Union Senate (18th November 2021)


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Name of Committee Union Senate
Date and time 18th November 2021, 12:00
Present Members
Chair of Senate Georgios Ntoules
Senator Behrad Koohy
Senator Aiden Graham
Senator Harry Bull
Senator Salvador Quintana Montano
Senator Jad Dao
Senator Terence Wong
Union President Benjamin Dolbear
Vice President Activities Ella Foxhall
Vice President Education and Democracy Lottie James
Vice President Sports Matthew Smith
Vice President Welfare and Community Savanna Cutts
Senator Ethan Chiu
Senator Qiuxia Tan
Absent with Apologies Senator Thomas Andresen
Senator Alice Harbor-Collins
Senator Sabiqa Umer
Absent without Apologies Senator Hussein Al Hashimi
Senator Alamea John
Senator Kayla-Rey O'Neil
Senator Rahul Anand
1. Welcome and Introductions

The Chair of Union Senate, Georgios Ntoules, introduced himself, and welcomed all those present for the first meeting of the academic year.

Georgios ran through the etiquette for the meeting.

2. Minutes of previous meeting

Georgios shared the link to the previous minutes (two meetings). 

Senators voted to approve the minutes. 

Minutes of previous meeting 20th May:

12 Approve

0 Deny

2 did not vote

Outcome: Approve

Minutes of previous meeting 25th June:

13 Approve

0 Deny

1 did not vote

Outcome: Approve

3. Conflict of Interest

Georgios asked if anyone else had any conflicts of interest they need to declare. None were declared.  

Papers and Reports
4. Sabbatical Plans


Ben summarised his plan, followed by his report and answered the following questions.

Q: What are the alternative plans are you proposing if the University is not will to cover the costs associated to next year’s super graduation?

Ben explained his plans for students’ investment paper that he will be taking to University Planning Resources Group next month.

In line with previous and current students suffering the consequences of pandemic, Ben has put together this paper. £250,000 graduation assistance fund will align with the University strategic widening access and participation and alumni relations priorities, and will be generous offer to those who feel the acute burden of covid19 pandemic. The assistance fund would be valued at 250k and would have applications open to low-income graduates which would probably cover the supplementary costs for photography for about 3000 low-income graduates.

The alumni subsidies scheme would build upon the benefits that are currently available to alumni from covid cohort specifically and would include things like free SUSU associate membership for 10 years after graduation, sports and wellbeing membership for £15 a month 10 years post-graduation, discounts up to 25% on lifelong learning courses, and also career support from the graduate team for 10 years post-graduation.

Access to Activities trust fund worth £500,000 would help to subsidize membership and supplementary cost associated with clubs and societies participation. It would be staff provision for facilitating access to activities, non-competitive sports, and events aimed at engaging international postgraduate students as well as helping me with facilitating reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities and health condition to participate in these activities. The students’ community’s investment would be worth £300,000 and would aim at supporting our academic societies and student representatives with particular focus on postgraduate students based on our satellite campuses. It would enhance safe, efficient and sustainable transport between our campuses and finally it would facilitate and promote SUSU-led curricular activities at all sites.

The final point will be asking for a £200,000 sustainability package to fund a core staff member to lead SUSU sustainability agenda for two years. It would subsidize sustainable transport for offsite clubs and societies activities. It would complete an ethics audit of improvement of our social enterprise supplier chains and finally it would help us develop a SUSU sustainability strategy that sits along the University’s one.

Ben highlighted that this money is not guaranteed but he will be lobbying the University. He will hear back on the 17th December about whether this bid has been successful.

Q: If the bid for the Home Office grant is successful, are you envisioning that all £24,000 will go over to the training programme or would it go through providing other means to make people feel safe at night?

Ben highlighted that this bid was unsuccessful, but is looking for other funding and this might be included in the students’ investment paper. Or it might be part of long-term negotiations with block grant funding. In terms of other things Ben is doing and hoping to expand, under the umbrella of our SUSU safe plan and things like student safety charter. Partnering with Solent to create a safe space in the city. Holding regular meetings with owners of night-time venues so bars and clubs in Portswood and the city. Also working alongside the police and crime commission office to engage students in a safety survey to understand the extent of this issue.  Secured funding from the University to have a safety bus which runs of every night of the week and also to Winchester, which is something funded by the Students’ Union. Implemented “Ask for Angela” policy across all of our outlets. Encouraged students to use “expect respect” tool online to report harassment or bullying and have just secured, thanks to the work of VP Sports and collaboration with the University and Police, a large number of drinks covers for our venues and also personal safety alarms.

Q: Is the student safety coordinator is aimed to be a full-time paid position within SUSU?

Ben explained that with the bid being unsuccessful, he will probably review what we asked for from either the University or other stakeholders like the council. But the initial plan was the position would be a permanent contract that would be a core member of staff.

Q: How is the money for super graduation going to be spent? Can you provide more details on how the money is going to be distributed among the students? Is the cost of graduation going up? How would you ensure that the money we will end up paying for the graduation is actually reduced and not simply just cover larger expense?

Ben explained that he is happy to share the slide that he  just verbally reported on the student investment paper. If anyone has any specific questions on how the money is spent, if the funding is secured, Ben is happy to respond.

But Ben explained that if the cost of graduation does go up, the University will be funding that. The students will not be paying more because of a more expensive graduation and that will be a separate pot of money to the graduation assistance fund, which will help low-income graduates.

Q: You said that “So you said that I will completely and compassionately build strong working relationships with our four sabbatical officers and Chief Executive Officer”. Senators would like to know what steps have been taken and whether there is any feedback on how this is going?

Ben explained that he is holding active discussions with SUSUs Deputy Chief Exec but also the People Team on effective line management and how we can improvement line management of the sabbatical officers in the structure of the sabb team. That might in the future look like line management by the Deputy Chief Exec of all sabbatical officers just to support with HR related issues such as annual leave, Time off in lieu, sick leave, but also broader issues like mental health and neurodiversity. 

Ben holds regular one to ones with Sabbs where necessary, but also the chief exec who he meets more than once a week to discuss plans and work. 

Ben also noted he has been looking at diversity training in line with SUSUs new EDI strategy.  Ben has also started discussions about improving training for sabbatical officers next year to ensure that they feel prepared to engage from the very beginning.

Q: So regarding the Union's plan, it would be possible to see the participation rates on the poles made as well as how these questions were asked?

Ben will look into the rate of surveys.  There is some data included in the SUSU strategy that Ben will present shortly. And if that doesn't answer the question please reach out to Ben, he can distribute more data. 

Q: Will strut safe be implemented and how does it work?

Strut safe is a scheme which was first set up by the University of Edinburgh, which was a group of student volunteers who helped to set up a phone line which lone students late at night for coming back from nightclubs could call to request support walking them home, so they felt safer. Now it's been running in Edinburgh for a few years now and is particularly successful for making female students feel safe at night.

Ben explained that he felt SUSU has gone some way in mitigating the feelings of being unsafe among a few students by implementing the safety bus and all the other safety measures.  But is keen to secure funding for this strut safe scheme, which would be led by the dedicated core member of staff called the student safety coordinator. Ben is now looking at alternative funding sources for that, and is hopeful that along with the VP Welfare community, funding can be secured.

Q: Thanks so much for presentation. It was really interesting to hear how you're planning on spending that money.  I wasn't able to see the breakdown of where the money is going, but it is there really no alternative to offering SUSU associate membership? I'd really be interested to see what percentage of alumni right now are SUSU associate members? What percentage of alumni stay in Southampton and use sports and wellbeing facilities? £15 a month for gym sounds great until you realise that Pure Gym in Shirley is cheaper than that.  Does it not make more sense to use this money to increase Enabling Services? The number of staff that are there to reduce the wait times for mental health services and the university or even just to provide current students with more support for their societies, for their activities, etc.?

Ben explained that using the money to help fund Enabling Services, that was a discussion that had in SUSU, and the decision was taken really that this should Enabling Services, mental health, diverse counselling facilities, that kind of thing is something that the university should be doing in normal times and should be funding with the money that they have regardless of covid.

Ben is working with the VP Welfare Community to lobby the university quite strongly to make sure that any student who needs to access mental health support can and that there is proactive pre-emptive mental health and wellbeing support available to all students. The paper leaves that out because recognising the covid hardship is something separate and obviously mental health is closely related, and Ben explained he felt things like the access to activities, trust fund and student communities fund will benefit from things like gym mental health on campus.  

With regards to the alumni subsidy scheme, Ben will go away and review those. On the sport and wellbeing membership, Ben explained that it would be cheaper than it is for current students, and it will be a generous offer for students who didn't get that student experience and free SUSU associate membership, with around half if not more than half of students do stay in Southampton for the years after graduation. There is a significantly smaller number of students who take part in SUSU activities after graduation, but Ben felt like this would increase that number. 

Q: Would it be possible to get some sort of breakdown of the stats you've just mentioned? So, like how many people stay in Southampton, how many people you know still use SUSU and Sport and Wellbeing services once they've graduated?

Ben commented he was happy to provide those numbers which were given by the office for development and alumni relations who have the specific breakdown.

Q: The policy for room cleaning, could this be relaxed a little bit for room bookings, so it is possible for us to book rooms that we used to have last year because we're we currently have a room that's too small for us for training for our society? The society is Kung Fu.

Ella answered this question, and will look into this for the student. 

Q: With your plan Ben around the covid reimbursement. A lot of it was focused towards postgraduates and currently graduated students. What are you planning to do to help students who are still, say enrolled, that had to suffer through the whole covid pandemic?

The focus on students who recently graduated is to recognise the covid cohort who graduated during the pandemic and might not be students anymore, is based on Ben’s manifesto points.  However more than half of the funding, if approve, would be for both current and future students.

Half £1,000,000 for the access to activities trust fund which would help all current students and future students to engage in SUSU activity and to help achieve the target key performance measure in our strategy of reaching 75% of students engaging in co-curricular activity.

There is also the student communities investment which is £300,000 which will help all students undergrad, postgrad, international, domestic and it will have a legacy impact for the future because it will be long-term funding to support students at different campuses, to develops transport links, and also to improve facilities at halls of residence and the sustainability packages as well, will support current and future students to have a better experience in terms of tackling climate change and ensuring that our Student Union exists for a long time into the future.

Ben confirmed he will send figures and slides directly to senators. 

Senators were asked to vote to approve Ben's plan. 

Union President Plan

9 Approve

5 Abstain

0 Deny

Outcome: Approved


Lottie summarised her plan, followed by her report and answered the following questions.

Q: Is work still underway in providing PATs with integrity training and continuing on from last year's efforts to make better provisions with regards to student’s mental health?

Lottie explained she is pushing for training for personal academic tutors (PATs) to receive mental health first aid training.

Lottie has also met with the Centre of Higher Education Practice to discuss current training. PATs are not paid for the role, they don't have a choice and there's no job description, so obviously there are different sort of standards to different students. Which is not fair.

Lottie has been working with Ryan Bingham, about personal academic tutors, to create a standardised job description and put PATs through the mental health, first aid training, and anything else they need to be able to be able to support students.

Lottie is also working with the marketing department in SUSU to raise awareness about personal academic tutors because they can be very beneficial, and a lot of students are seeing that. Also meeting with university staff to discuss current communications in place and what they cover. 

Q: What work is being done support for online learning?

Lottie commented that unfortunately, online learning is still going to be a thing whether people like it or not.

Lottie wants to make sure that accessibility is at the forefront. Blackboard have released the accessibility ally, which is available on Blackboard now, which supports students with learning difficulties to gain access to order online education without struggling or needing to download unreadable PDFs. Lottie is also keen for access to online resources made readily available and accessible by lecturers so students can access their course content up front, and they can plan and organise.  

Also asking the university to create access guides to using online learning. So, using Blackboard, using SUSSED or using all the million software websites; just to make sure that students are confident and comfortable using it. The last thing we want is a student in November trying to submit that assignment in Turnitin or Blackboard and they can't do it.

Lottie also explained that she met with the Vice President of Education, at the university to discuss transitioning and digital capability as we move into a digital society. Also suggested student led workshops to improve digital capabilities among staff with academic reps or volunteers, whoever it may be, acting as digital leaders.

This is something that is not concrete yet. While there has been discussions, it's something that needs writing up.  Lottie also attends the university’s digital learning group to identify the university's current position at where they are, and try and push them a little bit.

Lottie also commented that she really wants to encourage schools and departments to justify their assessment formats because some students haven't experienced in person exams in the last two years, and it's not fair that they're thrown in. Online learning has its benefits. Online assessment has its benefits.

Lottie explained that she wants to make sure that all schools and departments think about why they are putting an exam in person. They have to explain it to the students. It has to be something that enhances the learning, if it's not for a good reason they shouldn't be doing it. Students shouldn't be forced into a hall for two hours to do an exam when their anxieties are higher, and they haven't experienced it in a while for no reason. And that is something that was confirmed would be happening and also lectures to continue being recorded for accessibility purposes and clinically extremely vulnerable students. Other students that are worried about coming in because of COVID. Lottie really wants to encourage all lectures to continue to record.

Senators were asked to vote to approve Lottie's plan. 

VP Education & Democracy 

12 Approve

1 Abstain

0 Deny

1 Did not vote

Outcome: Approved


Ella summarised her plan, followed by her report and answered the following questions.

Q: During fresher's week, there were a large number of steps that students had to follow along the route. There were less people on Wednesday and most of the people were asking how do I get out? They were in the queue for a long time. So, the societies which were placed at the beginning of the circuit were in a better position. I don't know if the numbers will reflect this, will anything be done to tackle this?

Ella agreed this was a very good point. Planning for next years freshers will happen early next year and Ella assured that she would make sure this point was raised with regard to the route that people took.

Senators were asked to vote to approve Ella's plan. 

VP Activities 

12 Approve

2 Abstain

0 Deny

Outcome: Approved


Savanna summarised her plan, followed by her report and did not receive any questions.

Senators were asked to vote to approve Savanna's plan. 

VP Welfare and Community

11 Approve

3 Abstain

0 Deny

Outcome: Approved


Matt summarised his plan, followed by his report and answered the following questions.

Q: The grant mentioned, is that being used for the £200 in funding? As well as the free memberships?

Matt confirmed that yes, it is for the £200 that you can get, but also Matt confimed he will lobby the university to provide a free membership alongside the £3k.

Senators were asked to vote to approve Matt's plan. 

VP Sports

12 Approve

2 Abstain

0 Deny

Outcome: Approved

5. Sabbatical Reports

Covered under agenda item 4.

6. SUSU Strategy Update

Georgios and Ben discussed the time left in the meeting and concluded there was not enough time to discuss the strategy paper. As it did not need to be voted on it would be discussed at the next meeting. Georgios encouraged any senators to contact Ben directly if they had any further questions.

7. AOB


Meeting Close

Georgios apologised for the tight timing towards the end of the meeting and a few technical difficulties but thank everyone for attending and inputting into the meeting.

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