Your University and your Students Association need you!

Find out more about Student Representation, what it is to be a Rep, motivations and perspective from our STEM Faculty Representative, Nigel Patterson.

Okay, so please excuse the corny heading, but it does what it says on the tin!

OU students have pretty good representation on OU Faculty and Academic Governance, and at this time of year the Students Association recruits new Student Representatives to sit on these Committees.

Motivations to be a Rep…

There are lots of reasons why you might want to volunteer to be a Student Rep. One of my motivations has been to play my part in ensuring that the OU remains true to its mission and is as good for present and future students as it has been for me. The OU plays an important and unique role in Higher Education. It is a great opportunity to play a part in shaping the curriculum and the future direction of the University. But, for me, another motivation has been to meet some of the people who write modules that I study, as well as many of the other people that keep the OU running. Some students find that the skills that they develop during their time as a Rep is useful for their CV (although that doesn’t apply in my case as I am long since retired).

One thing that I hadn’t expected is that serving as a Student Rep can also be a great source of information and of fascinating stories about the OU (I am very interested in the history of the OU).

If you ever visit the OU campus at Walton Hall, you may come across the Crowther Building. Geoffrey Crowther was the Founding Chancellor of the OU. On 23 July 1969, in his inaugural address to the Congregation of the OU, Crowther outlined his vision of what was special about the OU: that it should be open as to people, places, methods and ideas. That remains the Mission of the OU to this day.

That much I already knew – but I had never managed to find a copy of Crowther’s speech. Then I met a senior librarian at a workshop and asked if the Library had a copy which I could borrow. The following day she emailed me a scan of the original typed transcript, and arranged for the speech to put in the OU’s online digital archive.

In fact, the OU was very close to being killed at birth. A couple of years ago, I attended a celebration of 50 years of teaching by the OU. Several of the OU’s first academics were at the celebration – and what interesting stories were told. The OU had not originally planned to teach its first students in 1971. They had hoped to have a longer preparation time. Starting from nothing in 1969 to teaching students in Arts and the Humanities, Mathematics, Science, Technology and Social Science just two years later was an incredible achievement. But why the rush?

The Conservative Party won the 1970 General Election, and the incoming government contained ministers actively hostile to the OU, with Chancellor Iain McLeod declaring it “blithering nonsense”. According to the Times Higher Education Supplement, Mcleod had the OU’s ‘death warrant’ on his desk and it just awaited his signature when he unexpectedly died of a heart attack. It became an imperative for the OU to quickly begin teaching its first students. Once the OU had students on roll, it would become much more difficult to abolish!

The Committees most likely to be of interest are the Boards of Studies, the Academic (Learning, Teaching and Assessment) and Faculty Assemblies. You can also learn more about them here – Committee descriptions 23-24 (May 2023).

I’ll say a few words about each of those Committees.

As you probably know, each Faculty is composed of a number of Schools – each of which is responsible for a different discipline within the remit of that Faculty. Each School has a Board of Studies which is responsible for pretty much everything to do with the curriculum of the School.

It is at the Board of Studies that discussions take place on the introduction, revision or withdrawal of modules and qualifications. It is at the Board that the initial decisions on these things take place, although they need to be approved at higher-level Committees within the University before they can proceed.

Every year, Boards undertake a process called Quality, Monitoring and Enhancement (QME), during which it will revise its Rolling Action Plan (RAP). QME will involve looking at how things have progressed within the School during the past year.

Boards will also consider the reports of external examiners, external advisors (who sit on the Board) and external advisor reports on modules in development. Student Experience at the end of a Module (SEaM) and student consultations are also of particular importance in informing module teams and Boards of Studies.These things make a difference as to how modules are taught while in presentation and on the development of new modules.

Each Faculty has an Academic Committee (Learning, Teaching and Assessment), with the last part abbreviated to LTA. There are also Academic Committees for Research. Academic Committees are responsible for strategy, policy and standards of the Faculty as a whole. Academic Committees consider the QME reports and rolling action plans of schools, and are required to approve or otherwise the proposals of Schools for changes in the curriculum. Academic Committees are also responsible for various initiatives at a Faculty level, such as work in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).

Faculty Assemblies are a very different kind of beast. They are not part of formal governance but rather provide an opportunity for informal discussion and consultation within the Faculty, and they do not have a standard agenda. They will usually begin with an account by the Executive Dean, together with a Q&A, on matters of importance to the Faculty. This may then be followed by presentations and workshops on matters of current interest to the Faculty or to the University as a whole.

Meetings are usually held online or in a hybrid format, with some members attending online-only and some attending face to face. You can therefore attend all meetings online if you are not able to attend in person. However, if you do attend any meetings face-to-face, all reasonable expenses will be covered by the University or Association as appropriate. This includes reasonable travel expenses and bed, breakfast and an overnight meal if you need to stay overnight (reasonable expenses and costs can be found in the Association Travel and Subsistence Policy).

You will be provided with full training for the role by the Students Association and, where possible, you will be paired with an experienced Rep.

If you are interested in becoming a Student Representative from September 2023, you can find all of the information here. If you have any questions or would like to know more about the role, please get in touch:

Video of students talking about being a Student Representative. 

Apply now!

Applications close at 11:59pm on Sunday, 18 June 2023.

Good Luck!

Nigel Patterson (STEM Faculty Rep)

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