The meeting finished with a question-and-answer session to the Student Officers concerning the political and representative work of the Union. Students asked their elected representatives the below questions:
Q1: What actions were being taken to seek financial compensation from the University as a result of the disruption to learning caused by Covid-19?
Yasmeen Thantrey (Campaigns Officer): Myself and Dylan finished our degrees during Covid-19, so we do feel the pain and frustration that people feel, I had to finish my degree in my living room. We have had a lot of conversations with the University about this but because of the government’s position of not giving a bailout to universities this means UAL (University of Arts London) is in a tricky position as the fees that have been paid are being used to run the University. I have written a petition and open letter which are in the final stages to be circulated around to students in the next few weeks calling on the University to openly and transparently lobby the government to provide a bailout to the University and the Higher Education sector more generally. It does feel like the University is leeching off students now, it is a tricky position. We have a regular meeting with University senior leaders where we have continually mentioned this issue, especially on the fee increases experienced by International students. I do recommend that students keep talking to their course reps and newly electedpart-time officers, and us about this.
Eleanor West (Activities Officer): We are working hard to combat the University’s stance on refunds, but this problem seems bigger than the University with the implications it has on government decisions needing to be made. We will continue to raise this with UAL, but I do recommend students to join NUS (National Union of Students) campaigns that focus on this as they directly lobby the government. We do need to this campaign to be directed nationally now.
Dylan Wilson (Education Officer): We do recognise that the current fees being paid are keeping UAL running now, so students have every right to have their say and hold the University to account on decisions being made. We are wanting to ensure UAL is leading the conversation nationally.
Follow up question: Are students not protected by Consumer rights?
Pinky Latt (Welfare Officer): Question passed over to Yemi Gbajobi (Chief Executive)
Yemi Gbajobi (Chief Executive): Its complicated because the consumer rights legislation talks about how the University has marketed itself but unfortunately, we do not know if students are covered until there is a test case. Now a case has not been carried out for us to see how that process would pan out.
Pinky Latt (Welfare Officer): We have had some success with supporting students with getting reimbursement for their halls of residence costs, so lobbying does sometimes yield positive results in that progress can be made.
Q2: Can students who are not registered with the Union take part in Union activities?
Eleanor West (Activities Officer): A large amount of issues have come from students who have opted out from receiving communication from the SU (Students Union) due to the 3rd party opt in option that UAL did not make clear included Arts SU at enrollment. You can opt back in, but this process has not been easy, so I do apologise for those students who have experienced that. If you email us, we can help you in creating your account.
Q3: When will we be able to meet in person for club and society activities?
Eleanor West (Activities Officer): I do anticipate we will be seeing another period of restrictions in the new year which means it looks highly likely that clubs/societies will not be able to meet in person as it will not be safe to do so, in alignment with government guidance put out. We will put out some communication once we know the full situation.
Q4: What is the update on British University and College Sport (BUCS)?
Eleanor West (Activities Officer): Passed question to Yemi Gbajobi (Chief Executive)
Yemi Gbajobi (Chief Executive): No update on guidance from BUCS since October. While they have said it is safe to play some team sports, they have not informed us recently around the tier rules and if sports can be played in different areas where teams could have to potentially travel to areas operating in a different tier. We must think about the safety around getting students on public transport between activities and finding spaces that are Covid Secure. I will be receiving an update from BUCS later in December on the latest information which will be relayed to our sport teams.
Eleanor West (Activities Officer): As we do not have any sport venues in UAL this does make it difficult for us to allow sport teams to playat the moment until we know the situation with being able to book external venues.
Q5: How does Arts SU plan to be actively and sustainably anti-racist and be more inclusive of queer BIPOC?
Yasmeen Thantrey (Campaigns Officer): Being a SU from an Arts University this has been on our radar, we are working through our own Anti-racism strategy and have reviewed our own recruitment process. We do have a liberation focus at Arts SU, with active liberation societies/students who do push the work of the Full-Time Officers.
Dylan Wilson (Education Officer): We also have various wellbeing groups amongst our staff and a BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) staff representative group also to have safe spaces for marginalised people. We also have a fortnightly anti-racism group for white staff to be able to educate themselves on racism in society, this is something the University is keen to take on also, especially the LCC Change Maker scheme.
Yasmeen Thantrey (Campaigns Officer): As Full-Time Officers we spend a lot of time talking to the University about their anti-racism strategy, often our learning being passed on to the University. As an SU we are a pocket of information that we share, while not putting pressure on marginalized groups to always lead this. We do want to ensure we are inclusive to everyone with anti-racism to those who identify as Brown and Asian as well as Black.
Eleanor West (Activities Officer): We also put a lot of focus on Liberation History Months to raise the voices/experiences of various marginalised student groups, holding a variety of events or building resources with our liberation groups to put out to the entire student community. Our liberation groups are also internally looking at how they can be more inclusive in how they run, for example our LGBT society holding less alcohol driven events into to provide inclusive spaces for all students.
Yasmeen Thantrey (Campaigns Officer): We do still see today spaces in University that don’t represent everyone and so we are always wanting to ensure students can challenge this and use the Students' Union to spearhead that change. Please do not be scared to let us know.
Q6: How the SU collaborated with tutor strikes last term? Is there support for students looking to lobby / protest the government on issues such as debt forgiveness and rent pauses?
Yasmeen Thantrey (Campaigns Officer): With the UCU (University and College Union) strikes, I was heavily involved in this at Camberwell College and Eleanor was involved too.
Eleanor West (Activities Officer): Anita (Education Officer 18/19 - 19/20) led on the campaign with Officers, meeting with members from the Union (UAL Staff who are members of the Union), we will be meeting with them again to look at their priorities this year. I did last year ensure I worked with students on also feeling represented during these strikes.
Dylan Wilson (Education Officer): I have met with the UCU representatives a few weeks ago, listening to their concerns and I am keen on making sure they are heard especially during Covid with the challenges of safety in the workplace and pressure that can be faced in needing to come into work.
Q7) How can I campaign for Rent Pauses/Stikes in my Halls of Residences?
Eleanor West (Activities Officer): Last year we lobbied the University on the rent release last year with a successful result, and we want to do this again in January to consider the holiday period students have been instructed to go home in. If students organise a rent strike, many halls are not owned by UAL, so the University does not have much power on setting prices in halls rents. So, if students are wanting to organise a campaign around this, please do contact us so we can support you with a way forward. We do recognise what has happened in Manchester and it is on our radar to challenge halls fees also during this academic year.