Union Senate (20th May 2021)


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Name of Committee Union Senate
Date and time 20th May 2021, 12:00
Place Teams
Present Members
Senator Nick Hillier
Senator Wilson Odek
Chair of Senate Fiona Sunderland
Vice President Education and Democracy Avila Chidume
Senator Victoria Babeau
Senator Jan Bürmann
Senator Harry Bull
Vice President Sports Sam Tweedle
Vice President Activities Corin Holloway
Vice President Welfare and Community Nicole Akuezumba
Senator Alamea John
Absent with Apologies Union President Olivia Reed
1. Welcome and Introductions

Fiona welcomed everyone to the meeting. 

2. Minutes of previous meeting

Fiona directed the Senators to the link to the previous minutes.  

Senators voted to approve the minutes.  

Approve: 6

Abstain: 2 

Reject: 0  

Outcome: Approved 

Papers and Reports
3. Sabbatical Reports

Avila summarised her report (attached to minutes) and replied to the questions below: 

Q: Have the PGR roles been filled in summer election?

A: Avila explained that in summer elections, there has been limited student engagement and that they are working towards having students more engaged in autumn election. However, PGRs have been more active in taking some other roles such as Enterprise Officer.

Q: Can you give more information about mental health steering group?

A: Avila said that is a very broad category (in many different departments). They all work towards supporting the students best. CHEP (centre of higher education and practice), for example, is in charge of making the curriculum as accessible and inclusive as possible and one of the areas they work on is mental health. So within the mental health steering group, there has been discussions to do with special considerations and ensuring the process fairer.  Such collaborative activities have been added to steering group itself. She said that they are also working with Enabling Services. The main success at this stage has been special considerations and being allowed to submit anonymous request for extensions, for example.

No other questions were asked.

Nicole summarised her report (attached to minutes) and replied to the questions below: 

Q: What are the currently planned networks? Will networks be formed from the societies that they are comparable to or will they be two separate entities?

A: Nicole mentioned that the network she is currently working on Students with Disabilities Network. She said that they will be formed within societies they are comparable to. They will not be two separate entities in terms of having 2 different structures, but each of them has its own autonomy. They are currently working on some level of flexibility. For example, if a society really wants to be involved in setting up a network, we are happy that they get involved. In that sense, they have two separate entities but there is also flexibility that if a society wants to be involved in setting up a network, they can.

Q: How do you ensure that if a society doesn’t want to be part of setting up a network, they are being steamrolled over by an official SUSU entity?

A: Nicole explained that in such situation, she would meet up with that society to understand their concerns and why they don’t want to be involved in the process of setting up networks. It is optional for them if they want to be involved or not but it is still important to be involved in discussions and for them to be aware of what is planned so that they can choose how much they feed into it.

No other questions were asked.

Corin summarised his report (attached to minutes) and replied to the questions below: 

Q: Is there any updates on Annex lift?

A: Corin started with providing some background knowledge about Annex Theatre- it is the theatre that students use for most of their shows. It is mostly run by stage technician society and different societies use it. It is currently limited and if you can’t deal with stairs, you can’t get to the stage. We are trying to get the idea of having a lift pushed through but it is very difficult and there isn’t any update at the moment.

Q: What does WIDE training stand for?

A: “welfare, inclusivity, diversity, equality”. Corin noted that they are updating this at the moment to make it more useful for committees.  He said that although there is lots of information in there currently, there is not much about what to do if something happens.

Q: Any more information on bookable spaces?

A: Corin explained that SUSU spaces block bookings has gone out, but if you need space then email if you need space. At the moment, the uni spaces are also bookable by students in Sussed. There is no clear timeframe- hopefully this will be done within the next few days.

No other questions were asked.

Sam summarised his report (attached to minutes). The only question was about expand on Varsity which Sam covered while summarising his report.

Olivia was on annual leave but has sent out her report. Fiona summarised Olivia’s report on her behalf. The question below was asked:

Q: What are SUSU’s plans to support the national campaign about universities having better sexual assaults policies in place and lobbying the university to ensure that all students are safe throughout the university experience?

A: Nicole explained that the university is currently setting up mandatory content and sexual awareness training for all new students starting September 2021 and it worked with the Consent Awareness Society to develop this. The University is also working on setting up an easier way to contact campus security if they are in distressing situation for the next academic year. There is also the reporting support tool (launched in mid-March) which allows students to either anonymously or with their contacts report any incidents and they can also get support during distressing situations.

Q: Will sabbatical officers commit to working together to publicise the new safety drive and stand in solidarity with other universities nationally to better practice safety for all?

A: Nicole explained that there are plans to publicise the mandatory training mentioned earlier at the university and make this mandatory for all students. In addition, more work can be done to improve the reporting support tool. She emphasised that anyone with any further suggestions can let them know.

Q: Nicole was asked about the governance structure of networks and whether they are committee-based or executive-based.

A: Nicole mentioned that this is something that they are still not certain on. They do want to ensure that students feel that the structure of these networks is flexible enough so that they can exist long-term as there has been issues in the past. She said they are considering a committee-structure (having a chair and then a committee who sits under them).

Q: Nicole was asked how they are ensuring the objectives and aims of a network does not strongly overlap with societies’ objectives/ aims?

A: Nicole explained that these two may overlap in the sense that they are both spaces of communities. They are taking steps to make sure all students who come to those networks are supported throughout.


Proposed amendments to Rule 6
4. Paper: VP Activities

Corin went through the proposed rule change and the question below was asked:

Q: What is the point of a media society rep if the not representing the Union groups?

A: Corin explained that there is not much point and he was just matching what was done before. It is possible not to include that.

Q: How do you ensure that adding yet another layer of committee between student groups and the sabbatical officers won’t just add another layer of bureaucracy and limit representation? For example, the LGBT+  society may end up being represented by a cis gender  heterosexual person?

A: Corin explained that there is no LGBT+ society representative within the structure. It is more to do how groups in general work. The current structure is still fine and you get to talk to sabbaticals or society presidents directly. This is to make sure we have one person for opinions on societies’ affiliations and grant decisions to help represent their societies. For cultural representatives, for example, you cannot have one person representing every culture so this is more to do how a society runs.

Q. In the 2021/22 academic year, we could feasibly have a Network with its own committee, the Society with its own committee, a SUSU LGBT officer, and a Political and Social Change officer on the Student Groups committee. That's a lot of confusion for who represents LGBTQ+ students interests, and how they'd all run.   And additionally - if this is about how things are governed, will the new networks also be part of this as well as societies, or will their governance not be standardised and scrutinised?

A: Corin said that LGBT+ society committee and LGBT+ officer would be representing students. The network would be about meeting students. Political and social change officer will not be representing LGBT+ societies. They only support those kind of societies in terms of affiliation decisions and questions around certain rules.

Q: Is there any chance that student groups can be kept under the same name as student societies?

A: Corin explained that he is happy with that.

Q: You have detailed you wanted to be on the committee, but you have not provided details on committee itself such as the terms of references. They used to be by law governing the committee who alongside the new officers with be sitting in the committee. Who alongside the new officers will be sitting with the committee? What is the remit of the committee? Who does the committee report to?

A: Corin explained that the committee would be the current people who are represented as well as the Performing Arts Rep. It will be chaired by VP Activities. The remit is representing society’s interests. The main things they deal with is society’s affiliation and funding decisions but this is also someone to explain what kind of things these societies do.

Q: I think this is a cool idea but I am worried about voting until this is properly written. Can this be written first?

A: Fiona suggested that as next senate is not on for quite a while, if senators can approve this in principle and Corin can redraft it and then they will be a confirmation vote before we fully approve the work.

Proposed new ruling was approved in principle. 

Q: Are the rules in the website up-to date with the most recent changes?

A: Fiona said no but these are being updated. Avila explained that they are in the process of updating SUSU website and in some areas, rules may be outdated currently.

Q: If a rule is published in a website, is it not then an enforceable rule since it is published in writing?

A: Avila noted that they are on the website. Although they do their best that everything is updated, there is ongoing work on the rules. She emphasised that students can approach them if they have any questions about rules.

5. PGR Petition

Avila explained the current PGR petition on funding expansion. She said she has answers to the questions she received on what SUSU should be doing but before that, she invited the student who started the petition to speak and provide the senators with more information before voting at the end.

Bea said that PGR funding issue started at the beginning of pandemic and it is still ongoing. This is stressful and has made many wonder whether they will have the financial means to finish their PhDs. She explained that there has been lots of national and local achievement due to campaign efforts. She noted having the support of SUSU on the issues they are facing will be valuable and also raises PGR students’ confidence around SUSU’s commitments to represent their interests. She explained that they wanted to SUSU to support PGRs studying during the pandemic to access 6-month funding expansion with further expansion available based on the need. This is in line with UKRI research, confirming that on average PGRs need about 5.5 months of extension to be able to finish their courses. However, they are only offering 3 months’ maximum extension on case by case basis. There are many reasons for this including students not being able to access the resources during the pandemic. She explained the process as stressful and difficult and usually inadequate in terms of funding extension. She noted that they want SUSU to support that UKRI extends the funding and also for the government to make more funding available. Finally, she said that they wanted SUSU to work collaboratively with UCU to campaign for fair treatment of PGRs during the pandemic and also in terms of wider issues they are affected by and to support UCU national campaign to support PGRs as workers. She mentioned the pandemic has exposed many existing problems in terms of how PGRs are treated and this will resolve by having their status as workers. This is not to say they will not have any student involvement or Union membership, but PhDs will be different from a traditional student status closer to apprenticeship with both work and educational component.

In terms of updates, she explained that phase 2 is just finishing and phase 3 is starting. It does resolve some of the original problems. They are now saying that repeat applications may be allowed, but this is only in exceptional circumstances. She noted that they want to make sure that this is available to anyone who needs it in practice. In addition, there is vagueness around what they mean by special circumstances. She mentioned there is data on Doctoral College website about the number of students with successful applications, but she said that is questionable considering how low the figures are.

Avila explained that with response to the petition and updates, UKRI has confirmed that 3- months is the usually the maximum period for fund extension; however, students can be awarded higher depending on their circumstances and funding available. She said UKRI has now increased the amount of funding available, which means additional funding can be provided to PGRs. She noted that she has been working with other education officers and other Unions to write an open letter to VCs across all the universities which was sent on 14/05 and she is currently waiting for a response. The request in the letter was mainly additional funding and lobbying the government to increase the funding for UKRI. She mentioned that phase 2 coming to an end means that there is less pressure and restriction regarding securing the funding, hopefully making the process easier for all the students. She said phase 3 is starting on 01/07 and students will be able to apply then for the next round. She mentioned that she does understand additional reassurance is required and this will be passed on to Doctoral College and the centres for doctoral teaching, who have control of extension schemes themselves. She also said that they have been lobbying for allowing students to apply more than once and as UKRI has said, that is something they are looking into. Avila explained that the final point in the petition to recognise PhD students as staff is something that SUSU cannot get behind due to being a Student Union and also, not every PGR goes to a teaching assistant role. Therefore, this would leave many students under-represented. She mentioned that regardless of this, SUSU has been working with Doctoral College and PGR officers to improve PGR students’ working condition.

Bea explained that the point related to requesting for PGR students to be seen as staff is not related to PGR who do some sort of paid work only, but it is about the actual status of PGRs being seen more like an apprenticeship (an apprentice, for example, is recognised both as a student and part of Student Union as well as being entitled to certain rights due to the nature of relationship at employment capacity). She explained that such status would be much more accurate due to the nature of what they do as PGRs and producing research. She also mentioned as staff, they would have been entitled to furlough scheme which means that they would have been paid during the pandemic.

A comment was made on the possibility of re-applying if a request was rejected during phase 2 or phase 3. The fact that they have said this is only for exceptional cases is worrying as there is no definition for “exceptional cases”. This also implies that the bar is going to be very high, and many students would not meet this requirement.

 A comment was also made on the extension of funding currently available for maximum of 3 months. Therefore, the success rate or number of applicants on the website is not accurate and does not reflect the reality. They emphasised that independent surveys have shown that PGRs need minimum of 5 months. There is frustration and that when they talked to the workers Union, they have been referred to SUSU to ask for help as they are not considered as University Staff.

Fiona recapped the points in chat box and said that although the stats said that 64 people have applied, independent surveys have shown that a lot more PhD students have said they are applying.

Avila said that all the concerns are being heard and there are things that is being passed on to Doctoral College to investigate. She also thanked all the students for joining the meeting and sharing their ideas.

A question was asked about PhD stipend council tax status in the chat box and Fiona explained that stipend is tax-free because of the way it is funded and it is below minimum wage. Fiona also explained as long as someone still has a student status (other than staff), they will still pay no tax.

Fiona explained regardless of outcome of the petition, SUSU will continue to support PGRs.

A comment was made that some other countries have given PGR students staff status and through that they get benefits like sick leave or maternity leave.

Fiona suggested that voting is divided into two parts: one for PGRs as staff and one for more general support and asked Bea (the petitioner) if she is happy with that.

Bea said that she preferred that they stay together as all the clauses are linked. However, if splitting makes it clearer, she is happy with that.

Senators and sabs voted on two separate issues: one about PGRs’ staff status and one for 6 months funding extension.

6 month funding extension:

8 approve

0 abstain

0 deny

PGRs’ staff status:

5 approve

2 abstain

1 reject 


Both were considered approved. 

6. AOB

Q: Considering that all sabbs and senators are changing soon, how do you ensure that the process of updating rules and updating the website goes smoothly?

A: Avila explained that at the end of every academic year, each sabb produces a handover which will be passed to the new sabb. This clarifies what has been done so far and what needs to be done in the future.

Key: P (Papers Provided), PF (Papers to Follow)