Wonkhe SUs training and induction Summer 2023

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

Livia Scott is Wonkhe's Community and Policy Officer

Working with SUs to develop understanding of key policy and knowledge areas is a core function of our work at Wonkhe SUs – because when SUs know what’s going on, and can understand what’s going on, they can influence what’s going on in the student interest.

We’re committed to delivering useful, helpful and essential knowledge briefing and policy content, so that SUs can focus resources on local issues.

In-house training

We are scheduling full day in-house, in-person training into the diary for subscriber SUs. Here’s our updated menu for 2023 – please get in touch now, ideally with a few options for dates so we can schedule our summer touring appropriately.

Essential reading

Every day over the summer we select a Wonkhe blog and a Wonkhe briefing for officers to read – so that by the end of the summer they’re up to speed on all the key contemporary issues facing students, higher education and SUs. We highlight these via WhatsApp – so we’d encourage early officer sign up to the system. See links at the bottom of the Friday email.

SU Essentials 2023

This is a one day, online event that covers lots of the things that new sabbs need to know – essentials on the way the sector works, charity law and how to be a successful officer.

How does student representation work?

In this introductory session we’ll look at some of the major theories and models surrounding student representation, advocacy and influence and consider how they might be used by officers and SUs to improve things for students. We’ll also provide an overview of Wonkhe and Wonkhe SUs – who we are, what we do, what we think and how we might help with representing students effectively.

How the higher education sector works

Higher education in the UK has a “design”, and it’s crucial that officers (and the staff that support them) understand the system in order to influence it. This session gives an overview of how higher education is run, regulated, monitored, influenced and regarded.

Students’ unions and the law

This session will give new officers (and staff) a grounding in the main legal frameworks that surround students’ unions and will examine grey areas and the regulation that enforces (or, more often, doesn’t enforce) those frameworks.

What just happened?

The last twelve months in context: Over the past year there have been all sorts of things happening in HE that may new officers won’t have been conscious of. This session goes behind the scenes on everything from regulatory change to how the sector has handled the cost of living crisis – and considers the role of SUs in responding to and shaping those changes.

How to be an influential and effective SU officer

In the final session of the day we explore some of the models that surround SU officer influence and power, and reflect with some ex-officers on how to make the most of the summer and the year in general.

The Box Set

Online, on demand: available early July

In our box set are video briefings for new officers and staff from a variety of organisations, including the Office for Students (England), the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (England and Wales), the Quality Assurance Agency (UK-Wide) and a briefing on the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act for SUs in Wales.

There’s also sessions on the secret history of SUs,  and powerful officer comms.

Policy Development and “New Rules”

In early September we’ll be running an in-person Policy Development Event focussed on a particular long-term strategic issue facing students that is mentioned in manifestos. We’re also looking to re-run our “new rules” strategy event. Dates and locations will be released soon.

Daily calls

Daily Calls is our flagship summer online briefing calls programme where you’ll learn something new every day.

Crafted to provide the knowledge and context that will help officers hit the ground running with manifesto commitments and university committees, we draw in experts from the SU, higher education and wider sectors and cover everything from harassment and sexual misconduct to quality assurance, and from how parliament works to all that officers need to know about international and postgraduate students.

Getting students registered to vote

A general election is coming – but recent research showed that just a third of students studying away from home were on the electoral register in the run up to the local elections. This session explains new research on the methods universities and SUs can use to overcome the issue and explores the levers you can pull to get support from the university to ensure students are able to use their voice effectively.

Cost of living, hidden costs and student finance work

The year ahead is going to be another tough one for students financially. On this call we’ll review where SUs got to last year on cost of living, review the legal position on hidden costs and fee increases and take you through a decade of SU student costs campaigns as a case study in understanding SU campaigns, policy and influencing work in the student interest..

Race, racism and closing awarding gaps in HE

Plenty of SU officers have manifesto commitments on curriculum decolonisation, tackling the awarding gap and addressing racial harassment. This session will introduce the key issues, policy considerations, and where to find the data that matters on access and participation. There will also be an opportunity to hear about some of the practice from around the sector..

Widely felt and deeply felt – winning for students through uni regulation

It sounds dull, but the rules and regs in your university have a profound impact on how students are treated. In this session we’ll explore some of the issues that can make the most difference and explain how SUs can use creative campaigning, storytelling and online action to mobilise students.

Learning from other officers

In this session we will say “goodbye” to some of this year’s crop of officers, we will get tips and stories from experiences of lobbying for and discussing policy change for students for new officers and we’ll explore how to get the best from handover conversations before outgoing officers disappear forever.

The governance and democracy of SUs

This essential call for new officers looks at the relationship between democracy and governance, history of debates around how SUs are governed, some of the issues that SUs have had over the years in this area and considers how SUs can assess and improve their governance practice.

Righting the wrongs for Disabled students

What are the big issues facing disabled students and how can SUs tackle them both in their own provision and in their representation to universities? Why are duties around disabled students different, and what can SUs do to improve the rights of disabled students on campus? This session provides a useful summary and overview.

Harassment and sexual misconduct

Lots of SUs are keen to improve processes in relation to harassment and sexual misconduct in the year ahead. This call will introduce the main issues being discussed and debated by universities, explain the regulatory position on harassment and sexual misconduct, explore some of the implications for universities and SUs and give participants a chance to consider their SU response.

Quality and standards – and why they matter to students

Recently in England there have been huge and significant changes to the way in which HE quality is regulated in England that are suddenly very important to the university where you work. On this call we’ll explain the big changes – drawing in the teaching excellence framework, explaining B3 outcomes, new definitions of quality and why they matter to students, and what universities might do next.

Understanding student loneliness and belonging

On this call we’ll explore loneliness research and consider implications for SUs that are concerned about student mental health and wellbeing. We’ll also explore new research on belonging, ask what SUs can do to foster it and lobby for change in this space, and explain our new student experience research platform called Belong.

Democratic models and democracy reviews

With confidence in and participation in representative democracy at an all time low, lots of SUs have been reviewing their democratic structures – but many of the reviews don’t last, and others are designed around a template instead of the students you have. In this session we will explain different models for and types of democracy in use in both SUs and other organisations, and reflect on why democratic reviews go wrong.

Data day concerns (with our friends LEO, TEF and NSS)

We know that SUs are more effective when they use evidence and data. Much of that can be gathered in house, but what about when you need national comparisons or benchmarks? Here we will whizz you through all the key sources of national data on universities and students, on everything from access and participation to parking spaces. We’ll also show you how you can present data and stats to tell the story you’re keen to underline.

Understanding your university’s finances

University finances are under pressure like never before – and so as universities seek to make savings to stay afloat, understanding them will be central to representing students effectively. We’ll explore the main data sources, explain key terms and discuss the “known unknowns” that you might be able to access locally so you’re prepared for the year ahead.

What SU officers need to know about access and participation

Around the country getting into and getting on through university remains a major political issue – and there are expectations of student and SU involvement. This session will summarise and update on A&P, describe where to access A&P data for your university, give you an overview of the involvement that SUs are having in the agenda, and discuss SU projects that are being funded by universities to help deliver and evaluate the plans.

How to make things better for students on health courses

Doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics – what are the issues and what can SUs do make sure that students are effectively represented? We’ll do an overview of the essentials in this session and ensure you know how to tackle representation for these students effectively.

The free speech agenda and the free speech act

It’s been a huge political obsession for a few years now – and in England there’s now a new law that will see SUs and their officers directly regulated over free speech. This session explains the origins of the issues, the legal frameworks that surround it, the implications of the new act and where the agenda might go next at a national and local level within universities.

What you need to know about mental health in HE

Mental health and wellbeing has been the dominant HE policy agenda for a few years now. This session will summarise where the agenda has got to, the things universities have become good at tackling (and those they haven’t) as well as delving deeper into the Student Minds mental health charter.

The Robots are coming

In 2023, generative AI has gone mainstream, disrupting the pace of learning and leaving universities struggling to adapt. Despite being rooted in academic research, the rapid emergence and impact of tools like Chat-GPT have caught many off guard. Here we’ll cover what SUs need to know about generative AI in higher education, from its current use to its potential impact on learning, teaching, assessment, and more.

Improving the experience for international students

In this session we’ll look at the state of the international student experience and identify the sources of evidence available to you to make a difference – as well as delivering an overview of where we are on immigration. We’ll also look at practice in relation to internationalising SUs and consider the big policy agendas for international students in the year ahead.

Making a difference on student housing

Accommodation emerged as a huge policy issue facing students during the pandemic, as decision makers realised the realities of a market that few believe works in the interests of students. This session will summarise the policy agenda and frameworks and give participants a change to think through what could and should happen next.

Won’t somebody think about the PGTs and PGRs?

Numbers of postgraduate students are climbing, but the sector tends to be firmly undergraduate focused and universities aren’t always great at supporting their postgraduate populations. This session takes you through some of the big policy issues for postgraduate students (both PGT and PGR) and how you might set about tackling them.

Protecting students from the “market” in HE

As universities tighten belts and close modules, courses and campuses, it’s important to remember that students are consumers in law – what does that mean and why does it matter? And Student Protection Plans are a regulatory requirement for all higher education providers that are on the Office for Students register in England. This session provides an overview of the frameworks and will enable participants to understand and influence implementation at an institutional level.

Social capital, community and the value of student opportunities and activities

Most activities and opportunities officers we know want to get on with it, growing opportunities or making it easier to get involved. But the legal and regulatory frameworks can get in the way – and understanding the debates about the value of student activities and opportunities, especially in relation to benefits and outcomes, can give your year in office the edge. This call looks at all of that and more.

Students at work

In survey work lots of students argue that employment – both during and after their time at university – is a priority that they’d like to see the SU working on. But what are the big issues, and where might SUs make the biggest difference on this agenda? We’ll dig into the detail on this call and look at the latest research on what students want re work during their studies and post-graduation.

What kind of “partnership”?

Getting the relationship with the university right. Lots of SUs are looking to improve their student representation/partnership work at institutional level and make sure they get the relationship “right”. Can you bite the hand that feeds? Should you? This session looks at some of the theory in this space, gathers up examples of work across the sector, and identifies approaches/components that SUs have been implementing.

Here’s what SUs need to know about parliament and political advocacy

Can individual SUs or groups of SUs make a difference when lobbying government or parliamentarians, including prospective ones as an election draws near? Drawing on expertise from NGOs and politics, this session will look at what can be achieved and how to maximise influence and impact on decision-makers.

The secret history of SUs

If you want to know where we’re going, you’ll need to know where we’ve been. This session digs into the origins of students’ unions and summarises their role and history through the major higher education debates of the past century.

Powerful officer comms

In this session we tried to relate what we’ve seen officers do with their social accounts in recent years to emerging theory on political effectiveness, and ask what officers and staff that support them need to do to build an effective and engaging presence online that builds profile, increases engagement and enhances accountability.

Other summer dates to note

There are plenty of other dates to note, especially if your SU is a member of NUS. These include:

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