VP Education Interview and Manifesto Analysis: Gemma Gratton


Guardian: What will you do to improve communication between postgraduate students and the SRC?

Gratton: One of the issues with postgrads is that a lot of them are only here for one year, so it’s important that we are immediately visible during Freshers’ Week when they arrive. I would want to work closely with VP Student Activities to make sure that we hold a successful and engaging Postgrad Freshers’ fortnight, to make them very aware of what we do, how we can support them, what services are available. Having a visible presence in somewhere like the Gilchrest is also very important.  The postgrad convenors this year have been holding surgeries, so continuing with that, and making them more frequent, and just being very visible and better publicity of what we do.

Guardian: What will you do to actively promote alternative assessment methods, and what will you do if you meet resistance from the University or individual subject areas?

Gratton: I think perhaps the best way is gathering student feedback from subject areas that have done this already because in my experience students have been responding very positively to it. So gathering their feedback, presenting that to staff, because really where there are resources available, there’s no reason why assessment shouldn’t be more diverse and more spread out, so that everyone has the chance to perform well. I appreciate there are financial constraints and constraints on staff time, but having a seventy-five or one hundred per cent exam in May is too much pressure, and we should avoid that. I would be very vocal in learning and teaching committee to try and push this through by targeting specific subject areas, supporting school reps and college convenors, to target those subject areas, to approach staff and say that this is something valuable and something worth looking into.

Guardian: What will you do to improve the class rep system to close the ‘feedback loop’?

Gratton: I want to continue some of the great work that started on Council this year. A lot of the School Reps have been holding meetings with the class reps just to introduce themselves more visibly, to let them know what support they can offer them, and just to try and get communication happening more often. The whole process needs to be clearer and everyone needs to be communicating more transparently, and this needs to be happening more often. I think meeting them at least once a semester is very important.

Guardian: What will you do to make sure that the SRC remains involved and relevant when the University makes decision about education policy?

Gratton: The SRC is the representative voice of students at this university and we are at the core of this institution. It’s not acceptable for them to bypass us. I think, as we’ve displayed with the issue of translation dictionaries this year, the University has put forward this proposal to ban translation dictionaries in exams, and we have objected to it and will continue to oppose it next year should I be successful, We will continue to do that because its not acceptable for them to go past students and for them to make decisions that aren’t in students’ interests.

Guardian: Do you think it should be mandatory for all subject areas to record lectures and make those recordings available to all students regardless of their personal or academic circumstances? If so, what will you do to make this happen?

Gratton: Yes, I do think that it should be mandatory. The policy has been passed already, so I don’t understand why there’s been a delay in enacting it. Obviously, there’s an issue with facilities and resources. I think we’ve pushed this year to get the student guidelines put through Learning & Teaching Committee and there’s been a bit of a delay in getting staff ones to model the student ones on, so continuing to push for that. Obviously, it’s an invaluable resource for students regardless if they can get into campus or not. Obviously, if they can’t, they need them and it’s also an important revision tool and we will continue to push for that.

Guardian: How do you intend to make sure that as many students as possible engage with the Campus Redevelopment consultation process as it continues over the coming year?

Gratton: They need to be organized a lot better. The ones they had at the year were terribly publicized.  There was a text blast on the morning of, it was a three-hour consultation, not everyone is free for three hours, not everyone is free at two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. So better publicizing of those. I think maybe holding them somewhere visible like the library or the Fraser Buildings so people can drop in, with thirty-minute sessions every few hours, on different days, so a wider array of students can go to them. And also, I think it’s very important for the full diversity of the student body to be represented, with focus groups from mature students, postgrads, international students, home students, and from all different subject areas as well.

Guardian: If elected, what will you do to make the SRC more transparent?

Gratton: I really think we need a full-time Communications Officer, to better publicize everything that we’re up to, because at the moment it is split between two of us, who are both honours students who don’t have time to put everything out there.  Publicising minutes, putting Council reports on the website are all very important. Just communicating more effectively with students and being very vocal about what we are doing. Even within council, we are sometimes not sure what other people are up to, so everyone needs to be communicating better. So communication, publicity and just trying to get people engaged, even if its going and standing on library hill for an afternoon and talking to people about what we are up to.

Manifesto Analysis

Gemma Gratton’s manifesto mainly focuses on the engagement between the student body and their representatives. She talks about how Class Reps “should be something desirable” yet never says how or why Class Reps can become effective or even relevant in actually improving the courses for students. She says that Academic Officers should be communicating more with the Reps, but never gives us a characterisation of how she will make Academics, who often see student input into courses as nothing more than a distraction from their real work, actually care about this extra communication she proposes.

Another major part of her manifesto is the diversifying of assessment, saying that “not everyone thrives under the typical exam/essay format”. This is true, yet it is probably right to assume that people have got the grades to get into the University are the people who do well at exams and essays, otherwise they wouldn’t be here. She never tells us what diversification entails. If it is through continuous assessment then it becomes far more arbitrary and puts the onus on tutors and postgrads to decide the academic success of a student.

Finally, she talks of wanting to bring the University closer to the students, so that they are the ones leading change. This is a nice piece of rhetoric, but it is unclear what this means. Gratton needs to make her policies more compelling, though her manifesto includes some interesting smaller additions, such as alternate study spaces and improving online resources.