The culture at Lincoln Students’ Union needs to change, it shouldn’t look at commercial ventures for funding, and the close relationship between the union and the University of Lincoln will make its future difficult.
This is all according to Kayleigh Turner, Lincoln SU’s out-going and outspoken vice-president for education and academic affairs. As the SU handover week sees the next executive team start, The Linc speaks to Turner about her two years as a full-time officer.
“It’s [SU] very cliquey and sometimes quite hard to feel involved in the SU ‘bubble’. I came in as an officer having had little to no involvement in the SU…everyone else seemed to know and understand the workings of the SU and the relationships,” Turner says.
She was first elected in 2008, before being re-elected in 2009: “The two teams were incredibly different from each other, and neither better or worse to work in. My first year was difficult as we lacked a strong leader and sometimes it was every officer for themselves rather than working as a team.
“My second year was equally difficult as sometimes I felt a lack of support for the projects that I felt were important based on the feedback I received. Also, as a second year the experience and knowledge you gained over your first year in office isn’t always appreciated and I found that particularly difficult.”
Feedback from student reps showed her they wanted a bigger say in course quality and design, and faculty reps wanted more research engaged teaching – but there was little support for Turner within the union as “it wasn’t a strategic priority”.
Turner says: “In years to come, with money in universities…becoming tighter, quality is going to be a huge deal and [if] Lincoln gets in early with new, innovative methods of teaching and learning, it could have a huge impact on the experience that our students have.”
Her high points were the SU’s efforts in the library becoming 24 hour for busy periods in term, and the student reps system they have introduced.
As for her low points: “[They were] the times when I felt like no matter how hard I tried, the things I wanted to do were never going to work. Making changes and having an impact…is difficult, especially if it needs a culture shift and support from the students or the university that you don’t have.”
The future may bring problems for the new team with the government’s scissors poised to cut university funding. The university will have to be thrifty, which could test the union and university’s relationship.
“There will be times when the SU needs to stand up for students against the university, which is something that they haven’t particularly had to deal with in the years that I have been involved, and that might be difficult given the close relationship there is currently,” Turner says.
“The university has always been very supportive of the union and vice versa, so it would be very interesting to see what happened.”
The university’s estates strategy may cause clashes, she thinks, with differences between what students and the university want from buildings “particularly with regards to commercial spaces on campus”.
It may be difficult for the SU to take a strong stance against the university – chomping on the hand that feeds may leave you hungry. What are funding alternatives for the SU? “I think the funding question is a really tough one to answer. All SUs are in some way funded by the university or college they are attached to, it’s just the way things go.
“In the climate, having your own commercial services can either be a real financial bonus, or a financial drain. Five years ago when I first came to Lincoln, the SU owned the Delph [the old SU bar before the Engine Shed], but the time and money the Delph took meant the union didn’t have as much time to focus on education and welfare – things that I really think should be the core of what the SU does.”
She believes sponsorship may be viable, but that commercial ventures are a bad idea.
For now, Turner has re-located to London and is City University’s latest postgraduate courses officer, a post she “absolutely loves”.
“My calling is definitely the education sector, and working for ‘the other side’ I can now appreciate the hard work that goes into making each course run smoothly for students through the year. In January I start my PGCE at St Mary’s University College and will hopefully, fingers crossed, be qualified as a maths teacher in 2012.”Tweet