To start 2021 off right, the KCLSU Officer Team want to take some time to review everything that we have achieved so far in this academic year and look towards our future goals in representing student interests and fighting to protect student rights. At the beginning of our tenure, we set out our individual objectives through this blog post, and we have been working to accomplish as many of these as possible while also focusing on key issues that come up during the year.
One major thing we do on a weekly, if not daily, basis is interact with King’s College London to try to address inequalities and hardships students are facing. This is an addition to the commendable work of the previous officer team during their tenure, especially in terms of the Covid-19 actions they took at the beginning of its effects on the university experience, which was grounded in feedback from students. You can read more about that here.
As the 2020-2021 academic year began, one of our central focuses was on working to ensure the university was providing the most face-to-face teaching possible. We met with (and continue to meet) central King’s figures, including VP Education Nicola Phillips, Director of Education & Students Darren Wallace, and Strategic Directors Joy Whyte & Liv Roberts, on a weekly basis to communicate student issues and fight for an academic experience as close to normal as physically possible. The best way to keep up to date with the “daily grind” is through our blog posts, such as this piece by our President, Salma, or reflections from our Accountability Panel chairs who are current students at King’s. We also took time to focus on more unexpected issues, as these are still important to our student body. Seeing the impact the number of mice on campus has on students each year, Salma has been meeting with King’s on a monthly basis to discuss how to tackle this issue on campus, and updating students through her Mousewatch Updates.
Another campaign we led early in the year was to re-protect Wednesday Afternoons as student-directed time. We recognised that students have a wide variety of commitments outside of studying and that the time previously protected from use by Timetabling is of crucial importance for a number of students to complete work, physical activity for health and wellbeing, and self-directed study as well. You can see the success of the campaign in one of our articles published in early October. We also circulated many surveys through our Officers’ Update emails to better understand your views on a range of topics, from careers and employability and the impacts of Covid on your studies to your opinions on the statues at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital. These surveys will support us in creating change this term and ensure we are truly reflecting the views of our student body through our actions.
As soon as the second UK Government lockdown was announced, we arranged two Town Hall sessions to collate student voices and perspectives on what the key issues around teaching were. Many students reported that the loss of face-to-face teaching, a need to break accommodation contracts and/or receive financial support, and an academic experience that did not equal what students had signed up for and were paying for formed a number of key concerns over the pandemic. These insights were compiled into a report that we have since put in front of numerous central figures and decision-making boards at King’s College London, including VP Education, Director and Strategic Director of Education & Students listed above alongside College Education Committee, Academic Board, and College Council.
We took direct actions from the Town Hall meetings in regards to KCLSU, as many students also reported that they felt there were not enough informal study spaces on campus. Working with our KCLSU colleagues, we turned a wide range of KCLSU spaces into safe, informal study spaces, which we reported on in November. These spaces are still available to all students, with the current information and opening times available here.
After the lockdown, we worked closely with King’s to ensure fit to fly certificates were subsidised for students who needed them, as well as ensuring that assessments were moved out of the travel window and that students received their timetables as early as possible. These changes were all influenced by conversations we had with students, and Salma reported this in her President’s Update in December before the break.
Over the last few days, we have had a surge of comments from students who are moving on campaigns with regards to rent strikes and rebates, tuition fee refunds, and Safety Net reinstatement. Many petitions have arisen over the last few days, and on Thursday 7th January 2021 we will use the time we have with the VP Education, Director, and Strategic Director of Education & Students to discuss the strength of the student voice, across King’s, the UK and beyond as well as the importance of protecting student rights as we rapidly approach the end of the academic year. All students in King’s accommodation should have received communications about relaxations to contract breaking, given the recent introduction of the third lockdown and a very real potential of not resuming face-to-face teaching until March, which has resulted from conversations that included the contributions of KCLSU Student Officers. We are also hosting a Q&A with King's on the 14th to clear up any questions you have in regards to rent, rebates, and accommodation. We are working with other student leaders at students' unions across the country to reach an assessment and grading policy that is fair and suitable to all students during this difficult time. You can read more about that here.
We have also influenced small-scale changes, such as challenging Residences to create a self-isolation package that was appropriate to the scale of disruption caused and included menstrual products for those who needed them. At the College Education Committee on the 27th January, our Education Officers are putting two papers forward which will provide an expressed commitment to Representation, and amendments to the Late Submission Cap; these will improve our ability to hold KCL to account and tackle an issue that has been a long term effort from many Officer cohorts. However, as identified in the recent article by ROAR and numerous student bodies across the UK, now is the time to take action on the issues that have a high likelihood to have a detrimental impact on students imminently.
As we move through this phase of taking action to protect the rights of students in this period, one thing is certain: we need to remain informed by the voice of every student who is a part of King’s College London. Within the next few weeks, we will be holding another Town Hall, where we hope to invite KCL Management as well as students so they can hear directly from the student body how the external situation and altered university experience has affected mental health, wellbeing, finances, and academic performance. Additionally, we hope to work more closely with our student media outlets such as ROAR News to share good news and connect with students. One of our current VP Activities and Development’s priorities for the year is supporting student media and developing its position as the voice of the students. Together we can challenge the university to create change, as has happened in other Students’ Unions across the country.
We were elected to be representatives, to bring about change, and listen to the student voice. We have been, since the start of the year, working collaboratively for the benefit of students and staff alike. We will continue to share more about the work we do and be transparent about how you can get involved through our various platforms. Keep an eye out for Officers’ Update in your emails as we launch campaigns and ask for your feedback, or head to the Campaigns page at KCLSU to share support, and you can always email [email protected] to get in touch.
Together, we are stronger.
KCLSU Officer Team 2020-2021