Why are you running for Vice President Education?
With Covid I have had a hard time focusing on my studies and enjoying a field that I genuinely thought of as the most interesting subject one could learn about. Over time I had noticed how this was all due to one underlying cause: I had lost my inner curiosity for the world. I had become so focused on handing in assignments and simply getting through readings, that I lost the overarching purpose and motivation I had. I was not doing this to learn more about Cognitive Science, I was doing this to prove to others and myself that I am smart because I can get good grades.
As I slowly came to these realisations, I also managed to work my way out of that hole, which is why my main focus is to restore our inner curiosity. I strongly believe that mindfully going through your readings with enjoyment and passion for 1 hour a day is a more efficient way of studying than getting by for 4 hours a day. Through my studies about the brain and psychology of humans, I have also managed to learn a lot about how you can effectively memorise or learn something, discovering neat tricks to get yourself “in the zone” easier and for longer periods of time.
I realise that having this experience of falling in a pit and building myself back together, while gaining insight on what makes education fun could be an incredible asset for someone in this position. I wish to use this knowledge to empower others and create a university environment that focuses on healthy education from top to bottom.
So, to answer the questions, I am running to revamp our notion of education.
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?
I strongly believe in the importance of returning to in-person classes. I can only imagine the frustration of international students paying £20k a year for zoom calls. Last year practical lab experience and productive tutorial discussions were lost because of covid.
Personally, I missed the human interaction of a lecture hall and fell into automatically performing tasks to simply tick them off, rather than mindfully enjoying the work I was doing.
Now, as a student with a physical disability, the accessibility of doing my work remotely showed me how important it is to save some of the elements of online teaching in order to take down barriers to education. The ideal scenario would be to retain the opportunity for lecture recordings in all cases and when possible keep assessments online.
It is also crucial to consider mental health disabilities and their impact on taking in-person examinations. I imagine that for a clinically anxious individual such scenarios can feel world ending. I’m not convinced that special circumstances are enough in this case, as often they only offer you a safety net against failing, rather than actually ensuring you perform to what you would have without the circumstances. We should ensure that students don’t feel like they are being disadvantaged by elements that they cannot control.
What is your opinion on the UCU strikes in relation to the impact they are having on students’ education?
I think the UCU strikers are very disruptive to students’ education, but I believe that this is their purpose. The issue is that most students do not understand why staff members are striking and will inevitably antagonise them when they feel that they are being robbed of their degree. The responsibility of informing them lies on us, students that understand the cause, and the striking staff themselves. We cannot blame an international student that pays £20k a year for feeling outraged about the situation.
But the president’s income and compensation in other forms (free house, pension…) grew by a whopping 40% from 2015 to 2020 (to over £400k yearly now), whereas among staff members, only about 1,8% make more than £100k a year. When you couple this with the increasing of central administration spending by 70% in a 5 year time span, and creating more administrative positions often taken by people that do not have education experience, you can start to understand why staff are striking, and why it should matter to you as well.
What value does it bring to my education to centralise university administration and run the university as a corporation in which managerial roles seem to profit the most, as opposed to the professors… the ones bringing me the education?
That being said, something must be done to accommodate the students affected by industrial action. Simply, making the content non-examinable, does not render it unimportant to the degree. I wholeheartedly support students getting refunded for loss of teaching. The management needs to understand that if it does not use student fees to keep their professors satisfied, then the students will fight to reclaim the money they paid.
Some of your manifesto points could be considered very ambitious. Do you think it is possible to deliver on them within the time you would have as VP Education?
I tried to make it as clear and transparent as possible when the project I would like to implement is one that is very resource-intensive. The way I see it, the formation of affordable canteens (non-profit) and garden libraries on all campuses would be an incredible win. The more realistic approach though is to set the wheels of change in motion and have pilots of these projects fully operational by the end of my term.
Getting the ideas out there to staff members and to students alike is already a great start, because, personally, I had never even realised how much I wanted a cheap healthy canteen, until I got to see one at Hong Kong University. Then, if I get elected, I will have more links to the managerial staff and I can use my loud voice to show them that this is indeed something students both want and need.
That being said, I also have ideas which are easier to implement. Projects such as creating a digital platform where students have free access to the course materials of all courses (why else go to university, if not for the free exchange of knowledge and ideas) or creating an online educational resources which is compulsory for new students, in order to educate everyone on the severity of sexual harassment and discrimination of all sorts, as well as how to safely intervene to help the victim when witnessing such acts.
I am not trying to claim that it will all be smooth sailing, or that I will be able to achieve all of these things. My manifesto is a reflection of the things that I believe in and will strive for, but underlyingly change usually takes time. What I can promise is transparency regarding my progress and action towards achieving each goal, the formulation of a clear road map, with respective milestones and the constant returning to the student body for feedback and ideas.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
The coming year is, as Tara Gold, the current VpEd put it, “a once in a generation moment” in which the curriculum is undergoing transformation. This means that the next VpEd will have this main overarching project that they need to focus on and the person that is elected will have a great say in shaping education at our University for years to come.
I got the chance to speak with both Sam and Henrik, but sadly not with Gabriel. Luckily for the electorate, all candidates seem passionate and genuine, so I would like to encourage everyone to vote for who they feel represents them best and would be able to achieve the most for their interests. Voting furthers the strength of democracy at our University, and we should never take it for granted. It is not just a right, but a responsibility, one that lies with all of us. Preserve democracy, because one day you might wake up having to fight for it. Спава Україні!
You can read Vlad’s full manifesto here.
Voting in the Student Elections is open 7th – 10th March.
Image courtesy of Vlad Grigoras.