Exciting updates

We were thrilled to get the opportunity to share updates on our work with the University’s Council...

Danielle Smith (our Student Member of Council) and I were thrilled to get the opportunity to share with the University’s Council in February a few updates on our work.

We took them through our most recent Freshers fortnight (25th Jan – 7th Feb) which saw our highest levels yet of student engagement in our online events, competitions and communications. We ran an exciting programme of 49 events, providing informative sessions and social networking opportunities for students starting, or continuing, their study journey. A few examples are:

  • A Welcome to the Students Association and Freshers Fortnight which saw 165 students attending,
  • a Societies and Clubs Fair that had 112 attendees,
  • our Meet your student reps session with 83 attendees,
  • our University Challenge Warm-Up – always a popular event! – with our new 2021 team which had over 100 viewers. 

We’ve had great feedback from the students about how much our Freshers activities help to make them feel welcomed and supported as they start out on their studies, highlighting the importance of the Association’s work in building a strong and vibrant student community. 

We were also able to thank the University for providing additional funding to the Association which will allow us to launch a pilot of a brand new support service for students – individual representation – which means we will be able to provide direct one-to-one support for students who are going through the University’s complaints and appeals processes. Alongside our existing collective representation and support services for students, this is a wonderful new initiative that will enable us to provide even more extensive support to students at the times when they most need help. We are expecting to launch this new service in the Summer so please keep an eye out for more details. 

We updated Council members on our progress against the 12 pledges we made in our Black Lives Matter statement in June 2020 – we committed to undertaking tangible actions to improve our organisation and our commitment to Equality Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) – and we have made great progress. We’ve created an equalities action plan, we’re making ‘unconscious bias’ training mandatory throughout the Association, we’ve developed an EDI research programme, held consultation events for Black students, introduced Equality Impact Assessments throughout our work, developed a resource bank, and reviewed our website and all other online channels to identify how we can better represent Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic voices. We are also working closely with the University in key areas such as the Race Equality Charter application and the degree awarding gap. We also highlighted to Council that we will continue to fulfil our commitment to our members by challenging the effectiveness of the University’s Equality Scheme and Equality Champions where necessary and by holding the University to account on its commitments in this area.

We shared our most recent work in the policy and public affairs arena, particularly our ongoing work in relation to the impact of COVID-19 on OU students where we have worked to highlight to ministers and politicians the role that OU students are playing on the frontline, the sacrifices these students are making and the impact that it is having on their studies. Much of the conversation around HE during the pandemic has been focussed on student accommodation, but we have worked hard to remind policy-makers that distance-learning students have also been impacted significantly in many different ways and are feeling more socially isolated than ever.

Our longer-term priorities will continue to be improving student finance for part-time distance-learners across the four nations and looking at ways to address connectivity and digital exclusion which are major barriers for OU students. We have developed Welsh and Scottish manifestos, questioned the Minister for Universities about maintenance loans and submitted consultation responses to the Welsh Government and the Office for Students. We are also formalising a collaborative relationship with a Canadian distance-learning University.

We continue our work to advocate for OU students and champion the rights of part-time distance learners. 

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Sarah P Jones


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