Hello! My name is Jo Barlow, I am an OU student in year four of my six-year English Literature degree and have just been appointed to the HE Student panel for the Office for Students.
I must confess before I applied for the post, I had never heard of the Office for Students – hardly an auspicious start! However, when the OU sent out an email asking for students to apply to be part of the OfS HE Student panel I thought…’why not?’ A quick bit of googling revealed the Office for Students is a new (started 2017) HE regulatory organisation so the chance to be a part of it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. And, long story short, I was one of 10 people appointed to the HE panel.
The OfS was very keen to have a broad range of students on the panel to best represent the extensive variety of HE students out there, so as both a mature student and a distance learner I ticked two of their boxes. And I am thrilled to represent both categories. Whilst mature students can be at any university (although rubbing shoulders with a lecture theatre full of bright young things can seem very daunting for us of an older vintage), we distance learners of the OU are a totally unique, and special, lot.
We come from all walks of life, are all ages and have many commitments that the ‘traditional’ 18-year-old student would not have. Until very recently I worked as an HE Academic Advisor down here in Cornwall, working with mature students affiliated to Plymouth University. I always said to them when they were struggling to juggle university work, a job and a family that the degree they will achieve is so very different to the sort of degree my son achieved. He had a wonderful responsibility-free three years in Exeter and, aside from gaining his degree (and subsequent Masters) in Archaeology, he enjoyed the student social life to the full and made friends for life (one of whom was best man at his wedding). For many students, that is the university experience and rest assured they will be well represented. But we OU students have a whole different range of issues that I hope to provide a voice for on the panel, that will then subsequently be fed back to the OfS and upwards to government.
At the moment I am looking at the best ways to reach out to you all, and have just become a member of the Facebook group. The HE Panel meets at least four times a year and in the times leading up to the meetings I will be posting asking for relevant thoughts, worries, issues, etc. so do please respond. If you don’t tell me, I can’t represent you! It is easy for one voice to get lost in the crowd; thousands of voices are much harder to ignore.
What I really hope to achieve is that, during my two-year appointment on the panel, I can come back to you and say: “This was an issue for you, look what has been done to improve it. Your voice has made the difference”.
I am very much looking forward to talking with you all.