Johnstone is the only candidate running for this position that has worked within the SRC before, this year filling the role of College Convenor for Social Sciences. Her manifesto focuses on improving academic facilities for students and improving the connections between Student Representatives, the SRC and University management. In three words, Johnstone describes her focus as: “quality, policy and engagement”.
Guardian: You mention in your manifesto that you will work to improve campus facilities. How will you seek to do so, and what do you feel in particular needs improving?
Johnstone: At the minute I think there’s a lot of on-campus facilities, like libraries for subjects, for example the Law School has a law workshop which has all kinds of resources different from the main library, and I think some of these computer clusters and extra subject libraries are maybe not utilised as best at they could be.
As VP Education I’d be sitting on the Libraries Committee so I’d have quite a strong voice on that to shape policy and I know the library are very flexible and willing to change things that aren’t working. For example postgraduates, who now have their own space in the library to work in the computer cluster.
I think it’s a case of working with the library to really encourage the best use of the space we have. At the minute we have an overcrowding problem quite a lot of the time and with dissertations being handed in at the minute it’s quite bad, and it’s really just seeking to sort of get solutions to the problems that we have at the minute. I think we need to be working very closely with the library to make sure other problems are addressed.
Guardian: You also refer to poor treatment of student representatives. How will you improve this treatment and open up the possibility of getting constructive feedback?
Johnstone: What happened this year was Social Sciences sent out an email asking students in the college to put themselves forward for committees, which basically undermines the work the SRC does and the fact that we have elected representatives on the council.
I’d like to see that representatives are treated fairly across all the schools and that they’re systematic and not just sending emails out saying ‘put yourself forward for committee’, because you have no idea how these representatives are being chosen, you know. It’s not really fair.
I will improve this through more meetings. This year has not been as good as I’d like. We’ve had one College Convenor meeting, which I just don’t think is good enough. I’ve always said I’m available for the meetings. We didn’t have one at all in first semester when obviously a lot of the problems are arising and I’m somebody who would like to build a good working relationship with the College Convenors. I will set up regular meetings that have to be attended.
Engagement is really difficult, it comes up year in and year out in manifestos and yet it is the hardest thing in the world to do because students hate surveys, they hate getting so many emails and some students just won’t be interested at the end of the day. Getting students really engaged comes from, for example, training class representatives well. I attended a session last week and it was actually very good, it talks a lot about reflection and how class representatives can make a huge difference, representing thousands at the University. Trying to encourage engagement starts from meeting straight away with College Convenors, meeting with School Reps, because if you’re not meeting with them, are they going to be meeting with their own class reps? I think it’s a chain.
Guardian: What would you like to see be done with the redevelopment of the Western Infirmary site recently acquired by the University, as mentioned in your manifesto?
Johnstone: I would like to see really good lecture theatres. I think there’s a lot of scope for some really brilliant big lecture theatres, because at the minute I think there’s only 5 or 6 large ones that have the capacity for 200 or more students. I’d like to see lecture recording materials build in them. I think that the university is putting emphasis on lecture recording and to install the equipment needed to do it, because obviously it can be quite expensive and staff need to be trained. I’d really like to see a modern campus, so our campus is sustainable for the next few years and that it doesn’t seem archaic.
Guardian: Specifically, you hope to increase the amount of lectures being recorded. How will you address staff fears that this would reduce the numbers attending lectures, and persuade them to allow this?
Johnstone: This was discussed at the Learning and Teaching Committee that I sit on. It was discussed in November and it was actually found that in a lot of universities, such as Leeds, recordings encourage more students turn up. At the end of the day I think students learn best when they’re in the environment with the lecturer, and they can see and interact with them. There’s students that just won’t go to lectures at all, but you can’t change that if it’s recorded or not. I don’t think attendance will drop that much to be honest. I think it’s incredibly important to the subjects that do have too many students, that can’t fit in the room, that they will have the recorded lecture.
Guardian: Anything else to add?
Johnstone: It’s an interesting year, I think, because Fresher’s Week is no longer the responsibility of VP Education, whereas in the past VP Learning & Development would always, the minute they got into the job, organise Fresher’s Week and then shoot straight in. I think it’ll give me time to develop policy, work with the learning & teaching centre. I probably will have a bit more time on my hands, I don’t think personally it’ll be the busiest of jobs, therefore we’re going to have time to really encourage hard work towards developing policy.