoom sessions for which students can join and learn remotely, which Latif called ‘narrow-sighted.’
Considering these circumstances, Latif responded to the question of whether students should have the right to appeal for full or partial refunds of tuition fees should they not be satisfied with the quality of their course, stating ‘if students are not getting the best quality of education which they deserve for the fees they are paying, then I understand that completely.’ He also spoke briefly about the inflation of tuition fees and whether the quality of learning matches this, posing the question ‘if you’re paying more for the tuition fees, what changes are being made and what worth are you getting out of it?’
In terms of his aims, Latif is confident that they are achievable and if elected then he would ‘discuss with other officers within the guild as well as with staff throughout the University about the different points that I have made,’ suggesting solutions that ‘if staff were struggling to be able to provide sessions online, then it may be worth having to train them in order to be able to use the software and devices more efficiently.’ Latif would also look ‘across all course modules and how they’re being assessed and whether they’re being assessed fairly.’
As for why Latif thinks students should vote for him over other candidates, he has ‘a fair approach to the way I see the world’ and spoke about an ‘open-door policy no matter what background you’re from and what issues you have’ where he will ‘take into account every student feedback’. The interview ended by Latif stating that ‘if you have an issue that you want being taken up personally, then I’m that person. No matter what the issue is I will aim to do my best to get it fixed.’
Anjani Saraf is currently pursuing a Master’s in Political Economy, after completing her Bachelor’s in Economics earlier in India. She spoke about how she is now exploring the UK education system and is currently ‘working for the academy field already in the problem-solving department, for various countries like India, UAE and currently the UK.’
With her global perspective and experience of different education systems across the world, Saraf believes this has given her ‘a good exposure to many problems of the academic field’ and will help her stand out from the other candidates.
Alongside her professional work, she was awarded the ‘International Educational Icon Award – Student Development’ by Delhi on National Teacher’s Day. Therefore, she believes this has equipped her with the skills necessary to function in the role and spoke confidently that ‘I know what I need to do, and I really understand what students want.’
In terms of communications, she understands the ‘certain difficulties’ that students face and said that as there are 36,000 students that currently attend UoB, ‘it becomes very difficult for every officer or every faculty member to attend to them,’ meaning that ‘at times the students’ problems are not reaching the proper department.’ Saraf will ensure to ‘expose students and their academic issues to the proper committee levels and come up with the best solution.’
Looking at the work of the previous Education Officer, Saraf said that it has given her ‘a good idea of what students really require.’ As an international student herself, she spoke about her hopes to support international students more, through implementing ‘stress-free timetables’ to assist overseas students in understanding the expectations of UoB and how the education system works in the UK. These will be weekly study-timetables which she believes ‘if students follow they will score really well and their results will be good.’
When asked Saraf’s opinion on the stigma that Guild Officer’s face criticism ‘for not doing much’ and how she would work to change this perception, she replied that if she were to be elected ‘I will give my best and be in regular touch with the students.’
The interview then moved on to consider Saraf’s manifesto in more detail, asking about her intentions to create more ‘healthy relations’ between students and the Guild. Saraf believes that the major reason for students feeling disconnected from the Guild is due to the fact that ‘most the students are not a part of Guild of Students,’ yet she believes that students will feel comfortable to share their issues with her.
In terms of academic issues, Saraf spoke about her understanding that in many schools and departments ‘students are not comfortable to go to their lecturers and talk to them as they feel an inferiority complex’ and hopes to encourage students and ‘increase confidence.’ In order to achieve this, she plans on hosting 1-hour sessions whereby she will be ‘giving them a personality grooming’ and offer advice on ‘how a student can build a healthy student within,’ utilising her experience as a part-time GCSE and A Levels tutor. She also plans to conduct online surveys and ‘target the survey for the students who are coming up with the problems’ in order to ensure participation.
To conclude, the interviewer asked Saraf whether she believes her manifesto is realistic and can be achieved, to which she replied ‘it will be perfectly realistic because I have a great plan’, further commenting that ‘I have been doing my best to interact with my classmates and make a positive atmosphere’ and that she will continue this into her role if elected as Education Officer.
The other candidates running for this role are Barzan Ali, Haider Ali, Swathi Guptha, Muhammad Abd-us-samad, Andrew Collingridge, Ness Chigariro, and Zilu Wang. Voting opens at 10am on Monday 28th February on the Guild website and closes on Friday 4th March at 4pm.
Read more candidate interviews here: