As anyone who has worked to change the University or Colleges knows, the obstacles you're up against sometimes feel insurmountable. The new challenges of COVID-19 have exacerbated outstanding issues, as well as creating new ones that we could hardly have predicted this time last year. However, your SU has been working every day to make the University better and safer to study and live in for all students, and we're really pleased to be able to present you with some of our wins for students over the past month.
After a hard-fought campaign spanning the best part of five years, in October the University of Cambridge announced that it aims to divest its endowment - the biggest in Europe - from the fossil fuel industry. The SU played a key role in this from start to finish. We have had members on University Council consistently lobbying the University to take the work of student campaigners seriously, whilst our Ethical Affairs Campaign has organised campaign guides, panel events and training sessions.
Following this decision, Christ's College announced full divestment a week later, partially influenced by the University's response. Credit should go to campaigners and Officers at Christ's for their persistent work.
We are now joining calls for the University to go one better, and cut all its ties with the fossil fuel industry, from research grants, to careers advertising, to sponsorship of departments and faculties. Nevertheless, the victory of divestment is an outstanding milestone which is testament to the tireless work of student campaigners, staff and past SU teams. You can find our full article here.
Updates to AMA guidance
Adjusted Modes of Assessment are the way to get a different format of exam for disability reasons, for example being allowed to do coursework instead of a timed exam.
After Disabled Students' Campaign members lobbied senior staff, the university has now modified their medical evidence requirements to include the following clause, removing the requirement for evidence to be from the past year: "The Committee notes that there may be challenges in gaining medical evidence due to the current situation of COVID-19. As a result, regardless of the date stated on any medical evidence previously obtained by the student, this may be included as part of their application." AMA guidance is available here.
Despite this addition, the burden of evidence is still unfairly high and we will continue to fight for fair access to adjustments. You can apply for an AMA through your college and it's a good idea to get support from the DRC and Student Advice Service too. If your tutor isn't supportive, doesn't know much about the process or your college won't apply for you (even though they actually are obliged to), get in contact with the Student Advice Service who can help you with your application.
The Cambridge SU Disabled Students' Campaign is also a great place to talk about your situation with other students who have been in the same position!
We launched #DemandSafeCambridge back in September in response to the University's shortcomings in preparing for Michaelmas Term. Our work on this is ongoing and we plan to continue it for as long as the pandemic continues. Here are some of our key wins:
In September, we pressured colleges into releasing a statement saying that no student who called Cambridge home or could not travel home would be allowed to stay for as long as legally possible. We still have far further to go, but expect this to prevent the chaos of March from having such a dire impact on our students.
At our last Student Council of the month, we received an overwhelming mandate to campaign further for an improvement to the provision of online teaching, safer socialising spaces, and for students to have an option to study remotely next term. We will be working on this over the next month, and will feed back the results of our lobbying efforts.
You can find more information about #DemandSafeCambridge here.
Postgraduate Access Group
In this year’s annual address, the Vice-Chancellor made a public commitment to postgraduate widening participation and announced the University’s recent creation of the first post in the country dedicated to this responsibility - the result of extensive lobbying in previous years by the Graduate Union.
This is good news, but as we know it’s far from enough. Last week, Cambridge SU hosted our first ever Postgraduate Access Group, where students from across the University came together to discuss how student-led work can address the huge barriers to postgraduate study at Cambridge. It was really exciting to speak to so many students there, and to start planning some campaigns already - we can’t wait to see how these develop as the Group continues to meet regularly this year.
If you’re interested in joining or just want to find out more about postgraduate access in Cambridge, email firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch via Facebook!