Student Engagement, Uncategorized

Engaging students and driving change through StARs

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Student Academic Representative System

Monday 4th November was a day to remember for Chester Students’ Union and the University of Chester. It was the day we put student representation at the heart of this institution.

Over the past 12 months, Chester Students’ Union have been working with the University in particular Student Support and Guidance to enter into a partnership whereby CSU would have 50% input into the student academic representative system.

So what did we do?

Firstly, we restructured the Union governance and won £20,000 from the University to enable us to fund an additional sabbatical role which now means we have: President (Katie Badman), Vice-President, Academic and Welfare (impeccably witty and beautiful northern blonde, that would be me), Vice-President, Campaigns & Activities (Savannah Miles) and, Vice-President, Warrington and satellite sites (Dan Lee).

Then we started the system from scratch:

  • Cleared the database
  • Renamed SARs to StARs
  • Held workshops and focus groups with staff and students to find out what they wanted from the system
  • Attended various NUS training to find out best practice and to plan with the experts
  • We spent a lot of time re-writing the handbook
  • Began work on an institutional wide ‘Student Experience Strategy’ and a student charter
  • Changed the way in which StARs are recruited
  • We won £15,000 investment from the University for the project
  • Held the first ever StARs conference
  • Started post-training work focusing on campaigns and enhancement opportunities

StARs Conference

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The StARs conference proved to be a success as more students were trained in one day than the whole of 2012/13. Incredible.BYQcfKFIYAEakRG

The day started with an atmosphere similar to that of the first day of school; apprehension, giddiness and excitement but it soon became apparent that the StARs were there ready to learn, ready to be empowered and ready to make a difference. With queues out of the main door of Binks building the staff soon realised that the day was going to be memorable.

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Helen Gregson (SSG, Student Experience Officer) opened the main welcome before I addressed the StARs. In my speech I expressed great gratitude to the staff and students who made the vision a reality before stating …

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“I am so pleased to announce that from today right here, right now you are going to be at the heart of teaching, 1463678_668515056521855_514124548_nlearning and quality at this University. Which means that you are going to shape the way in which we are taught, the way in which we are assessed and the way in which the university is going to start putting students at the centre of the academic agenda. But actually, it is not good enough for you to be in the centre, you have to lead the agenda in order bring about positive change for yourselves, your peers and future generations.”

I then presented the Union’s academic aims for the year based on feedback from the NSS, First Year Student Experience survey, Student staff liaison minutes and student attitudes which included:

  • Continue to lobby for a library at Kingsway
  • More academic societies than ever before
  • Improving feedback
  • Opening up education at Chester so that anybody despite their background, needs and responsibilities can access Higher Education
  • Ensuring that once students are here, there are no hidden course costs such as books, materials, and trips, and if there are, prospective students should be aware of these.
  • Starting the conversation about women in academic leadership
  • And more closer to home – I would like a StAR to be my successor!9

For each point, the StARs ‘wooped’ for the ones which they would like to see happen the most. The biggest ‘woop’ came from starting the conversation about women in academic leadership as I questioned why our University is still managed by predominantly white, middle class, males. Now, this response surprised me. Not because I do not think that students care about gender equality but these types of conversation have barely begun in Chester. Just this month our first ever women’s officer (Kerrie Sprigings) was elected and it is only recently the full time elected officers have started to receive training around this subject. I guess you can never predict the attitudes of such a diverse, intellectual, active group of students.

This made me very proud.

After my short speech, I invited Rachel Wenstone, NUS Vice-President Higher Education to speak to the StARs. Rachel is a fantastic advocate for Higher Education as she represe1382264_668515539855140_1679620268_nnts all HE students and she is yours and my Vice-President. In the past month, Rachel and her colleagues have secured a £40 million investment into postgraduate funding for England, just one of her many excellent accomplishments.

Rachel spoke at length about the importance of students’ unions, student voice and students as partners, explaining; “You are the voice of the students’ union so think about what you want that voice to say” and the power that course reps have in making the changes they would like to see at the University. A truly inspiring speech, by one of my role models and by a role model of another 200 students!

(Rachel also asked the StARs to ‘Tweet’ during the day what makes them proud of the SU using #SUProud, we were also using #UoCStARs, the Tweets can be found on this blog.)

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Once the short speeches had closed the StARs then went into their groups and were delivered 2 workshops in the morning and 2 after lunch which were:

1450328_668517246521636_992160664_n1. The role of a StAR, Helen Gregson, SSG Student Experience officer

  • The importance of the role
  • Volunteering hours
  • Meeting etiquette
  • Reference to chesterstars.com – handbook.

996658_668517053188322_1232547643_n2. Welfare and confidentiality, Ruth Hodkinson, Deputy General Manager (Chester SU), Jamie Morris (SSG)

  • What to do if a student approaches a StAR with a welfare query
  • Where to signpost them to
  • And where to go if the StAR needs welfare support
  • The importance of confidentiality

3. Why it is important to collect feedback and engaging your student body – Katie Badman (CSU, President), Dan Lee (CSU, Vice-President Warrington and satellite sites).

  • Why is it important to collect feed1455945_668520873187940_909580053_nback from students?
  • In what ways can we collect feedback?
  • Exercise: 10 seconds to approach a student in the room with an issue you are working on and to engage them with your campaign. – ANGER – HOPE-ACTION.

For example – Hi, my name is Buzz, I am a StAR for Toy Story, do you find it infuriating that there are not enough unicorns on this campus? Unicorns which could add real value to students and YOUR study and YOUR future aspirations? Well, you can help by signing this petition/ attending an event or filling in this survey.

*The StARs used real stories which they would like to change*

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4. Student representation – the bigger picture – Rachel Wenstone, 1453296_668518486521512_337961304_nNUS Vice-President Higher Education

  • Problem tree
  • Roots – the areas which feed into the bigger problem (buying books, trips, materials, no money)
  • bigger problem (trunk) –(e.g. hidden course costs)BYOa1r4CQAALvVT
  • Leaves – The bigger picture which is then affected (retention, attendance, NSS results, student experience)

There was also a plenary after the lunch break delivered by:

  • Paul Gaunt, Director of Careers and Employability – Paul emphasized how many employability skills the StARs would gain by being a StAR
  • Dr. Chris Haslam, Pro-Vice Chancellor Student Experience and Corporate development – Chris reiterated that students are not customers but partners in their education at the University at Chester and that it is the University’s priority to ensure maximum student experience and student engagement whilst students are studying here.

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BYO6WfhIYAADtORUntil next time…..

The StARs conference was a fantastic day, enjoyed by many! We must ensure that there is provision in place each year to ensure quality training and enhancement opportunities for the StARs year on year. If we are to be trusted partners in the Higher Education sector, the University must continue to invest and work in partnership with the Students’ Union to deliver real results which will affect students now and in the future.8

This work is just the beginning of student representation at the University of Chester, I am confident, this year that the StARs will make a huge difference because they are all; enthusiastic, driven, passionate, caring and excellent students!! So thank you to all who have given their time to be a StAR.

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Thank you also to all the staff who have made this partnership possible over the past 12 months; staff in SSG, AQSS, the senior management team, and careers. Most importantly to the absolutely brilliant CSU team and officers who work so hard to support us and students – this is just another example of why we are the:

No.1 SU in the North West.

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