Giang Nguyen on careers, work stress, and study spaces

“Lecture capture’s not a substitute for learning - it’s complementary... I’m trying to make students aware of that.”

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In your manifesto, and in your election campaign, you placed a high precedence on careers. How are you going to improve the scope and visibility of existing mentorship schemes?

At the moment there are about 25 mentorship schemes organised by the University, the departments or by alumni. So, in terms of departmental mentors I’d love to see more mentoring schemes in departments. Politics recently have one thanks to our politics department reps and I’ve also been working closely with Careers to improve the York mentoring profile as well. So, they have exciting plans ahead for the academic year so watch out for that.

Following from what you’ve said in your manifesto, what extra measures will be put in place for helping students de-stress and stay productive beyond what is already available?

The first thing is that we run a study smart campaign in week six. In that campaign we have mental health support while at uni, and me and Effy will be working closely together to ensure that any session or workshop we do has a significant value to students. Secondly, in all our messages from me or other sabbatical officers we really emphasise how important mental health is, and we always refer students to using the advice support centre. We also have to look at the bigger picture, for example assessment feedback; do we assess students just for the sake of assessing? I have been lobbying a committee to rethink the guide to your assessment feedback, to actually think about whether assessment is diverse enough, whether assessment has been giving students the opportunity to overview what they are studying rather than just assessing for the sake of assessing.

Departments such as English have their own study spaces, would you like there to be a specific study space for social sciences? Where would this be, and in what departments?

In the summer I have been going around talking to departments and heads of departments, there is a strong consensus not only from humanities but also sciences, that they want their own study space because this is where we foster academic community. But, and any other sabbatical officer will agree, the thing is that there is a massive problem about space. There is so much space in this uni for study spaces but no one knows about it, so I think this is a very big piece of work that the Student Union and University is working on at the moment and I completely understand.

Nouse reported back in August that the University had drastically lowered the grade requirements for clearing students in certain subjects, especially in subjects such as PPE, what’s your view on this?

I have been aware of these issues. Many universities, not just York, have decreased their entry requirements through clearing and according to an article on WonkHE. I think up to half of people going into University go through clearing. So, I think this issue is not just one of our University or the PPE deptarment or any deptarment, it’s more the UK’s higher education system’s issue. And secondly, I don’t think there’s a risk that our teaching and learning quality has been decreased. I think it’s maybe a reaction to a very rapid change of higher education at the moment with Brexit and changes in funding, and the fact that clearing is more prominent across the sectors, but if there is any sign of decreasing quality please come and talk to me.

What are your thoughts on some lecturers opting out of using lecture capture? Do you think it should be something that should be available in all lectures, especially for those with hearing difficulties?

So, the Uni already has a policy on lecture capture and it is now an opt-out system rather than an opt- in. I’m aware that some departments such as History of Art, and TFTV have some lecturers that opt out because of copyright or similar issues. We as a Students’ Union are still lobbying departments. For example, one of our Maths department reps last year had successfully lobbied his deptartment so that now more than eighty percent of lectures are captured. I do agree that lecture capture is an essential part of our learning, but I am trying to raise awareness for students and one way to do that is through our study smart campaign in week six. Lecture capture is not a substitute for your learning, it’s complementary to your learning - so, I’m trying to make students aware of that fact, but I always bring the same message to all university committees that lecture capture is needed not only for students with hearing problems or disabilities, but for everyone: everyone has different learning needs.

What would you say is the biggest thing or acheivement you’ve done or accomplished over the summer and the first weeks back?

I think that has to be the student rep system we’ve been working on since day one. Course rep training had been prepared for two months and we now have training in lots of areas such as how to handle committees and how to gather feedback. We have also looked into reorganising how we manage and support department reps, faculty reps, and course reps. It requires a lot of work from my colleagues, from our student voice, and also from other departments such as marketing and commercial services. So that’s my biggest win. But obviously there’s a couple of things we’ve been working on with diversifying and decolonising the curriculum. I’ve been working on equality and diversity for departments at the University. What we’re aiming to do is set up a working group in each department and potentially a working group in the Students’ Union itself because I know diversifying and decolonising is not just academic business but also wellbeing, BAME, and potentially other areas. Me and Ollie, who also had a big part about careers in his manifesto, have been meeting Careers quite a lot over the summer; I think that the outcome will be much clearer when students come back because when students come the academic year begins and there are more university committees around. That will make it easier to coordinate concrete outcomes for students and actually make some progress.

*Interviewed by Matthew King *

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