Imaani Mitchell, President of the Students’ Union
As President of the Students’ Union at the University of Gloucestershire I sit on our University Council and the Remuneration and Human Resources Committee. While the former is common within the sector (possibly universal?) my understanding is it is still quite unusual to have a student representative on the remuneration committee. I hope these insights about what it is like to be a student member of these committees will encourage others to take the same steps as Gloucestershire.
A great experience
Being a student member of our University Council has been a great experience, The Education Officer joins me on this, so it was not as daunting as I was expecting. During my officer induction week my predecessor took me to my first meeting and that really helped as they explained different themes to me and gave me some background so that I could understand more. Also, we were given a specific Council induction where the structure of Council was explained along with some context of what the different committees do and how it all fits together. Overall, my experience of being a Council member has been extremely positive.
Understanding the big picture
Being a student member of the Remuneration and Human Resources Committee has allowed me to understand the University on a wider scale.
It did feel a little intimidating at first with the pressure of receiving such confidential information, especially as a newly elected student representative. However, the committee are extremely supportive in making me feel a part of the group and ensuring my opinion is heard for all topics of discussion.
Being involved in these types of discussion have not only allowed me to understand the inner workings of the University more in depth, but it has given me a whole breadth of knowledge that will allow me to flourish in the working world. Having studied Accounting and Finance, I already had some experience with financial data and a basic understanding of some of the topics discussed at the meetings, but being able to see this data in a real life scenario and being able to apply what I have learnt in a new context was a very useful opportunity.
Ways to improve the experience
As amazing as the experience has been, there are a few improvements I would suggest to ensure the process is as smooth as possible for a new student member.
The first would be maybe having a short induction specifically for the committee, breaking down exactly what its purpose is and going over the types of things that would be discussed, this could help reduce some of the anxiety student members may have joining such an important committee dealing with confidential information.
The second would be taking care to explain things to the student member; as much as I had a basic understanding from my degree there were still certain things I had no idea about. I think student members would rather things potentially be over explained, especially when it comes to decisions being made over email or in scenarios where it isn’t as easy to ask questions properly. This maybe a useful way of linking in the Council mentor (luckily my mentor also sat on RHRC) so that the student has one point of call for any queries.
Overall I think it is great that the University of Gloucestershire has a student member on the committee considering the remuneration of the university’s executive staff and it is a testament to the positive working relationship between the University and the Students’ Union and something I hope continues for years to come.
Matthew Andrews, University Secretary and Registrar
One of the best bits of my job is working with students, which is a shame as I don’t get to do it that often. All too frequently, my interactions with students are simply seeing them from my office window or in the queue beside me in the refectory.
Ensuring governance is accessible
There is one key area where my normal routine and working with students does intercept, which is governance. Not that all students necessarily see the same advantages I do: the word governance can cause both fear and bemusement in student representatives in equal measure. What is governance? Why do there need to be so many committees, with so many long papers, containing so many three-letter acronyms (or TLAs as I like to call them), and what in heaven’s name is a quorum?
Making governance accessible for student representatives is therefore crucial, because it can be a new and alien world to many sabbatical officers. Get it right, and the institution’s governing body will have unparalleled insights into the student experience and be able to tap a group of intelligent, articulate, and perceptive individuals with a real passion for the institution they represent.
Start with a clear induction
Getting things off to a good start is important. A clear induction process helps, which outlines governance structures, explains the roles of major committees, and de-codes some of the formal language of governance and the TLAs.
We also ensure every new Council Member at Gloucestershire, whether a student member or otherwise, has a mentor from the Council itself. This not only enables new students to learn the ropes more quickly, it also means they know at least one existing member a little better than they otherwise might.
Encourage student opinions
The foundation, however, must be ensuring students realise their voice is not simply valued, it is treasured. Where exec members can struggle to persuade members of a governing body, those same members are normally only too eager to hear from the students in the room. Student representatives don’t always realise that, so it’s one of the first points I ever make when inducting new students: never underestimate the power of your voice and the influence of your views.
Supporting students in this way means they can give a governing body the full benefit of their wisdom. Left unsupported, those valuable insights are lost. In my experience, student representatives are also keen to respond to this trust and act accordingly, even in sensitive areas where student representatives are not always admitted. The remuneration committee is one example where I have gained a very positive view of the way students can engage with the work of this sensitive area.
We are always learning, and Imaani has left some great ideas about how to offer even better support to her successors. I’m sure I will enjoy working with those successors as much as I have enjoyed working with Imaani and her predecessors.