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“Absolutely no budge” on no detriment policy from Russell Group, says VP Welfare

As her term in office nears its end, Vice President Welfare of Edinburgh University Students’ Association Niamh McCrossan said the University of Edinburgh is unlikely to U-turn and implement a ‘no detriment’ policy. 

In an exclusive interview with The Student, she said: “This is something that we have pushed hard on, we are continuing to push hard on, and there is absolutely no budge. The biggest barrier was because of the Russell Group formation.” 

“They gave as much as I feel like they were going to give.

“That doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped pushing.

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“It also was dramatically helped by Ellen’s formation of the Sabbatical group from the Russell Group.

“That really gave a lot of push and was a more effective and efficient way to get all of this done. 

“I’m not going to say happy, but we were satisfied with some of the provisions that were awarded.

“It’s so hard for students this year and I don’t think current policy fully reflects that, but I hope that students are able to take advantage of the policy and truly showcase what they would have got.” 

Despite the resistance on ‘no detriment’, progress was made with the University on areas such as extensions and Special Circumstances procedure which “has massively improved,” according to McCrossan. 

She said: “Before I was a joint-honours and I had two different processes which was quite confusing, and there were different leniencies as well.  

“I’m really glad that it’s become centralised and they have finally recognised job commitments as grounds for extensions. 

“We’re also working really hard to get blanket extensions.

“At the minute we have secured it but it’s being administered manually, so we hope to move to an automated system soon.” 

McCrossan also states that progress has been made with the University Counselling Service, where she has “made great headway with getting five counsellors hired.”  

She said: “Three of them are BAME and two had to be BAME which is really positive. 

“It’s one of the first times that a university counselling service has ever done that which is really exciting. 

“There’s a recruitment freeze on at the university and the legal department didn’t want to practice positive discrimination.  

“And then if you do commit to hiring BAME roles, will BAME applicants apply?

“Scotland isn’t exactly the most diverse place. 

“Senior members of the university get a relocation package as part of their hiring process but grade 7 and below don’t, and counselling posts are grade 7.

“We were able to secure it, so it sets a really positive precedent.” 

McCrossan also pointed to her accomplishments in the work of the Students’ Association, such as her activism against gender-based violence. 

“As a bittersweet there was an increase of reports of people coming forward who had experienced sexual and gender-based violence which obviously is something tough to deal with, but it’s more important that people have come forward and reached out for support.” 

She added: “One of my main manifesto points was to create consent classes. 

“I reflected a lot through Black Lives Matter and through learning more about this role and the nuances within other protected groups that I should not prioritise sexual and gender-based violence over the education of any other things. 

“So I decided on a more inclusive training model. 

“We’re expanding the existing bystander training to encompass a lot more people.  

“Last year it was 800 people. This year it was 1,200 people. 

“We’re hoping to expand it to 1,500 people and also open up sessions to any student. 

“We are about to recruit a PhD intern to fully develop all the resources that we’ve made into a Learn course. 

“We’re hoping the Learn course will be ready by September 2021. 

“We created a really strong trans and non-binary resource and this was picked up by some non-University people on Twitter who are very trans-exclusionary.

“But I’m very proud that it is still up, and the university did not take it down.” 

McCrossan believes her legacy includes expanding the role of VP Welfare to include financial wellbeing. 

She said: “I think that coming into this year financial wellbeing wasn’t really ever recognised in the role of VP Welfare. 

“Looking at all the manifestos of incoming candidates, a lot of them mentioned financial wellbeing, so I feel really happy that I seem to have made a difference. 

“The amount of financial hardship [support] that has been available this year has catastrophically gone up so I’m really happy about that.” 

McCrossan felt she had no regrets from her time in office, but there were moments she learned from. 

“Should we have stood our ground when they were building the Bristo shed? 

“It’s really hard to know what will turn into something else.  

“It’s hard to get the balance of shouting at the university early on because you want to build that rapport in order to get things done later on. 

“I could have spoke up a bit more, but if I did would I have broken down relationships? I don’t know.” 

According to McCrossan, “The university has attempted but hasn’t done enough for student welfare. 

“We were sat in meetings around quarantining, meal packages, all of these provisions, really pushing for a compassionate approach, really pushing for wellbeing and welfare to be at the forefront, and unfortunately that didn’t happen until bad press was created, until we wrote our open letters, things like that. 

“Things got addressed but I don’t think it was addressed fast enough.” 

The Students’ Association “has done as much as they can,” she added. 

“It’s hard to support an institution with 44,000 students especially when they are all over the world. 

“I wouldn’t stand back and say there is something that we should have done.

“Given the restraints I feel like the Students Association has offered a really strong level of welfare support.” 

Image: via eusa.ed.ac.uk