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Putting love for SUs into practice

Wednesday 09-12-2015 - 15:42

It occurs to me that I rarely report on my working week in any depth, beyond the headlines. So here’s me seizing the moment to do some writing on a quiet train about some ways I’m putting my manifesto into practice.

1. We recently coordinated a #LoveSUs day of action. An amazing show of support for students' unions and the ways we change lives and education in the pursuit of wider social change. I could not have been more proud reading those stories, which did a fabulous job of sabre-rattling to the government and anyone else who might question why students' unions are here to stay. Do read my more detailed thoughts about why I #LoveSUs if you haven’t already. The team is now focusing on responding with a positive and constructive message about the transparency and accountability of students’ unions. We will make sure you have our thoughts in good time to inform your own responses.

2. I like to think I spend a lot of time with the membership. To take one week as an example, I visited Derwen College, for a National Society of Apprentices day, and Glyndwr SU that the afternoon. In the evening I met up with Liverpool Guild officers before I hosted the SUs Local event the next day. I also tripped (three hours) to Northumbria SU the next day and back (three hours) to Leicester. It’s not surprising how much I care about UK transport investment nowadays. Over 240 SU staff and officers attended those five events where we have covered lots including our response to the Higher Education Green Paper, #CutTheCosts, #LoveSUs and kicking off Project 100. To give you some commentary on attendance those numbers are good, but I would have preferred to see more SU staff members there. I know it’s up to us to review the offer, but I’d like for you to bring them next time!

3. Project 100 will develop our strategy for the next six years, until NUS’ centenary year. As I set out in my manifesto the process will also review our governance to ensure we are an efficient, responsive and democratic organisation. You can read more about Project 100 here. We are running an important national event to talk about this on the 5 and 6 February so please put those dates in your diary.

4. I’m well in the swing of the governance cycle. Many of you will know that as Vice President Union Development I am chair of both the NUS Charity Board and NUS Services Board, as well as a handful of subcommittees including the Student Opportunities board.

  • At the most recent Student Opportunities board we discussed our work plan for the year, which I’m told has never been more extensive, and our growing range of constructive partnerships with everyone from BUCS, to IoF and ILOVETOUR. This feels like progress against my manifesto where I committed to getting student opportunities properly on NUS' agenda. I’m also pleased to be hosting a roundtable for Vice Chancellors and SU officers in February, a large focus group for national student opportunities organisations as well as an event for activities officers in January. At that we will look at the existing range of work, as well as our library of resources and range of services; then use this to work out what we can do for the rest of this year, and how we can make sure Student Opportunities features strongly in the 2016 - 2022 strategy. If you want to come to the event and/or tell me what you think NUS needs to be doing in the Student Opportunities space please email me richard.brooks@nus.org.uk.
  • At the Charity and Services boards we discussed a whole range of issues - two of the key ones that I have talked to a lot of you about are Quality Students' Unions and UnionCloud, our digital platform.
  • Quality Students' Unions is our guide to help SUs assess where they are good and where they need to focus attention. It is only going to become more important as we consider our effectiveness as well as seek new avenues for leverage in negotiations with institutions - particularly in the context of changes to National Student Survey. When I took up office this needed more energy behind it and we have been working hard, with success, to get more SUs using it and to make sure NUS is using it as a tool to inform our strategy. The next step is for the board to receive a business plan about how we are going to support and enable more students' unions to use the tool for the benefit of students.
  • Some of you will be using UnionCloud and many of will have heard about it. As a membership tool the platform is reliable and highly functional. However it is often argued (sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly) that it doesn’t meet unions’ expectations. The focus now is making sure SUs are capable of using the existing platform. My view is that students’ unions have put a very large investment into it, and all signs indicate it still has huge potential for the future. Members widely agree this with this and support for the principle remains strong. So at my urging, the board agreed a group will be tasked with reviewing the learning from the first few years of UnionCloud and reporting back at the next meeting.

5. I have been doing whole host of other stuff including, but certainly not limited to, jointly launching this report about developing Unions in Further Education with your VP FE and considering the psychological effect of our communications on student engagement. You can read some of my other work and in my report to NEC which takes place next week.

You can contact me at richard.brooks@nus.org.uk if you have ideas or questions, I’m always happy to hear from you.

Hanging mistletoe above students’ unions,

Richard

 

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