First Month at ULU – an update

First report of the year – this sets out the main areas of work during my first 4 weeks in office. I will be regularly blogging about my activity as ULU VP (and current acting President).

–          Starting as Vice President & meetings with local constituent colleges.

I began officially at the beginning of August 2012 as ULU Vice President. I was unable to begin in July as I was running the handover for the new students’ union officers at Royal Holloway, focusing particularly on Doug German, the new SURHUL President. However, in between this I met with many, many campus students’ union teams and officers. These meetings were to introduce myself, find out what the local sabbatical team were planning for the year but also some joint areas of work. Right from the get-go I have sought to re-define the relationship between local constituent ULU college and ULU centrally. I am keen for it to be a close, professional, working relationship. In contrast to the past, I will be spending time on campuses, contributing positively and supporting the local work being done.

The discussions with local officers were also to form the commencement of a ‘Memorandum Of Understanding’ which is to document the relationship between local college and ULU. They will set out the terms of the liaison, what the local college expects of ULU and myself and the joint areas of work. Importantly, this can be used to hold myself and ULU to account during the year, and also provide a balance sheet for Unions in terms of the impact of ULU for their membership. I’ve written up the notes from the meetings so far, and hope to have the MOUs completed by the end of September.

As I mentioned, I hope to radically re-think and change the relationship between different colleges within ULU but also between ULU and local constituent SUs.  The rationale behind this is a desire on my part to win back the confidence of local Unions. This will in part involve me having regular, direct contact with sabbs and local members, working with them on their projects, as well providing a London wide perspective to the work we do.  I will of course be running some of the projects on which I was elected, but want to fuse this as much as I can with the work of local Unions.

I haven’t received any induction or handover for ULU, with most of the introduction being left to staff.

–          ULU Training 2012

The first two weeks of my time in office were predominately made up of planning and organising the annual summer Training for full and part time officers and students in London. The Training involved an enormous amount of work, ranging from packing the packs for attendees to confirming speakers for each of the workshop sessions.

ULU training was for me an opportunity for officers and students to learn, discover and debate. It was also a forum to share skills and experiences but also, importantly, begin to make plans for the upcoming academic year . The Training held a range of different sessions and included caucuses for folk interested in a particular area, e.g. postgraduates, to meet and plan for joint work.

The results of the Training were extremely encouraging: the average score on the feedback sheets was 8/10, with all attendees finding it useful. There were certainly some things I would change with hindsight, and also more time, but felt it was a good start to the year.

In July and at the beginning of August I was also making time to meet and get to know the ULU staff. Most of these so far have been introductory meetings to set out some dual areas of work and find out what people do within the organisation.

It has been a very, very busy start to the post at ULU, with the encircling past context, no formal handover, and Sean RR’s resignation, making things challenging. However the start has been constructive.

–          Students, rights and the workplace:

Over the past decade, the number of students undertaking paid employment during term-time rose by more than 54%. Most of us took jobs in the retail or hospitality sectors – in bars, high-street shops, restaurants, and hotels – where low pay, long hours, and casual exploitation are endemic. When we leave university, those of us lucky enough to get a job at all are more likely than ever to find ourselves in similar workplaces. Over the past five years, the number of new graduates employed in low-paid, “unskilled” or “semi-skilled” jobs has doubled.

The distinction between work and study is being slowly abolished. Huge increases in the cost of education mean we are financially compelled to work to support ourselves through college or university. And when we’re studying, employer and business-control of the content of our courses and our departments’ research priorities means that study itself is increasingly just training for the workplace. Our colleges and universities are becoming conveyor belts into the kind of low-paid jobs most of us already have to take before we even graduate.

That means the student movement has to help us organise for our rights at work, as well as on campus. This year at ULU, I’m working with Student Union and trade union activists across London to launch Student Worker Solidarity, an awareness-raising and organising initiative aimed at helping students know their rights as workers and gain the activist skills needed to organise to fight for change in the workplace. We will be running skills share, and training events, ‘Know your Rights’ stalls, conferences, organising with and engaging with student staff on London campuses and much more.

This will be a principal area of focus for this year. I have spent the first month in office writing a Guide for students on their rights at work. This pack aims to help you begin the process of organising at work. It contains information on your basic rights as a worker, as well as case studies from Britain and around the world where young workers and working students have taken on their bosses and won. It also contains material from trade unions about how to organise, plus useful contacts to help you campaign. This will be available for the beginning of term, and shall be sent to every London College.

Additionally, I have been planning workshops and meetings and events for ULU members to not only get clued up about their rights but also about how to enforce those rights, which is primarily about the need for collective organisation.  I will be also picking a number of students’ bars to organise the student staff collectively and push for better rights. I have been meeting with officers and students on a number of campuses to discuss this.

–          Education and public services campaign:

I have begun work on organising ULU’s cross London education and public services campaign. The details are set out in a separate paper to ULU Senate, which is meeting on the 14th September. I will release further details after the meeting.

–          Sports and societies: I have penned a separate report on the student activities department for ULU Senate, which is meeting on the 14th September. I will release further details after the meeting.

–          Room bookings and ULU Conference department: I have met with the ULU Conference department to discuss room booking for ULU societies’ and constituent colleges. We have been very keen to offer students what they need and want, ensuring the best provision possible. This has involved working with ULU societies to get the rooms they need. Information has been passed onto ULU societies, and those that have been keen so far to book rooms and the venues. Further information will be released soon.

–          Lobbying: There is piece being presented to ULU Senate which sets out the ULU lobbying work for 2012/13. This is a key area of focus for me this year. The details are set out in a separate paper to ULU Senate, which is meeting on the 14th September. I will release further details after the meeting.

–          ULU Presidential elections:

At ULU Training I sought feedback from local colleges on past experiences of ULU elections, how they felt they could be improved but also ideas for the upcoming Presidential election. There are numerous difficulties with the election at this time of year, including the difficult task of finding candidates. However I have been working hard alongside Rob Park, the returning officer, to put together a solid plan. We have put together a proposal of action, which is set out in a document to ULU Senate (14th September). The main tenets on which I want this election to be run are that it is a) fair and transparent b) well publicised and c) that local colleges take ownership over the elections.

–          University of London: I arranged a meeting with the new Vice Chancellor of the UoL, Andrew Smith, and Chris Cobb, the chief operating officer. It was a good initial meeting – we discussed my plans for the year and joint areas of work. I am meeting regularly with both the VC and Cobb. I am keen to re-acquaint UoL with ULU, and push for greater representation on academic and management committees.

A funding review is beginning later this year into ULU, headed up by the SOAS Vice Chancellor. This will seek contributions from local Students’ Unions. I will be working with local Unions on their submissions.

I have organised a Development day of staff within ULU to begin the process of formulating a strategic development plan for the organisation, which will form part of our formal contribution to the funding review. We will be looking for local constituent colleges to shape the strategic plan from start to finish.

In the coming 2 weeks I have other meetings with UoL staff to begin representational work.

–          Revocation of London Met’s HTS status:

On the 28th August, news broke that the Home office had withdrawn London Metropolitan University’s Highly Trusted Sponsor status. HTS status allows the university to sponsor international students from outside the EU to study in the UK. The withdrawal of HTS status at London Met represents the first case of a publicly-funded university having its license revoked.

I released a statement following the decision, signed by over 30+ London Students’ Unions, condemning the decision.

I spent the week of the 28th August working with the NUS and London Met SU on building a campaign. There was a lunchtime protest on the 29th August outside Downing Street, which you can see coverage of here:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/video/2012/aug/30/london-metropolitan-university-students-march-video Many London Union representatives were in attendance, which I know London met students were very pleased to see. We were also discussing the next steps in the campaign, and most importantly, the support we can offer London Met students. A lot of them were concerned as they hadn’t received any information from London Met University, and weren’t aware of their rights – this is something ULU will certainly be working on.

I have written to Boris Johnson, the Major of London, the Greater London Authority and London Assembly members to share London Unions concerns with the decision of UKBA. I have received a number of responses so far, which I be making public soon. Additionally, I received many hundreds of signatures from across the UK and abroad for the statement.

I am going to write a separate post on my thoughts on how a campaign should move forward.

–          London Networks:

I have been working on establishing online and physical networks in my first month of office. The ULU Training offered an opportunity for students and officers to meet within specific areas and discuss joint areas of work. I have since been receiving feedback on how people would like the networks to run. After this has been fully collated, the online networks will be set up.

The three areas that will become proper, physical, pan-London networks are: liberation, student activities and small and specialist colleges. I have been organising a cross London liberation meeting for officers and activists on the 17th September, and begun planning for the first student activities London meeting in mid- October. I have been working with small and specialist colleges to set up their network. I discussed my long term plan  for the network with Ashley Doolan (Heythrop) and Matt Withers (CSSD) – they agreed to run a workshop at ULU training to start the network discussions. There was a caucus as well which allowed further discussions. Since then there have been meetings of officers to thrash through the finer details of a network, much of which I am presenting at the first ULU Senate. These include: a package of offers for small and specialist college students, regular meetings of S&S colleges, specialised communication materials, nuanced support for sports clubs and societies and a motion to formalise the creation of the network.

–          Fresher’s Fayre preparation:

I have been working with ULU staff to organise the ULU fresher’s fayre, which is taking place on the 28th September. It shall be a one day extravaganza with a party in the evening. This has mainly involved liaising with the ULU clubs and societies and sorting out logistics for the day.

Also, I have been working with ULU staff on our presence at the ULU college freshers fayres. I will be attending every freshers fayre. This will be to showcase our plans for the year and distribute our new excellent Guide-book.

–          Opening ULU:

I have written to each of the non – ULU FE colleges and HE institution students’ unions inviting them to our events and  meetings, as well as formal meetings with myself to discuss building links.

–          Internships and Free Labour:

Boris Johnson released plans recently on setting up a jobs scheme that involved getting young people to work for free. I have begun work with LSE SU and the Uni of Arts SU on a statement that responds to this, and other workfare type schemes, and we have started work on a meeting in late October, which will form part of a series of big meetings at ULU.

 

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