YUSU have launched a number of initiatives designed to move education to the top of its agenda after admitting that the Students’ Union is currently failing to uphold its constitutional principles.
The initiatives include a constitutional amendment that would add three Board of Studies (BoS) reps to Senate as voting members and the possibility of splitting the Academic and Welfare sabbatical position into two separate roles.
YUSU Training Officer Tom Langrish said that “supporting the education of York students is the primary objective of YUSU and as a union we are failing on that objective.” Langrish proposed the amendment saying “if YUSU wants to become more successful on academic affairs, it needs BoS reps at the heart of its decision making.”
If the amendment passes, the currently informal BoS forum will become an official Union committee which will elect three representatives to vote in Senate.
The amendment has the support of YUSU President Rich Croker and Academic and Academic and Welfare Officer Amy Foxton. Croker faced down critics in Senate saying “I find it disgraceful actually that people don’t see this as vital to the union. It’s vital to the aims and objectives of this union.”
He added “This is part of a process which we really need to address because it has been abandoned for too long.”
Foxton emphasised the fact that every student at the University is here to attain a degree and is the common bond between every individual here at York.
Critics of the reforms argued that addition of BoS reps to Senate would make the already large legislative body even more cumbersome. Goodricke JCRC Chair Ben Wardle said “Senate itself is quite a large body and I’m worried that that more and more people that come to these meetings the more decisions will start to be taken by Exec and Senate will become a place where people put their hands up to ratify minutes.”
The amendment will be voted along with a number of minor constitutional changes in the week 9 UGM.
The proposal comes at the same time as Croker and Foxton begin talks on the possibility of splitting the job of Academic and Welfare Officer in order to allow more focus on the academic side of student life. The reorganisation could see the scrapping of the Societies and Communications position and the creation of an Academic Officer. Foxton said that in the current structure, academic affairs had “half a vote” in Senate. The plans are likely to be finalised in time for the 2008 YUSU elections.
Grace Fletcher-Hall, Academic and Welfare Officer-elect, who has previously opposed the split, remains undecided on the current proposal. She said she could see difficulties in drawing a line between academic and welfare issues but that she was “keeping an open mind about it.”
Plans for education reform have been given impetus in recent weeks by the results of an academic survey carried out by YUSU as part of their obligations to the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), the government watchdog for higher education. The survey of over 3,000 students found that many were unsatisfied with elements of their course.
Responding to the results of the survey, Foxton said “students aren’t happy with their degrees and the only way we can change that is if we can start engaging as a union.”
The survey, carried out across all academic departments, showed that 35% of students felt the feedback they received on exams was ‘poor’ or ‘appalling’. 22% said that the feedback they received on assessed work was ‘poor’ or ‘appalling’.
The proposed education reforms have been welcomed by the University Pro Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Information, Trevor Sheldon said “I welcome any initiative that will encourage the Students’ Union to engage more in the teaching and learning agenda and which will help make it even more effective in working with the University to ensure the highest quality teaching and learning experience for students.”