SUs have got course level student representation down to a fine art.
Every year sees great improvements being made to selection processes, training opportunities and skills development for those students who are brave enough to dip their toe into student politics by representing students at a course level.
Across the country we see great examples of highly engaged course reps tackling local level issues brilliantly. But making the leap from rep to SU President can be an incredibly daunting proposition, even for the most active and highly engaged of reps. So how can SUs help bridge that gap and create a clear progression route to help students not only get into sabbatical roles, but to be really effective as soon as they get there?
Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
Our strategic solution was Super Reps – or as we actually call them at Sunderland, School Coordinators. First introduced three years ago, they are hyper-engaged student representatives who are selected (not elected!) specifically to act as a coordination point for feedback from reps in their school and to lead school-wide research and campaign activities.
They are volunteers, but are paid a stipend to support them to be really effective in their roles, and they are supported and managed closely by the representation team at the SU. Chosen specifically for their skills in listening and communicating, they are invited to sit on high level university committees and create a useful funnel for information directly from students, not just to the SU Officers but often directly to the university’s Executive Board.
Getting stuff done
School Coordinators have proved to be extremely valuable in developing and shaping SU policy and campaigns work, based on real insight from reps. For example, library opening hours have been changed as a direct result of feedback from the nursing school to more easily allow students to fit study around placements.
Timetabling issues have been tackled by them instigating a Q&A with the Academic Registrar to help resolve student issues directly. Elsewhere in Creative Arts, the coordinator for Photography has co-chaired the planning committee which is organising a major campus move for its students, ensuring that the impact on student experience is kept to a minimum. The work is impactful, meaningful and local enough to be really felt by students.
Make an example of him
An additional benefit of the approach is that it develops highly skilled representatives with a good working knowledge of university and SU process and procedure – who are well placed to take up positions as full time student champions further down the line, by running for to be a sabb. Sunderland’s current President for Wellbeing Helder Costa is a perfect example.
He led a major research project into the work and caring commitments of students, presented it at the University Mental Health Conference and helped shaped policy around timetabling to support students with a lot of other responsibilities outside of the University campus. All of this led him to be elected in 2019 where he was able to quickly pick up this work and develop it further and university wide.
“Being a School Coordinator was a perfect way for me to lead and develop work which specifically affected my School. Now that I am President: Wellbeing, I think that my year as School Coordinator really prepared me for the challenges of Presidency and meant I was able to develop my manifesto ideas more quickly as I already had an idea of how to make change happen.”
It’s the impact that matters
There will always be a place for course reps and the course level feedback they provide is invaluable. But when it comes to impactful change making, introducing an additional layer of “Super Reps” could be the key to unlocking the potential of student voice and developing the officers of the future. That’s certainly the vision in Sunderland.