Sabbs Blog – 07/04/20

Dear all,

As we get into – almost – two weeks of shelter-at-home, we hope everyone is keeping safe and well. We understand that most of our student community is now back to their homes and it is difficult to keep track of the daily changes at the University. Things have been moving at a fast pace and though they show no signs of slowing down we’re adjusting to the flurry of daily emails.

In the union, it has been a challenging time as well. As you may imagine, we’ve had to grapple with how to best represent you all during these circumstances, and for the most part that has meant focusing on current issues and pushing back plans for our ongoing campaigns. Good news is that we can now say that ‘teleworking’ and ‘videocall’ are now part of our everyday vocabulary, and we are taking advantage of the flexibility and accessibility that online work gives us. That is why we are thinking on how to best continue with our activities, especially looking ahead of our Student Council meetings and our Annual General Meeting.

We feel that since we moved our activity online we have managed to stay and increase our contact with students. We are really grateful for being in regular contact with you these days, as we are receiving frequent messages and exchanges of emails, and we are also ‘seeing’ you through our #QuarantineCommunity activities.

Because we are aware that not everyone follows our social media channels, we thought it would be nice to write a blog about the situation and what are the main issues that we have been raising to University regarding students’ experience and the changes that you are all facing. We hope that you find this short update useful and we are available for you on our FB accounts and emails, in the case you want to raise any concerns to us.

Purnur, Clara and Jane


GSA Sabbatical Officers,

7th April 2020

Purnur’s Update:
What a hectic couple of weeks that was! When I left work on 13 March for a week due to a family emergency for around 8 working days, I had no idea what I would come back to (even if virtually). I still have difficulty in comprehending what has happened and how it happened so quickly.

Coming back to work was interesting and I felt like it was months rather than 8 days as things have shifted tremendously. Committee meetings were out (well, I could not say that I am sorry about this), but contingency meetings were in. Policies, assessments, lectures, dissertations as well as progressions, vivas, submissions… they all need to be changed and adapted into something none of us clear about. We weren’t ready for this and we needed to think in unconventional ways to make changes.

As for the contıngency groups,  I sit on three of those which are Academic Contingency, PGR Contingency and Financial Support Contingency Group with a frequency ranging from daily to bi-daily. The progress and changes in these meetings has been so fast that it has become too difficult to keep track with added difficulties of working from home. All the changes have an impact on you, so I become more vigilant and more into details than ever before and sometimes raise my voice too much to raise your concerns (sorry, not sorry). Even though I am confident that all concerns and problems you have mentioned have been conveyed, I could not always get what you want from those meetings. To mention a few, the things I urged the University include but not limited to PGR blanket extensions, waive of continuation fees, introduction of PGT safety net, waive of university accommodation fees and tuition fees as well as peculiar difficulties PGT and PGR students experience. Yes, sometimes they are not that obvious to some people (sighs)!

When I ran for this position, I thought that I could make a change given that I can present a sensible and well-put argument, turns out people only hear what they would like to hear and common sense is not common to all of us. That is being said, I am, we are, here, watching out for your rights and fighting for them, so please be gentle to us when we cannot deliver what you asked for. Please get in touch, we can have a coffee together even though it is a virtual one. We can vent together 🙂

Best wishes and stay safe,

Pürnur xx

Clara’s Update:
Being the Wellbeing and Community sabbatical officer during a global pandemic crisis has not been a joyful experience, or an expected one. On a personal level, I needed to do tons of introspection in order to be able to adjust to telework, maintain my routines and try to keep my spirit up. It was also kind of ironic, seeing how much effort we put into a wellbeing campaign and then witnessing how much I struggled to follow healthy routines in my everyday life.  Looking at my work at the union, I am happy to see how quickly we came up with the ‘Keep Home and Carry On’ Campaign in order to help our students to stay in touch with our community and to incorporate new and healthy routines at home. It has been a lot of hard work, in order to accommodate the needs of students with families, students with accessibility issues and different hobbies and interests, but I am glad that our #QuarantineCommunity grows as the days pass.

And this contradiction between my work and my personal life leads me to one reflection, which is: now more than ever, we cannot separate our personal lifes from our work conditions. The way this crisis has been dealt with by  governments and institutions has reflected that our productivity is being put above our wellbeing.

I have seen most of you questioning these days too: how are we supposed to continue working under such conditions? In the Student Issues-Welfare and Wellbeing Contingency Group I have been raising concerns such as: students struggling to pay their rents -both in university and private accommodation, how to best support students with families,  the conditions of essential staff working at the campus -such as cleaners and security-, clarification for students depending on their visas or better communications to students regarding their submissions and workloads. But, with the uncertainty of how long this situation will last for ahead, and knowing that these are the issues that everyone else is facing too, the only thing we can do is try to address them the most fair way that we can. Nevertheless, I would like to start raising the question more. How to keep with normality in exceptional circumstances? We can’t be forced to be productive, and we will refuse to be.


Jane’s Update:
I’ve been spending most of my time in meetings for the past few weeks. While this is exactly unusual for me the topics that we’ve been discussing have been. COVID-19 doesn’t make for normal agendas. At some of the first meetings that I was involved in, we signed off the risk-based progression for PGR students, and the cancellation of all first-year exams. Both of which are huge changes to the normal function of the University and something I had never imagined happening.

Recently we’ve been discussing some more difficult issues, such as those around the safety net and blanket extensions. Neither of them are easy questions for the University to answer and whilst I have some strong views, namely we should do both, they’re unlikely to happen for numerous reasons. I’m not going to claim to agree or understand half of the University’s reasoning, nor am I  going to stop asking for the things that I think best support students, but I am aware that there are other things that can be done to support you all. I hate having an outcome that I don’t agree with or that I feel doesn’t give students the most support. Being realistic in these situations is difficult, especially when everything feels pretty surreal at the moment, but I’m trying to find the balance between being firm on the important things and finding other solutions. It’s not always a case of saying something over and over until my throat is dry but it does sometimes feel more than a bit pointless. That’s not to say that petitions and letters and emails are useless. They back up every point we make, whether or not they’re acted on.

We would like to encourage you to follow and sign some of the petitions that students have been organising, if you feel comfortable to do so. Some of them are:

Open Letter to UKRI from UK PhD Student
Open letter to the VC and Dean of YGRS from York PhD Students
Petition from Taught Masters Students on the lack of a PGT Safety Net
Open Letter from International Taught Masters Students

7th April 2020