VP Academic’s End of Year Blog

I’m not the type of person who likes to look too far into my own future, something to do with not wanting to predict things and give myself too many expectations. When I started my role as VP Academic I did have some ideas about what the next year would look like. I had a couple of things on a list that I wanted to achieve and I knew that there would be a lot of unexpected moments. I wasn’t expecting those moments to stretch into months.

I don’t want to sit here and talk about the pandemic for 500 words because that’s boring! I think we’ve all heard enough about it but I’m a little at a loss of what else to talk about. In November when UCU announced the dates for Industrial Action I thought that would be the most challenging time to navigate through. Ensuring the students still received their teaching whilst also supporting the strike to show our support for casualised Postgrads was difficult to balance. The second round of action was a little easier to manage and I expected all of the difficult decision making to be over.

Then at the end of January we were notified of the first Covid-19 cases in the UK, and the University spent a weekend managing the press. I didn’t exactly think that was the end of it but then I didn’t really know what to expect. Over the next few months I was involved in one of the most radical changes in University function that we’ve ever seen. All teaching moved online, there were no students on campus, exams were done via the VLE, and so many of the carefully created research plans had to be torn up and re-designed. It was a phenomenal task. All praise should go to the staff who perform the work and to the students for adjusting so well.

Six months later, I regularly have moments where I have to stop to marvel at the scale of the changes. I think part of that is because I didn’t have time to process the pandemic at the beginning. Now I look back to remember the huge amount of work that went into ensuring that the University kept functioning. If I’m being honest I don’t have any memory of the last weeks of March and beginning of April. The student experience was being fundamentally changed almost overnight, and I had a responsibility to make sure that students were being kept at the centre of it.

The point of this is to say that the one big achievement I want to point to for this year is making it to the end of it. I’ve been through days of back-to-back meetings, reading huge papers full of important changes, managing student questions, overloaded inboxes, and four hour trustee meetings. I’ve survived it and I’d like to think that I’ve learnt a little from it too, but the most important thing is that we all made it through an incredibly challenging six months. That goes for every single student as well! It’s been such a difficult year and you’ve all been extraordinary, from sending us emails about things that have been going wrong, responding to facebook posts, writing open letters and attending online events. I’m not trying to be patronising but making it through this year is a monumental achievement. Remember that and be proud of it.

The past six months, and the constant change wrought, has dominated my first term as VP Academic. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been able to do some things that aren’t pandemic related though.

We elected, trained and supported over 180 Course Reps and 3 Faculty Reps. We ran termly Faculty Forums for Reps that were well attended and enabled us to develop them for the next year. I’ve developed, and am close to implementing, an academic representation for our online Masters programmes with our Representation and Democracy Coordinator. We’ve also developed our Academic Representation by-law that isn’t finished yet but should be going to an Autumn Council Meeting.

I’ve been working on a number of policies for our Council. They haven’t been finished yet but I’m hoping that they can go to the first meeting of the Autumn term.

We’ve created stronger relationships with the York UCU branch. By supporting the strikes and attending pickets we showed our support for casualised staff and the four fights. I didn’t manage to grow the GTA Network but it’s a top priority for next year. The University committed to putting GTAs on contracts and I’m going to be holding them to this promise over the next year. Alongside YUSU, I hosted an open forum for students to ask UCU and the University questions on the Industrial Action.

I’ve been part of the development of the very first joint-Masters degree between York and Maastricht. As part of the University Teaching Committee, we endorsed the Library’s proposal for digital textbooks, supporting training for all teaching staff regarding Autism, and  I’ve been involved in the approval of a number of new programmes, and raised questions around student workload, consistency of experience and learning outcomes before these programmes were approved.

I’ve built strong relationships with key members of senior management, including the Associate PVC for Teaching, Learning and Students, the Dean of YGRS and the Associate Deans for Teaching, Learning and Students. I’ve been involved in a number of projects with the University ensuring that the student voice was heard, including the Student App project, the Student Engagement project and the Degree Apprenticeship project.

I was part of the panel for the periodic review of the Centre for Women’s Studies, a key part of ensuring that academic provision is kept to a high quality. I was supposed to be part of two more panels but those were cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic! I’ve been involved in the recruitment of a new Pro-Vice Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Students and the new Dean for Arts and Humanities. We’ve also welcomed two new Pro-Vice Chancellors and the new Dean of YGRS, and started to build strong relationships with them.

I’ve made weekly updates since March and regularly engaged with students via social media to keep them informed of my work and to gain insight into the challenges they’ve been facing. I’ve worked within the GSA to develop more transparency in our operations. We’ve recruited three new staff members, and are going to be expanding our team even more next year with the introduction of Student Voice Assistants.

I refuse to count how many calendar invites I’ve received over this year but I attended and participated in well over 200 meetings and committees. I’ve eaten more Cucina biscuits than I’d want to count and I’ve drunk more cups of tea than I probably should have.

It’s been the most unexpected year. I think I’ve forgotten to mention some of the important policy changes and conversations that have taken place this year and there’s still so much that I want to do. I’ve learned a lot about how to do this role and I’m so excited to be able to continue doing it for another year. Thank you to everyone who’s emailed, messaged, responded to facebook posts, retweeted, and come along to events.

2nd September 2020