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EUSA Elections 2022 News

Interview with EUSA VP Education candidate, Sam MacCallum

Why are you running for Vice President Education?

I’ve chosen to run because interacting with EUSA as a programme and school level rep has been one of the best parts of my UoE experience. That said, many students aren’t aware of EUSA, so I want to increase awareness about what they do within the wider student community.

I’ve been attending Student Council and school rep forums, as well as senate meetings as a student member. I think I can bring these experiences and my understanding of the work that our current VP Education has been doing to make real changes to UoE education. I want to build on what has already been achieved – particularly, with Curriculum Transformation and the reform of the existing Personal Tutor system, this is a really exciting year for the next VP Education, and I want to use this platform to ensure all students have a say in their UoE learning experience.

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What is the most ambitious point on your manifesto and how do you plan to deliver on it?

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I think that establishing accessibility and inclusivity into the curriculum is the most ambitious point of my manifesto. Particularly, decolonisation and fighting systemic oppression is a challenge when faced with the UoE devolved power structure, which is intrenched in western biases, even at a course delivery level.

Tackling this issue will be a challenge, and not one I would approach alone; I want to work alongside our next Liberation Officers and the other VP’s to advocate for social change on our campuses. In terms of curriculum changes, I see myself working closely with the Curriculum Transformation Programme, and using the VP Education platform to create a dialogue with students and staff to reform the existing pedagogy.

How will you ensure accessibility of teaching moving forward, especially with continued effects of Covid-19? What do you think about how teaching should be delivered? 

More needs to be done to ensure accessible measures are upheld at a school and course level. Despite many students preferring in-person teaching, we need to listen to our disabled students and those with work or care commitments. They have a right to be supported in their learning too.

Although the UK is leaving pandemic restrictions, covid is not over, and it would be careless for the uni to implement policies as though it is entirely behind us. The pandemic has been traumatic and has shaped our lives – we don’t know the ramifications of this collective trauma; we don’t know how many students will have covid next year; attempting to return to how things were before 2020 would be an oversight.

As a disabled student myself, I know that online teaching has helped me by providing some much-needed flexibility while I work part time. That said, my preference would be for in-person teaching; we are social animals, we need to be around people. I felt very isolated in my first month here, particularly as a PG student moving to the city for the first time.

That said, a total return to campus should not be pushed for without due consideration of all of our students. We should work to ensure admin and student support are ready for the transition, and create appropriate and manageable class sizes. Any students struggling with their learning should be encouraged to seek help and speak out if their needs are not being met.

In your manifesto, you say that the university needs to do more to support all stuents through their studies, but particularly International Students, Disabled Students, and those from Widening Participation backgrounds. What specifically are you planning to do in this area?

UoE needs to do more to signpost student support services during teaching sessions, particularly during Welcome Week for new students. Firstly, many students who would benefit from support from the Disability Service do not approach them for help as they don’t identify as disabled – we need to work collectively as a community to address this, particularly educating and encouraging students with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety to engage with this support, which is available to them.

Our current VP Welfare Aisha has made great progress with establishing a Widening Participation (WP) Steering Group, and I would engage with this group in my capacity as VP Education to include them during Curriculum Transformation to establish more academic opportunities. For example, many WP students are unable to take unpaid internships if they need to support their families. I would try to engage with staff to address these barriers WP students face in their education.

Adding on to that, UoE’s Tackling Elitism group has had their first event just last Thursday, inviting a panel of WP individuals to speak at St. Cecilia’s Hall. This was a great step to establishing a supportive space for WP students to come together and share their experiences, and I would support more Tackling Elitism events and collaboration in my capacity as VP Education.

Our International Students need to have clearer communication of UoE’s academic processes and the grading system. Several International Students approached me as a School rep, worried about failing their degree – they didn’t feel comfortable approaching course staff or their personal tutors. Welfare and education go hand in hand, and we should create more opportunities for International Students to engage with EUSA and the Advice Place.

We need to share information about UoE’s management and processes openly, particularly with International Students, so that they start their studies on equal footing with their Scottish and RoUK peers. Curriculum Transformation is an opportunity to challenge western biases that are entrenched in our course delivery, and include International Students in the creation of a curriculum that appropriately reflects the range of backgrounds within our student body.

What is your opinion on the UCU strikes in relation to the impact they are having on students’ education?

I openly support UCU action. I understand many students find industrial action disruptive to their learning – as a PG student, this will be the fifth year of strike action I have encountered. It is hard to navigate the confusion of not knowing what topics will be missed, whether missed subject areas will still be examinable, or how to direct your learning without teaching sessions.

That said, the strikes themselves are not the problem, and the people striking have students’ best interests. I want to work with UCU reps and the Student Staff Solidarity Network to educate students on why strikes are a necessary response to poor working conditions, so that the student body can direct their anger on missing out on teaching towards UoE’s upper management, in a way that supports our wider UoE community and creates lasting change.

PG students with teaching contracts are often excluded from discussions about strike action – I would argue that working for an institution which fails to provide working contracts, or provide pay for hours worked, is a significantly larger barrier to student education. I would encourage any UoE students and staff to learn more about the ongoing situation and reach out to UCU members for more information.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’d like to encourage any student to vote in the elections, and use their voice to shape our university. Regardless of the candidates you choose, I would also love to see more engagement with EUSA and our student representatives.

You can learn more about EUSA, and my manifesto, at linktr.ee/samaccallum, and follow my campaign for VP Education @sam4vpE on Instagram.

You can read Sam’s full manifesto here.

Voting in the Student Elections is open 7th – 10th March.

Image courtesy of Sam MacCallum.

By Eliška Suchochlebová

Writer, News Editor, Inclusivity Officer