Thursday 09-03-2017 - 16:58
NUS supports students' union staff through Communities of Practice who share best practice and the benefit of their experience. A round of regional meetings for staff working in student opportunities took place in December, with more to come over the next couple of months.
Why did they happen?
NUS is committed to supporting SU staff through Communities of Practice. The Student Opportunities Community of Practice already existed in London, and over the summer at SU16 and Membership Services Conference, SU staff worked with NUS to shape the future of this Community. Hosts put themselves forward, and we ended up having the first round of meetings in December 2016, hosted by Northumbria, Leeds, London, Birmingham, Portsmouth and Liverpool.
These were attended by a variety of staff whose remits fall into Student Opportunities: societies co-ordinators, media staff, membership services colleagues, participation managers. The community covers various roles and is open to anyone who works within Student Opportunities.
Each meeting was designed by the host SU, so they were all structured slightly differently, but all meetings included an SU tour and an update from NUS on upcoming events, projects, and news. The majority of each day was spent sharing good ideas and problem solving. Here are some of the themes that were discussed during the six meetings:
Good ideas and good news stories
- In three or four SUs, there has been a re-launch or brand new student media, often in SUs that haven’t traditionally had any student media presence. In Hertfordshire, they’ve just launched an App for their student media
- Academic societies are developing, with some SUs inviting academic staff to join as Associate Members, sabbatical officers encouraging students to join through first year lecture shout outs, and SUs promoting the benefits of academic societies to academic staff through email bulletins
- SUs are doing interesting things with training and development for volunteers, with many carefully considering the timing of their training, and re-designing training to make it better year on year. Many are moving to online models, and linking training opportunities to different roles
Problems and things we need help with
- Managing transport and rooms bookings is a constant stress for many SUs. Participatory sport is often difficult as there isn’t enough space and competitive sport training takes priority
- Providing a good-quality and consistent opportunities offer across multi-campus sites
- Creating media and RAG strategies that are keeping student media and fundraising at the forefront of technological developments, and up-to-date with what’s happening in their sectors
There were a number of topics discussed that didn’t have a right answer, and would be good to explore further:
- Is it beneficial to run society and club elections at the same time as sabbatical officer elections?
- Does RAG Week still work?
- Fixed fee to join all clubs and societies vs. paying different prices for joining different clubs and societies vs. requesting an increased block grant and students paying nothing to participate
- The pros and cons of online only payments to join clubs and societies at Welcome/Freshers’ Fair
If anyone has strong opinions and examples from their SU, and would like to write about this for the Student Opportunities Resource Hub, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.
What’s happening next?
At the end of each meeting, the Community had a discussion about how they would like to develop, what the next meetings look like, and how they will communicate between meetings.
There will be three Community of Practice meetings per year: pre-Christmas, spring, and summer. NUS will ensure there’s space for the Community of Practice to meet at SU17 and Membership Services Conference.
The next meetings will be:
It was also decided that for each round of meetings, there will be one or two staff from the Community who takes on the admin for sending JISCmails and setting up Eventbrites for the meetings. For spring, this will be Ruth Dalton from Liverpool Guild. (Thanks Ruth!)
Many of the CoPs said it would be good for NUS to produce a newsletter before each meeting to give an NUS update, provide info about opportunities in the voluntary, charity, and sports sectors, and to share any outputs from the previous meeting. This newsletter will be ready a week before the meetings start, so look out for that soon.
If you need any further convincing, here's what three staff said about the last meetings…
Ruth Dalton, Student Activities Manager, Liverpool Guild of Students: “The Communities of Practice were a fantastic opportunity for us all to get together and share all of our successes and things that we can help each other to work on. It was lovely to realise that we’re all working through such similar things and hearing about the support and best practice that is out there. We’re really looking forward to the next one and staying in touch with each other more!”
Kevin Edgar, Student Volunteer Co-ordinator, Northumbria SU: “The North East Community of Practice meeting was a fantastic opportunity to network with fellow staff, particularly in a region where distances between us can often be a major barrier to collaborative working.”
Andy Morwood, Engagement and Activities Manager, University of Westminster SU: “The chance to discuss an idea, or a thought, or an issue, or pretty much anything about my role with people working in similar situations for me is astonishingly important. We work in such unique organisations compared to university staff or other generalised activities staff, so no-one else can really give advice without the deeper understanding of the fact that we work with elected students, and sometimes that means that we can’t just do something because we think it’s the best way to achieve something, but that we also need to win over student leaders before we can go forwards.”
For information about the Community of Practice, and to be added to the mailing list, email NUS Student Opportunities Consultant Rosie Hunnam