The SU closed for the winter vacation period starting from the week of the 21st, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t busy in the days and weeks leading up to it coordinating support for students staying in Cambridge over the winter vacation period and laying down the groundwork for us to return more determined and more organised than ever to make Cambridge a safer and better place to live and study. We’ve returned to another lockdown and, with it, a very different situation facing students - as you might know by now, the University has waived the residency requirement for Lent Term and moved all teaching and learning online (check out our latest update here to read more about what the plans mean for students). We share students’ frustrations over what has been an extraordinarily difficult year filled with constant disruptions, and we’re working hard to coordinate with student reps to support students and represent your voice on the various higher-level decision-making groups we sit on. Your wellbeing will continue to be our top priority, and we will continue to push for a joined-up approach across Colleges and Faculties which recognises the urgency of the situation and the magnitude of the disruption which COVID-19 has wrecked on students’ lives. In the meantime, we wanted to update you on some of the gains we made in December.
Support for students staying in Cambridge
Building on the amazing work the liberation campaigns and sabbatical officer team have been collaborating on throughout Michaelmas Term to support students during lockdown and tackle student loneliness, Alice coordinated with student reps and societies to create our Winter Holiday Activities Guide and support groups for students staying in Cambridge over the Winter Vacation. Moving forward, supporting students and combating student loneliness will be a key priority for us. We’ll be working in close collaboration with student reps and groups as well as with service providers from across the Collegiate University to make sure that students get the support they need.
‘All I Want For Christmas Is Toope… (To Let Us Study Where We Choose)’
Throughout Michaelmas Term, we heard from students about their frustrations over being required to ‘keep’ term and reside in their Colleges despite most teaching and learning being carried out online and the lack of support for students. Esme, Siyang, and Rensa collected hundreds of testimonies from students and wrote up a report about why students needed to be given full flexibility to choose whether to remain in Cambridge during term-time or leave to study remotely. The report contained concrete recommendations on how to support students and was submitted to University management shortly before the SU closed for the Winter Vacation. We also successfully got the evidence requirement for undergraduate students applying to study remotely lowered from medical professional recommendation to approval from a College Tutor or Nurse. Obviously, a lot’s happened since then and we’ve returned to a very different situation: the Government announced another lockdown, and the University has had to make the difficult decision to carry out the entirety of Lent Term virtually. While the circumstances have changed, the core principles of our report - that students should have as much flexibility as possible to make their own choices and decisions about what is best for their wellbeing - will continue to guide our campaigning.
Academic Rep training
In November, elections for Academic Reps were run centrally through the SU for the first time. The first round of elections saw particularly high turnouts of over 20% from Trinity College and the Maths Department. Throughout December, Esme and Siyang coordinated with Academic Reps to run training sessions to equip them with the skills and knowledge they will need to support, represent, and advocate for their subject cohorts. Moving forward, we’ll be coordinating with Academic Reps to keep students updated about exam/assessment arrangements, support students through Lent Term, and campaign for changes to exam/assessment arrangements in light of the latest disruptions to students’ lives.
UKRI funding extensions
We fed into discussions deciding on the criteria for UKRI funding extensions and worked to make the application process as simple as possible, to ease the stress and pressure of COVID-19 disruption on UKRI-funded PG students. We’re aware that these extensions and accommodations aren’t enough to cover all students’ situations and that there are many questions and concerns that still stand, so we’ll continue to advocate for PG students on this matter as the situation progresses. If you have any UKRI-related questions or concerns, please contact our Postgraduate President Aastha or our Postgraduate Education, Access, and Participation Officer Siyang. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Training for student reps on accessibility
Rensa has been working with the Disabled Students’ Campaign to start running training sessions and distributing resources for student reps to equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to put accessibility at the forefront of how they represent, support, and advocate for their members. The Disabled Students’ Campaign are also taking sign-ups for the Accessibility Pledge - if your society or your J/MCR wants to sign the Pledge or find out more about how they can be more accessible, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.