An update from your Access, Education & Participation Officer (UG)

Photo of the Access, Education & Participation Officer (UG) with the Cambridge SU logo

It’s now been two months since I officially took up the post of Undergraduate Access, Education and Participation (AEP) Officer! There’s been lots to do and the time has flown, I’m already feeling very stuck in. It’s been really energising working for the newly-formed Cambridge SU, which is now a merged undergraduate and postgraduate union, and shaping the undergraduate AEP role which has been created from the previously separate access and education officer roles on the undergraduate students’ union, CUSU.

As the AEP (UG), my daily interactions are generally triangulated between the university (management and staff), prospective students and current students. I work closely with the AEP (PG) and we sit on various committees and working groups to represent students in university-level discussions about accessibility, outreach, and the education that Cambridge provides. For prospective students, I’ll be spending the year running residentials, open days and outreach programmes – including (but not limited to) the annual Shadowing Scheme. This work will largely be happening virtually this year due to the pandemic, though. As for current students, my role is to advocate for the university fashioning itself into a comfortable, accessible, equal, and diverse place for its students to study. Along with the AEP (PG), I work particularly closely with academic reps and J/MCR Access Officers, as well as with grassroots student campaigns, to support and facilitate their work on a collegiate, department and university-wide scale.

On top of my more specific responsibilities, I’ll also be working closely with the rest of the sabbatical officer team on joint projects throughout the year. The collapsing of CUSU and the GU into one combined students’ union has created lots of opportunities for the sabb team to work collaboratively in lots of exciting new ways to tackle a range of interconnected issues across the university. The two AEP roles (UG and PG) merge the intertwined and yet distinctly important responsibilities of access, education and participation in a way that is mutually illuminating and beneficial, whilst also allowing for a two-pronged approach from both an undergraduate and postgraduate perspective. The sabb team has wholeheartedly adopted this dual approach and it feels great to be part of this process of shaping the new students’ union with such a motivated and proactive group of people.

In addition to the new structure of the students’ union, we are also having to navigate the broad range of difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve been plunged headfirst into the complex negotiations about what next year is going to look like for the university community and are determined to sustain the tireless and inspiring work done by the outgoing sabb team to deal with the pandemic. We have also been deeply in awe of the various ways in which students and staff have responded to these recent and ongoing challenges; innovating solutions, forging community and advocating for justice in the face of an unprecedented crisis. I look forward to collaborating to do this important work together!

I'm determined to protect both current and prospective students (as well as offer-holders) against the chaos caused by covid-19, whilst also working to tackle the existing injustices and inequalities which define the university's system. These have been starkly highlighted by the current crisis, with this increased visibility forming a strong platform to work collectively for the changes that are so urgently required. Working with and for students to shape the accessible, diverse, just and equal university that they envision will be my primary focus.

My top priority this year will be protecting current and prospective students against the uncertainty created by the covid-19 crisis. This work will take a variety of forms; from supporting student rent movements to ensure that the cost of the pandemic is not shifted onto students, to advocating for the university to take steps to mitigate the disproportionate impact of educational disruption on offer-holders and prospective students from more disadvantaged backgrounds. Together with the rest of the sabb team, I will be advocating for the university to model itself as a safe and supportive learning environment for both staff and students in the current difficult circumstances. Student and staff solidarity is more important now than ever to ensure that the measures put in place to mitigate the impact of the pandemic do not entail increased financial, psychological and physical burdens for university members.

I will also be working hard to develop a virtual model for this year’s Shadowing Scheme that is exciting, inspiring and wide-reaching. Beyond just this particular scheme, I’ll be helping to create the infrastructure for Cambridge’s access and outreach efforts as they move online this year, with the intention that this new framework will democratise the university’s application process for coming years too. Additionally, I’ll have a role to play in facilitating the academic rep system which is officially being reformed this year: the elections for academic reps will now be held simultaneously for all subjects and run centrally through the SU, as well as the overall rep structure being changed to better reflect students’ experiences of their course. Throughout the year, myself and the AEP (PG) will be running training for newly-elected academic reps and supporting them with their endeavours.

Supporting, representing and advocating for students is always core to the work of sabbatical officers, but these responsibilities are especially necessary in the current circumstances. Combating student loneliness and mitigating the various difficulties presented by remote learning will be just one aspect of our broad efforts this year. The pandemic has not only created new problems; rather, it has highlighted and exacerbated the existing inequalities and injustices that define our university’s current system. I hope to tackle these more broadly by investigating attainment gaps, supporting student grassroots campaigns in their attempts to decolonise curriculums, and advocating strongly for fair wages and working conditions for staff, as well as for the university to cut ties with the fossil fuel and arms industries responsible for global suffering. I am keen to facilitate the efforts of students as they attempt to shape the just and equal university that they envision, primarily by supporting existing networks and helping to create new ones.

I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the year ahead! Hope you are all staying safe and well for now and I’m excited to work with you.