Adrian confirmed that all 5 reports were received on time. The reports had been made available for just under a week now on the website so they would be taken as read.
Before commencing the questions, Adrian noted that the Sabbatical officers work has been impacted with varying degrees by Covid19 and asked senators to take this into account when raising questions as some projects have not been possible to finish.
Adrian opened questions for each of the sabbatical reports in turn:
Olivia Reed, VP Sport
Laura Barr, VP Welfare & Communities
Q. Regarding mental health, as this is a stressful time for students, what has SUSU been working on? Lots of students appreciate the social media posts, but we want to see adequately funded professional and mental health support, has Enabling services received extra budget or staff or resources?
A. The way that Enabling services works is that they have a core team who work throughout the year, with the addition of a locum who can work when demand is high at certain times of the year. Following feedback from SUSU they are also looking at the NHS Big White Wall and how they can bring that in, which means you can specify the councillor you want based on your needs. Emily also added that Enabling is a University service not a SUSU service so we don’t have direct contact of their budgets but can lobby them. Laura also clarified that SUSU do not provide emotional support, however the Advice Centre is there for practical support which will also help with people mental heath.
Jo also noted that she has been working with the university to ensure that the PAT system is the best it can be, and that there is clear signposting to services. There is also talk of investing in a module on basic mental health to make sure there is a base line knowledge. Laura also added that this project is part of the Mental Health Steering Group which is now a charter at the University with various project streams coming from this.
Q. From what has been seen on Crushampton and talking to students it's fair to say a lot of students are struggling with money, some people are paying rent for accommodation they are not living in. Can you clear up the Hardship Fund which the university offers as the period is coming to an end on the 19th June? Full time students cannot receive universal credit, so where should they be signposted to?
A. Emily clarified that the Hardship Fund has been renamed the Student Support Fund which provides financial assistance generally. In response to Covid-19 the university has set up the Online Learning Grant Fund, which has now closed, which helped set up students to study online, eg money for laptops. Emily has asked if this will be brought back next year for new students. This is looking likely. Also through the Office for Development for Alumni Relations they have set up the Corona Virus Response Fund which Alumni have donated to, the money is being split various ways, getting PPE for staff and students on the front line, research into testing and vaccines, some has gone into the Student Support Fund and the Online Learning Grant Fund.
Laura added that SUSU from the outset had been involved with the discussions at the University about funding and how the university can support students, including students in potentially abusive environments. Laura also clarified that the Advice Centre is also still open for specific individual advice around finance.
Laura also confirmed that the Student Support Fund closed on the 12th June, but that doesn’t mean you are not able to access any funding, if you are in an emergency you are still able to access.
Emily encouraged anyone who is struggling with finance to still contact the Student Support Fund as they will be able to advice on any support that might be available.
Q. To clarify, it sounds like the Student Support Fund has closed unless for emergency funding and the online support is closed, what about rent? Students who have moved back home but still paying rent and cannot pay rent at home to help support parents.
A. Laura confirmed that rent troubles are part of the Student Support Fund. You just need to show proof that you are in hardship, which would just be a bank statement. Laura has also been in conversation with the university on how to support upcoming graduates, there is the potential of space available in halls, or how to help with rent, or careers advice.
Q. Is there any specific therapeutic support for Black students affected by George Floyd's murder?
A. No, not specifically for George Floyd’s murder, however there is support for Black or BAME students who have mental health difficulties, although Laura notes that there is a massive gap in Enabling Services as there are no core councilors who are BAME or specialise in BAME areas but there are the locums, and hopefully the partnership with NHS Big White Wall, may fill this gap making sure students receive support that is specific to them. SUSU cannot really give therapeutic support, however this is a wider issue and SUSU is trying to fill that gap but it does take time and funding.
Q. Is there any news of study areas or library opening soon? As some PG students are struggling to complete their coursework and research from their rented rooms. Most of them are international.
A. Jo has been in conversation with the library, as the current government guidance is 2m this would mean the capacity of the library would be severely reduced. However due to a relaxation of copywrite laws they are able to put more text books online, limiting the disadvantages for students not based in the UK, so the library is seeking further funding to put this in place as soon as possible. This is going forward into next year as well so there are more Ebooks available for students online. The library is also looking at implanting a click and collect service and hope to open in the summer as soon as they are able.
Q. Can you talk about private rented accommodation?
A. Laura ran through the normal business as usual outside of Covid19, making sure students don’t rush to rent, checking housing contracts. However when Covid19 hit, Laura worked with SASSH, Solent University housing team and Solent Students Union, to draft a letter for the SASSH registered landlords asking them to exercise compassion with students, provide details of government advice, funding and support they can get, and asking for no penalty early release for students.
In terms in PBSA, Laura alongside Solent Student Unions VP Welfare sent a letter asking them for no penalty early release for students for now but also for new contacts starting in July and September onwards depending on the situation. There is only so much influence SUSU has however we are able to lobby. There is also the balance of making sure those staying in private halls have the level of service needed as well as those who have had to move out. Laura is passing this work over to next year's VP Welfare and Community to continue.
Q. How do we know if this has been effective or not?
A. This has been posted all on social media as well as the letter template being available on our website for students to download and use. It is very difficult to measure how successful this has been however we keeping an eye on who is doing what.
Jo Lisney, VP Education and Democracy
Q. Many minor students still havent received adequate if any real information about their minor, their classification and have contacted many departments and received no information. how are SUSU pushing the university to be more transparent and open with students about their grades and even just their courses?
A. Emily answered this one. She hasn’t heard about any issues with minors, but will definitely pick this up and asked for an email with any further details from the student.
Emily agreed that with regard to Humanities there was a serious issue with information not being sent out which was not good enough. It was fed back very strongly that this was unacceptable. Emily also noted that comms is something she has spoken about a lot with the university. There is going to be a review of both SUSU and the University response to Corona virus. If anyone has any feedback now or long term then please let us know.
ACTION: President to take the issue of minors raised in Senate to the University.
Q. The University have been consistently disappointing in missing their own self-imposed deadlines for information and being inflexible in helping adapt students' workload in the face of the pandemic. I'm worried this will continue into next academic year so how will you prep the new VP Eddem and prepare for this in general?
A. Emily answered this one. Emily noted that she completely understood and shared those concerns. We have fed this back in various ways to the university. Emily clarified that there is a lot of work going on at the university to make sure this doesn’t happen next year. The reason for the missed deadlines (although doesn’t excuse) is they wanted to say something however with the no detriment policy it became a lot more complicated than first thought and it needed to go through a lot of people to be approved. The university is aware this wasn’t good enough and going forwards they won't be giving deadlines for different services opening up or graduation etc. They don’t want to over promise.
Jo commented that SUSU staff have been involved in the meetings with the university. This means there will be consistency between the current sabb team and the incoming team in July.
Q. As a Humanities student we did not receive the information until 3 days later, are they going to apologise about that?
A. Emily responded to this question, sharing her frustration as well. We had asked the university to issue an apology to Arts and Humanities students, which although was followed up several times did not actually happen. Emily commented she is happy to chase this and ask for an apology if this is something students want.
ACTION: President to ask for an apology for Faculty of Arts and Humanities students regarding the fact they received information after the rest of the faculties.
Q. When will the next Senate Elections be held?
A. Jo answered this one. The next election will be in Autumn term now as we have unfortunately had to delay the Summer Elections.
Fiona Sunderland, VP Activities
Emily Harrison, Union President
Q. Many students want a refund on fees, if we got more voices together would the university reconsider?
A. Emily feels pretty confident that the answer from the university is final, however she would not underestimate the power of a lot of students coming together. Emily took it to University Council for a honest and open conversation. It was then taken to the Deans of the Faculties. They discussed students on practical courses particularly WSA students, medicine and health care students, as well as international students. The university has agreed to look into non financial compensation for students on practical based courses at WSA and Music courses, for example access to software etc. This is still in consultation. For medics it is more complicated due to funding fees which don’t cover placements. This is actually funded for by the government, and as they are graduating early there would be no refund due back to students. Emily noted they have asked for a clarification around the funding streams for medicine and health care students. With regard to the rest of the university the answer is 'no' for a refund on fees, as there is still provision of teaching online. Emily has raised the idea of the university paying for gown hire for graduating students, for when they are able to physically graduate, as a token as the year has been difficult. The university is going to explore this.
Laura noted that she is currently completing an online degree, which she pays the same tuition fees as those on campus, so this is not just a Southampton specific problem. This is a sector wide issue about online degrees.
Emily commented that it would need to be a national decision from university to refund rather than a specific university as the financial impact with be significant.
Q. What is the situation with students in halls?
A. Emily explained that this situation has been very positive, this is one of the first things we got sorted. The residences team agreed to release all halls students from their contracts and waived the third term of fees if they moved out. If they stayed in halls, if they couldn’t go home or wanted to stay, they put in place a rent reduction. They are also looking after students' belongings for free if they can't get back to collect them.
Q. Just to confirm if you are an international student and can't get home you are able to stay in uni halls?
A. Emily confirmed that 'yes' this has been the case since the start of lockdown. If students have not been able to return home they are able to stay and individual arrangements have been made for those students.