What are student reps for?

I might have mentioned student reps briefly in a previous post, but I think it is a topic worth covering more in depth as it is something I hadn’t seen anywhere else.

During the first couple of weeks of the first semester we got an email asking if anyone would like to be a student rep. All of the people who said yes were then given a few minutes at the begging of one of our lectures to give a speech about why they wanted to be course reps and then were asked to leave the room. Meanwhile voting took place and 3 people were selected to be the year 1 mathematics reps for the current academic year. My understanding is the number of reps varies based on program and number of students in the cohort, ours has 3 because it is a relatively large cohort. After being elected reps had to attend a training session ran by the student’s union regarding how to engage with their cohort, how to address common issues and who to direct people to when more serious or complex matters arise.

Student reps have a few key responsibilities, primarily, attending training, the SSLC meetings and board of studies meetings which happen at least once per semester.

SSLC stands for student staff liaison committee (the name of the meeting can vary per department). During the meeting the student representatives are asked to provide feedback from their cohort about all of the semester’s modules as well as other programme related matters, such as library resources, seminars, lecture rooms, exams and the information that is on the programme handbook. Student reps are responsible for collecting as much feedback as they can before the meeting so that they can provide an accurate representation of what the students like and dislike about modules as well as address potential issues or concerns.

Board of studies meetings seem to be where the different people in the department get together and provide a quick report about the areas they manage and where things such as changes to modules for future years and approval of new modules happen. Based on what was said during the first board of studies meeting it sounds like most changes are usually discussed during the board of studies meeting in the second semester so I might have more to say about it after the fact.

There are a few other things student reps can get involved in. For example, if during training you chose to be trained to be a validation rep you can sit as a validation panel member. Validation panels seem to be meetings where in depth new programme proposals are reviewed, the panel gets to decide whether or not to allow the programme to actually start accepting new students and they can also ask for changes to be made to the proposal before the programme is accepted (as well as reject the proposal entirely). Programmes that are already approved also have to have review panels periodically, in which the panel assess whether or not the programme should continue to exist and if any major changes should be made (should the panel decide the programme should cease to exist, the students already enrolled are supported through the end of it but new students can’t be admitted). I will be attending my first validation panel on Feb 28, so I’ll cover validation panels more in depth once that happens. There is also a rep assembly every semester which is a big event open to all course reps across campus (I think as of right now the entire university has roughly 300 course reps) in which student reps are able to voice their cohort’s concerns about matters that affect their studies beyond their department (such as growing student numbers and whether or not new infrastructure will be built in order to support them since the library seems to already be at capacity). Several people are present at rep assemblies, including the vice chancellor, the associate deans of every faculty and the director of student services.

The existence of student reps is something I really appreciate. I spent about a year at UC Berkeley feeling invisible and feeling like there was nothing I could do to make the things I had problems and negative experiences with any better. Even when I contacted staff I often didn’t get a response, or waited weeks to get a response saying that nothing could be done. While staff seems significantly more accessible here (probably at least partially due to there being less students), student reps still serve an important function. For example, before an SSLC meeting last semester I sent a survey in order to collect feedback about the modules. Someone said that they would like it if a specific lecturer included letter/number grades on the coursework. During lecture the lecturer had explained his reason for not providing letter/number grades and he said that he was open to considering it if students felt like it would be beneficial, however he wasn’t approached about it until the SSLC meeting. During a lecture shortly after the meeting he asked people to raise their hands if they would like to have a grade on their coursework and the majority of the students raised their hand. He proceeded to include letter grades in all following coursework.

While this might be a slightly biased view of course reps (I am one of the 3 course reps in my cohort) I hope it gives you a bit of an idea of what their role is and how to get feedbacks and concerns to be communicated to staff. Even though student reps also have their own opinions and concerns about the courses and they might be significantly different to those of the other people in the cohort, their role is to represent the opinions and concerns of as many people in their cohort as they can, and so far I think my fellow course reps have done a really good job at doing so. I would also like to add that even though this paragraphs makes it seem like course reps are just meant to communicate the majority’s opinion, this isn’t the case. They are meant to be a platform through which every student can have their voice heard. If a single student has complained about not being able to read writing at the edges of the board this is something that course reps should also bring up, and staff will, within reason, try to adjust their behavior to fulfill that individual’s needs.