Jane Baston – VP Academic – End of Year Blog

Write a blog covering everything you’ve done in two years, they said. You’ve been here for two years, there must be loads to talk about. However when I think back over the last two years most of it blurs into one long line of meetings, email and lots of papers to read. That’s probably what happens when you lead any organisation through a global historic event. This starting ramble is more to say that I don’t have a list of everything that I’ve done over my two years as VP Academic at the GSA. I want to focus more on the changes that we’ve made rather than the big wins. Change can come in both forms and I think, and I hope you do too, that I’ve managed to achieve quite a bit.

As the lead for our Academic Representatives the biggest achievement that I’m proud of is how we’ve expanded this system. I wrote the by-law that sets out the different types of Academic Reps that we have including the Reps for the York Online Courses. We’ve also been improving our elections process, increasing the number of people running for roles and developing our relationships with departments. This year, with the help of our Student Voice Assistants we’ve also expanded the training that we run for Reps so they feel more confident in their roles. Ensuring that our Academic Representatives are able to do their roles is vital to ensure that our members’ voices are heard throughout the University.

Academic Reps aren’t the only area where I’ve been pleased to push forward better systems of representation. As a team we’ve moved our Association Council from having nine Part-Time Officers to 21 roles that are well-defined and represent a wide range of our postgraduate population. We’ve also seen a huge number of policy motions submitted this year, which makes my policy loving heart so happy! Council is so important to ensure that the voice of our members influences what the GSA is doing throughout the year, not just at the elections. The introduction of our by-laws last summer also set out a large view on how decisions are made at the GSA. Introducing these has meant that it’s easy and understandable for members to make sure that the GSA is working on the things that matter to postgraduates at York. I’m really excited to see how this type of engagement develops over the next few years, and so proud to have overseen the start of it.

It might seem expected but my two-terms as VP Academic will always be defined by the pandemic. Defending our members’ interests and fighting for their voices throughout the pandemic was one of the key factors why I stood for a second term. The work I’ve been involved in throughout the last 18 months is too messy and complex to write it all down. I’ve read policy changes late into the evening, trawled through sector changes to see who was having some good ideas that we could implement at York, and wrestled with difficult questions that I still don’t really have an answer to. I’ve responded to hundreds of emails, comments, and messages from postgrads and I hope I’ve made sure that as many of you as possible feel that your voices have been listened to. The pandemic has meant that a lot of the work that I wanted to do in my first year got shoved onto the back-burner while we figured out how to keep the GSA, and the University going online. It did give us loads of new opportunities though. The switch to online events that can now include all of our online students, and online faculty forums that make it easier to get as many Academic Reps in a room as possible

I’m also really proud of the pushes that I’ve made at the University to move forward some long standing projects. We’ve now got some guidelines for departments on the information that they should be providing to students about their assessment. The Supervision working group has a good basis to move forward from with PGT supervision acknowledged as a unique area of work. We’ve made strong progress on updating the Student Voice policy. I’ve been a loud voice in the University Strategy discussion and now starting to see part of it being implemented at the University is an exciting step forward. I know that a lot of these changes will start to impact our members and I hope that my voice in the room has meant that this impact is positive and improves a lot of the problems areas that our members deal with every year.

Most of this work isn’t things that I’ve done by myself. I might have pushed some of it forward, sent the slightly pestering emails and kept talking about it in meetings but none of this would have been possible without having a group of people around me that helped me to get there. The GSA staff team, past and present, have been invaluable in their support and guidance. It may seem a little odd to mention University colleagues but the work I’ve done would not have been possible without them. Their encouragement for projects that I wanted to run, and their trust that my criticism is based on evidence and concern from our members has been a vital part of my role. I’ve been part of the same Officer team for two years now and working alongside and learning from Purnur and Clara has been an absolute privilege so I have to thank them for becoming my friends under the most challenging of circumstances.

And very finally, thank you to all of you. Our members who first elected me back in 2019 through to those who are here at York now. You put your faith and trust in me to represent your voices for two years, to fight for you throughout a pandemic and to push for change to improve life for postgraduates at York. I hope I’ve lived up to that trust and done you proud. I’ve certainly made myself proud. So long, and thank you!

24th August 2021