New year, a new passion for the role! However, this month has been quite a wild ride.

With exams coming up, students’ focus is on ensuring they have the best chance to succeed. However, it seems not everyone is on their side. On the first day of the new term, I spoke to the Vice President of Education regarding the January exams and student concerns. Despite a compelling case, made mainly by students and retold by me, the University’s position wouldn’t budge – exams would be taking place in person, regardless of the rise of the Omicron variant.

Things seemed to be looking up when a student petition came through, asking us to lobby the University to change their minds. This gained the needed 250 votes within a few hours and an All Student Vote was quickly set up. In less than two days, we hit quorancy and 30% of the student body voted, with 95% voting in favour. We were confident this would change the University’s mind, and with backing from our local Member of Parliament, we were keen to hear the University’s response.

While things looked up temporarily, the tables turned on us. After University Council and the University Executive Board met, they decided to ignore the student voice and the All Student Vote and continue with in-person exams. This led to an influx of complaints and concerns from students who are disabled, clinically vulnerable, international, are carers, have jobs in the summer, or who had COVID and didn’t want to resit in the summer. Despite me forwarding on over one hundred complaints from academic representatives representing coursemates and individual students, our Union President writing two open letters, and the situation being picked up across national news, the University stood by their decision and exams went ahead in person.

Obviously, this caused a lot of issues, and the Sabbatical Officer team focused on dealing with the consequences; special considerations, and ensuring no student would be disadvantaged and unable to progress or graduate with their cohort due to being unable to sit in January due to COVID.

The rest of January felt second to the exams situation. I felt deflated that we hadn’t been able to secure a safe experience for students, and it was difficult to meet with University staff without feeling like they wouldn’t be on board with my comments and suggestions; though I was pleasantly surprised and things continued as normal. My input was still relevant and appreciated, and the University staff continued to take me seriously.

With the exams stuff being dealt with across SUSU, I was able to focus on other projects. I met with iSolutions to discuss embedding digital skills into the curriculum, specifically within teaching and learning. The team explained this was something they were already looking into and shared the Jisc digital capabilities framework which was really exciting to see.

The team and I also attended the Southern Union’s conference but I didn’t find it particularly useful – except for finding out about Roehampton’s “Growhampton” scheme and recalling our experience with the January exams. It was also nice as I got to explore Bournemouth University where my brother is now studying at!

I also started the Union Black course offered by Future Learn which was incredibly useful for the decolonising the curriculum project SUSU is working on with students and with the University. It was a really good course and I’d recommend it to anyone who is invited to take it!

I started work with Savanna, our VP of Welfare and Community around the attainment gap and making the special considerations and extensions process more inclusive for neurodiverse students. We will be taking these projects to the University to see how we can progress them.

While this month didn’t make significant progress towards my manifesto, it did teach me a lot of lessons, from dealing with disappointment, democracy and dealing with emotional responses (from me)!