Event review by Daniel Whitby – Student Union President of Marjon SU at the University of St Mark & St John
I recently attended a Leadership Foundation/NUS Conference on the role of student governors and about student engagement in university governance. I was asked to speak at this event along with the Chair of the board and a governor. We decided that we would try to approach things slightly differently by telling a story that most in the room could relate to as well as offering practical advice without the use of PowerPoint. (Everyone is always discussing new innovative ways to communicate at these kinds of conferences but it always seems to be through the same old status quo of PowerPoint!)
As I’m sure many at GuildHE institutions find, the target audience seemed to be big universities who have vast amounts of resources. I’m sure many student officers in smaller institutions can start to feel disillusioned by the mass generalisation at universities at the various conferences we all attend across the year. At smaller institutions informal engagement is the key feature. Staff and students have strong relationships with open door policy common place. This seems to contradict advice we all receive at these larger conferences to build a bridge between ourselves and students. Distancing ourselves from students just wouldn’t be an effective strategy at smaller institutions.
Onto the conference itself and it was, as all conferences are, a fantastic chance to network and meet other people. It was great to meet some fellow GuildHE institution representatives who all seem to have similar views as outlined above. It was great to exchange contacts and meet some like-minded people. The aims and objectives of the day were:
• Student governance and institutional progress towards fully engaging student governors; committee presence; reserved business and decision making powers
• Horizon scanning; the sustainability question. How should Boards be safeguarding the future of the institution?
• Conflicts: how can student governors balance competing interests?
• Relationships: How do you build key relationships with fellow governors, the Chair and the Clerk or Secretary?
After introductions the day got into full swing with presentations from Dr Paul Greatrix and Mary Malcolm. Following this was Rachel Mattey, NUS Vice-President Union Development, who brilliantly related to what it was like being a student governor and urged everyone to make the most of their time as a governor. Rachel Mattey put over a positive message and was most valuable in the learning process of becoming a governor.
Next was our presentation which was a triple pronged approach aiming to provide some practical advice on what it is like to be a student governor. It was a great opportunity that I thoroughly enjoyed and as a bonus the feedback was great too. Our presentation was the most talked about on social media and I think that was due to the fact it was practical, relevant and focused on the target audience.
Jim Dickinson followed us and was fantastically eye opening. He sees things very differently to most and really forced home the idea that student governors can bring about a lot of positive change. He uses a style of delivery that is seldom seen in the HE sector.
I am very fortunate in the sense that despite having only been in the job for a few months I was able to build a relationship with the Chair of the board and some governors through the processes the University of St Mark & St John put in place , such as having an ex-president as a fully-fledged board member who was able to talk me through the common pitfalls. A great example of this was at the first board meeting where it was opened with a prayer and as I began to pray I was nudged and told ‘don’t do that unless you are of faith.’ If I hadn’t been nudged I would have prayed all year at board meetings!
All in all the Leadership Foundation conference on Governance was useful but as with most conferences needs to be adapted to suit smaller as well as large institutions.