Tuesday 28-04-2015 - 16:30
This is a guest article by Marcus Boswell, President Nottingham Trent Students' Union.
Establishing ourselves in our new Students’ Union Building at our City Centre Site last year coincided with the end of our five year strategic cycle. Work during this period had successfully addressed a significant improvement in many of our facilities, extensive work on our staff structure, increased student development work, better activities programmes, new branding, upgraded digital presence and enhanced commercial activities. We engaged in extensive research to inform our new strategic objectives. Feedback from the students, and comments from university stakeholders, made it clear that there was a need for NTSU to prioritise representation in the next cycle of our development and become a more confident voice for our members.
The first stage in addressing this was to strengthen our Student Voice team within our Membership Engagement Department. During the early stages of the life of our new team, the new Vice Chancellor provided an opportunity to undertake a major piece of work by inviting the Students’ Union to become an integral part of NTU’s new strategic planning process in gathering feedback from our membership on what a 21st Century University should encompass and deliver. Our work consciously engaged the full diversity of our membership through the organization of creative events and opportunities for feedback, ensuring that all demographic groups were included. The completed report was praised by both students and our institution for its methodology, comprehensiveness and depth.
We have subsequently had opportunities to build on the success of the report. Some of the feedback received during its compilation made it apparent that our members were also concerned with issues in the wider context than just their experiences at Nottingham Trent campuses. The general election has offered an opportunity to explore this.
We have enjoyed a strong partnership with UoNSU in relation to our engagement with City stakeholders and politicians, which has been ongoing for several years. The upcoming general election offered an opportunity to apply for funding for a joint project focusing on community organising alongside the University of Nottingham Students’ Union & New College Nottingham Students’ Union to the NUS’ ‘We Are The Change’ fund.
This led to the production of the Notts Student Manifesto, which was launched on national voter registration day to students and local politicians. 300 people attended the launch and students enjoyed the opportunity to both present their issues to politicians as well as discuss them in more detail after the presentations. The launch made this possible on the students’ own terms and territory.
We have built on these relationships by recently hosting an event at our rural campus which highlighted the safety issues presented by the 1km walk / cycle between the campus and the neighbouring market town - which must currently be undertaken in darkness. Local politicians engaged in a very positive way with our students, staying to talk to them long after the formal event had finished. We were pleased to discover a former students’ union President among them.
We are engaged in a learning process as a Union, as we look to transition from a students’ union with a reputation for being largely commercially focused and which did not often engage students in the process of seeking change, to more actively fulfilling our representative charitable object and key strategic ambition of being a confident voice for our members, without losing sight of our improvements in other areas.
Alongside these events, we have used the Student Voice module on our web platform to proactively engage our members. This has led to a wider range of voices being audible in our union meetings as students become more comfortable with debates about the environmental policies of the union and equality issues for example.
We are still learning about where we need to improve - internal communications between departments and officers, the key messages and tone in which we represent our members and how to manage dialogue with our stakeholders. However, we have been encouraged by many of the positive remarks we have received from external stakeholders who enjoy seeing students as engaged and active learners and citizens. We will continue to strive to make this area of our work.