On Monday evening, the Full-Time and Part-Time Officers of the Guild of Students held their first Officer Question Time event of the year in the Guild Council Chambers
Guild President: Reece Patrick Roberts
Roberts was the first officer to deliver his statement to the floor and began with the recent issues of safety in Selly Oak. Roberts confirmed that the night bus to the Selly Oak from the university will begin next week (Monday 15th) after being brought forward from the original date of October 29th.
Roberts announced that he and the other officers have released a statement and a video alongside a petition to the University, local MP’s and the Birmingham Mayor Andy Street saying that more action needs to be taken regarding Selly Oak safety: ‘Time and time again we are offered empty promises, empty solutions that are never fulfilled because momentum of these crimes disappear as it started to get sunnier’.
Roberts commended PC Charlie Richards and the rest of West Midlands Police for their work in reassuring students of Selly Oak safety. However, he reiterated that if nothing is done the problem will get worse. Roberts told the audience: ‘The police will struggle to cope with the crime rate unless the key stakeholders, the Guild, the University, the Counsellors, MP’s and the police all take collective responsibility for safety in Selly Oak’.
Moving on, Roberts discussed the fact there will be a formal review of the accountability structures and that the Guild is investigating how to improve diversity. ‘We want to make sure no student feels put off by taking part in our elections and in our Guild of Students’ Roberts said.
The next point Roberts made was that the University has acknowledged the existence of ‘backdoor course fees’ and will be working with the Guild to release surveys to each school and college to find out what hidden costs students are paying. After all this information has been collated, the university will release information about the true costs of studying at the University of Birmingham. If costs can’t be reduced, Roberts said the Guild will look into the bursary options at the University. ‘We, at the Guild of Students, are aware that students are stretched as it is financially and don’t really have the resources sometimes to pay rent, eat and also sometimes pay for extra materials.’
Roberts also said that the mental health conference that occurred a few weeks ago has improved relationships between the Guild and the University regarding mental health. They are also hoping to introduce compulsory consent classes, which will be named ‘respect classes.’ ‘Being an international university, approaching around the ideas of what respect means… it’s something we really want to engage with our first years to make it feel like they can call it out and they feel comfortable calling it out but also to ensure we respect our fellow students’.
Robert concluded by discussing his recent trip to UoB’s Dubai Campus and said that his report is currently being written and will be released soon.
Activities and Employment Officer: Robyn Macpherson
Macpherson began by discussing proposed improvements to the room-booking system, firstly admitting that every Activities and Employment Officer includes it in their manifestos, but said that it’s a really difficult thing to achieve. Despite the initial difficulties of room-booking at the start of the semester, Macpherson explained that the system is being centralised and should improve as the semester progresses. The new system may also include a ‘priority booking’ element instead of the current first-come-first-serve system.
Macpherson moved on to discuss the workshops that will replace the mini-forums for committee support. In the new workshops, content will be more relevant for the committees that attend. She also discussed the idea of holding a sponsorship fair in the spring to help new society treasurers get funding.
Macpherson also discussed new methods of rewarding societies, and announced that Society of the Month was Brum Surf and Spotlight On was given to a member of the Business Society.
The repainting of the societies wall in the Guild reception was also touched upon, with the old societies wall now being dedicated to society achievements, such as winners of Society of the Month or Guild Awards.
Education Officer: Adam Goldstone
Entering his second year in the role, Goldstone told the audience that he is still in regular contact with the library regarding study spaces which is something he was working on last year. By the end of the year, there will be a mobile app that will display the availability of study spaces and have other interactive elements. The project is looking for student input before its release.
Goldstone referred back to his manifesto aim of creating a more personalised academic experience for students. The University Code of Practice will be reviewed this year to make it more relevant and to ensure that it is followed correctly throughout the entire university.
Academic societies were also approached by Goldstone to find out what the Guild can do to help them run their group more effectively.
Goldstone is still working on the Article 26 Scholarship, which when finalised will provide financial support for asylum seekers. Work is currently being done to help promote the scholarship to help those who are eligible apply, but he that admitted working to Home Office rules is difficult.
Finally, Goldstone questioned if the online feedback policy that was introduced last year by the university is being used in practice and wants to hear student feedback on the system.
Postgraduate Officer: Jessica Small
Over the last few months, Small ran over 20 postgraduate-only events, including the first postgraduate-only Fab N Fresh event. A new Facebook page, the Guild of Students Postgraduate Community, has been set up to help ease communication with students, which is where future events will be advertised.
Library closing hours have been extended from 20:00 to 22:00 during the holidays, however, Small reiterated that work still needed to be done to ensure a 24-hour library is available for postgraduates as it is throughout the rest of the year.
Small will be introducing office hours within the next few weeks and is working with Student Voice regarding postgraduate research and mental health. She said that she is also planning to lobby the university about introducing bursaries for postgraduate students, as well as working to introduce a parents and carers part-time officer role.
Welfare and Community Officer: Izzy Bygrave
Izzy Bygrave has been in contact with the University over the past few months regarding mental health. The mental health conference, held in early September, brought all the different mental health services together and Bygrave is hoping to change the system so it is more of a cross-campus structure. This will mean that information is more readily available for students who may have previously moved between departments. Welfare will also work with the Postgraduate Officer to work on improving postgraduate mental health services.
Bygrave is also working to establish a review-like website for estate agents and landlords. However, it will take a few years for the reviews to build up and form a comprehensive comparison website for UoB students.
Both Bygrave and Roberts are looking at short-term and long-term solutions regarding safety in Selly Oak.
Regarding the meal plan, Bygrave said that she has been working with the accommodation services to improve the service for next year and will be collating student feedback.
International Officer: Joanne Park
As a newly formed role, Park began by explaining that she hasn’t had the time to achieve as much as other officers on the panel. Over the last few months, Park has been in conversation with both the University and the Guild to see what she can do to support international students.
Since taking up the role, Park has held socials for international students such as tours, film nights, and the first ever international activities meet-and-greet which allowed international students to meet society committee members.
Park also introduced a workshop with university security services on the first day of the semester to provide important information about scams that international students might be vulnerable to, and advice on how to stay safe in their new country.
On social media, Park has created an International Community Facebook page so students can access information regarding the Guild and events. For Chinese students, Park will be introducing a Chinese social media platform.
Park is also working alongside UoB to improve the welfare and career network options for international students.
Sports Officer: Simon Price
New Sports Officer Simon Price started by noting the daily meetings he has had, which have included looking at how gym memberships are bought and when they’re released. He confirms how UoB sport ‘definitely’ have this as a main priority due to an increasingly high demand.
Price has also been involved in the Tiverton gym project, which is currently a ‘hot conversation’. UoB has invested the full amount of money into the project, which hopes to cater for 3,000 memberships.
UoB sport is also making sure that at least one person in each sports committee will have mental health training.
Price is also introducing free ‘drop-in’ sessions for those interested in sport, in the hope of attracting more students who want to play sport more casually.
Price went on to recount the first-ever ‘inter-hall sports day’ which took place this year, involving 10 different sports.
Finally, the new bronze, silver, gold system for sports funding was discussed by Price. Under this system, sports committees will be encouraged to fulfil more goals and achieve more as a group with the reward of increased. Achievements involve having committee members mental health trained, being part of the NotOn campaign and holding an AGM to attain the bronze funding level.
Disabled Officers: Shamima Akhtar and Jay Martin
Both Officers started their talk by discussing the work they have done since the start of term and over the summer period.
They mentioned their talk with the Director of Student Affairs, their attendance at Welfare Officer Izzy’s mental health conference, and a talk they attended this week with UoB’s Head of Disability.
One of their priorities at the moment is working with ‘Forward Thinking Birmingham’, a local mental health service.
Shamima and Jay also mentioned their work with the NUS disabled students campaign, and are planning to reach out to Selly Oak’s MP Steve McCabe.
They went on to state the problems which students with physical disabilities encounter across UoB’s campus. As a result, both have worked over the summer to seek solutions on how to overcome this, such as examining how new buildings are being adapted to be accessible.
They concluded their talk with their plans on introducing an accessible map available on an app. This will allow students to seek the most accessible points on campus.
Women’s Officer: Holly Battrick and Alif Trevathan
Holly and Alif stated that their main priority is currently ‘Reclaim the Night’, a protest march on sexual violence and assault which is expected to take place in early February.
This year, they are planning to host the march in Birmingham’s city centre. This is their biggest current project, as they are working alongside charities, trade unions and the city council.
They stated they’re optimistic about their plans for the event and emphasise that it will be bigger than in previous years.
Battrick said how their manifesto made the NotOn workshops compulsory for societies.
She went on to discuss their work with the Guild President, Reece Patrick Roberts, and his visit to UoB’s Dubai campus. They helped to examine what the campus will be like for women studying there.
Finally, Battrick and Trevathan said they are still finalising their office hours, another element promised on their manifesto.
Mature Students Officer: Lauren Kennedy
Kennedy began by addressing the problems she has faced recruiting people to her group and says that to ‘counteract the problem’ a mixer event will be held on 22nd October. She invited and encouraged all part-time or mature students to attend.
Currently, no Parent and Carer Officer position exists, so Kennedy discussed her plans of implementing this. She also plans to kick-start a Parent and Carer Association, to which she also encouraged student involvement. Kennedy ended her talk by recounting her own difficulties as a student and a parent, and how she aims to start a crèche to support students with children.
LGBTQ Officer: Jessica Rutland
Rutland, also speaking on behalf of fellow officer Josie Hyde, spoke of their work with Reece Patrick Roberts after his recent trip to UoB Dubai. Rutland said this will be an ongoing project for them, which they are ‘very excited’ about.
Over summer, both Rutland and Hyde started mapping out a ‘fully cohesive’ map of gender-neutral toilets over campus, which ‘wasn’t very full at all’.
Rutland also discussed the ongoing problem of making disabled access toilets gender-neutral, which Rutland claims is ‘not ok’.
Their two manifesto points will be worked towards via LGBTQ+ training for people who work across all areas of welfare at UoB. A ‘student approach’ will be given to this training, because ‘our voices do need to be heard’.
They also pointed out that some lecture content can be ‘triggering’ for some. Both Josie and Jess are aiming to tackle this during their time as LGBTQ Officers.