The University of Birmingham has featured amongst Oxford and Cambridge in a league table compiled by The Daily Telegraph of the best global UK universities.Written by Adam Rowe on 1st August 2014
The sabbatical year: Luke Reynolds (VP Welfare)
This week Redbrick interviewed all of the outgoing sabbatical officers as their tenures draw to a close, focussing on whether they achieved their initial manifesto policies
This week Redbrick interviewed all of the outgoing sabbatical officers as their tenures draw to a close, focussing on whether they achieved their initial manifesto policies. The seven officers, who were elected by the student body in March last year, have all taken a year out to work at the Guild full time as part of the wider team of Guild officers. This is made up of 18 officers in total, the seven sabbatical officers and a further eleven officers who work in various other non-sabbatical roles.
The VPW supports university students experiencing difficulties by making help available on campus. They also protect and improve student rights, as well as supporting lifestyle changes to enhance student well being.
What has been your biggest achievement as a Sabb?
'The role of welfare is so varied and so much has happened it isn’t easy to select a biggest achievement but the guild has been doing a lot of work on trying to engage all students and increasing its accessibility. This is very important work and work I am proud to be a part off. Some of the recommendations and outcomes of reviews undertaken have been very successful and the support we as a guild and I personally give to those going through misconducts, appeals and plagiarism is very rewarding and successful.'
If you had your time again what would you do differently as a Sabb?
'There are always issues you wish you could have tackled more, or opportunities possibly missed but there are also only so many hours in the day. It would have been nice to get more involved with the NUS and been on the welfare zone committee but this would have detracted time away from the work spent on campus issues.'
Would you recommend being a Sabb to others?
'Yes and no. It’s a great experience being a Sabbatical Officer. The amount of change you can make to better student experience on a local and national scale is amazing. The problem I found as a Sabb is that I spent so much time working for students, I ran out of time to tell students what I have done for them and often forgotten it in the process anyway. It is defiantly a lifestyle choice not a job.'
What have you most enjoyed about the role?
'The best part of this job is the people you work with, not only do we have great staff in the Guild who work hard every day to provide the best experience for students but also we have great students. In this job I have managed to engage, meet and work with a vaster range of students from different courses, societies, cultures and background than I did as my time as a student. I continually meet wonderfully passionate and creative people in the guild and have given me the opportunity to try things I have always wanted to but never got round to, like skydiving and ballroom dancing.'
Have internal divisions been detrimental to the sabb team this year?
'Internal divisions haven’t been too much of a problem this year. Most of the team have a great work ethic and even though I have had differing opinions than other officers on one issue or another we have worked well to get the best result.'
Have the Better Guild Forums been conducive or detrimental to Guild politics?
'Better Guild online Forums have been one of the most time consuming, waste of spaces this year within the Guild. These forums have been used by trolls to have fun and attack people one issues they hold little or no interest in. Used to drill up controversy over non issues by misconstruing of facts and spreading of myths. Officers have little time in the week to go on Facebook anyway and students have tagged officers within hours due to lack of response, being an annoyance for both parties. This is a shame because they hold great potential but in their current usage, I would delete the online forums and encourage people to come to the forums held in the guild where you can talk face to face.'
What does the future hold for you after university?
'My future is an unknown, having worked my way through university this will be the first summer I won’t be working full time and I plan on making the most of it. I am volunteering at a lot of the Music festivals over the summer and plan on either looking for a job in the public sector come September and compete with all the other graduates or buying a VW transporter and going for a drive round Europe.'
Did you achieve a 'student wellbeing', including finance support, mental health and sexual awareness, and how did you do it?
'I picked 3 main areas of wellbeing being mental health, finance and sexual awareness. Mental health got covered during Mind Awareness Days and part of the Welfare Wednesdays campaign. This saw multiple events happening and boards across campus challenging stigma around mental health and giving out think positive messages. This has also been backed up by the review of the Mental Health advisory service which has secured an extra case worker for the service. I stated that I wanted to bring back shag week in my manifesto which is something I haven’t done this year. Sexual health is an important issue but also a message that is hard to communicate and impacts of which are hard to measure. Rates of STIs on campus are low and from polls sexual activity on campus is on average less than many universities in the country. However we have reconnected links with besure and will soon be able to give out kits to do chlamydia testing and we also now provide condoms at FAB at request via the cloak room and also from the ARC. With finance I have worked with the university to push the messages of grants available around campus and been looking at the packages they will be offering in the future for new students.'
Did you achieve 'student engagement', including services explained, review services and international students, and how did you do it?
A lot of this section of my manifesto has been covered by ‘Welfare Wednesdays’ which engaged over 2000 students across the first 2 terms. These covered issues around healthy living, alcohol, personal safety, finance, housing and benefits of getting involved with societies and volunteering. The second main section of this is the reviews of services I have been undertaken. I have reviewed the Mental Health Advisory Service, Disability and Learning Support Service and the Advice and Representation Centre (ARC) as part of this and worked with the group setting up the Birmingham Foundation Academy for international students.