Guardian: How has your current role prepared you for VP Education?
O'Donnell: I think it best prepares me, as I take part in meetings about learning and teaching, I am a direct link to many students within my school, and I know a lot about problems that students are facing. One good thing about Modern Languages and Cultures is that there’s such a wide variety of students within that. Also one part of doing a language degree is that you’ve got your compulsory year abroad, so from my point of view, I’ve been an international student abroad, so I know what that’s like. It’s something I think I could definitely bring to the role of VP Ed – incorporating more for international students.
One of the points I made in my manifesto was to try and work more with Welfare reps. I’ve seen students in the past, even some of my friends, when they’ve come up against difficulties to do with the disability service, or international students having problems settling in; I think there’s a lot that can be dealt with on the academic side, as well as on the support side, and it’s something I’d like to explore more.
Guardian: You mentioned working with Student Support and Welfare; do you have any plans to encourage gender equality in seminar contributions?
O'Donnell: One thing I wanted to look into is how to bridge this gap. I think one thing I would like to do is look at what we’ve got in place at the moment and find a way to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard. In the past I know that some subjects have used participation as a percentage [of the overall grade]. I know for some this works, for others it doesn’t. It would just need to be looked at case-by-case for every subject. I think it’s a case of working with Welfare Reps, and making sure students feel empowered, as it were, that they can speak their mind, that they can make contributions, no matter who they are or where they are from.
Guardian: You mention in your manifesto about introducing more academic support, specifically more academic writing workshops. What are your plans for these?
O'Donnell: I know it is something that is already done within the University because I remember when I started in 2009, you had to do a test online, and if you failed the test you had to go to [a workshop], but I know it’s something that a lot of people, no matter how long they’ve been at university, feel like they could always improve upon. I know myself it’s something I’m not very good at, and I think there should be something from the SRC. I know a lot of subjects offer them throughout the year, but many don’t. It’s quite sad actually, because in my time as Rep for Languages, I’ve had many people come up to me and ask what do the SRC offer and I have to say "Well, nothing" – it’s really down to going out and finding it yourself. I think it’s really a case of taking on board what a lot of the subjects already offer and to get a more wide-reaching programme. For example, you’ve got the English Language Centre who offer academic English lessons for international students, and that’s a really good basis to take us further on and try and get something a lot more frequent that can help to bridge the gap for everyone.
Guardian: How would you make the class rep system more efficient?
O'Donnell: Basically from my point of view the current class rep system doesn’t really work. In the five years I’ve been here, I’ve not once been in a class where we’ve voted for a class rep. You’re supposed to; there’s supposed to be elections, as it were, every year, and for some cases every semester. If I’m elected, this class rep system is almost like my project for the year. There’s a lot of good things about the system but I just feel it’s supposed to be democratic and at the moment it’s not. I know a lot of cases where it’s just the lecturers saying "you’re the class rep, on you go" so my idea is to look into how I can streamline it. There are some courses where there’s about seven class reps for one subject and others where there’s just one, so to have more of a proportional representation in that you’ve got one class rep to every hundred students for example. Again, I’d be looking into it more if I’m elected.
Guardian: You mention you want to ensure that adequate facilities and resources are available to students of all schools. How would you do this and what in particular stands out as needing improvement?
O'Donnell: In terms of facilities, we’ve got the Western Infirmary site development coming up, that’s going to be discussed a lot in the next year or so. We’ve got to look at facilities for students. The Mature Students’ Association really need a much better facility, it’s far too small. I know it’s not entirely within the remit of VP Ed but in terms of the academic side, they are going to work better if they have better facilities and feel better supported in that way. Also the fact that there are still schools in the University that don’t have set facilities, they don’t have a building, they don’t have a common area – I think Critical Studies is one of them, they’re all over the place. I mean as a language student, we’re very lucky we have a really good building up at Hetherington, with really good facilities – I don’t think it’s fair that some students should have that and others shouldn’t.
Regarding resources, my big thing with that is looking at the current processes the library have for what can be in short loan and what can’t. I was in a class last year and there was only three books available for eighty people and they were all in the long-term loan section. We need to make resources available to all and make it as fair as possible, so I’m looking into introducing quotas into how many books to students the library has, especially on short loan.
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