Tag: DUSA Media (page 2 of 3)

‘Every single position on the Exec should be sabbatical’

This article first appeared on DUSA Media.

Stefan Tomov, DUSA’s Vice President of Engagement

Stefan Tomov, DUSA’s Vice President of Engagement

About six months ago, the Exec – the seven student-elected leaders of Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA) – took office with ambitious plans. Now that they are more than halfway through their terms, we sat down with them to talk about their experiences, successes and lessons learned. In the fourth instalment of our series, Vice President of Engagement Stefan Tomov talks about the challenge of publishing exam dates earlier, why all Exec positions should be sabbatical ones, and how the Union can be about more than drinks.

The VPE is the newest role on the Exec. What exactly is your job?

The idea is to engage students in different aspects of the University’s student life. How do you do that when you don’t include societies, media, representation and student welfare? By devising campaigns for student engagement, basically.

What are some of the things you’ve done so far?

One of them is the “Aspire” lecture series. We have lectures in the Union where students have a chance to learn from other students about their experience and hopefully become engaged themselves after that.

I also promote student projects as much as possible. That’s even more difficult, because the other Exec members oversee most activities that people are getting engaged with on campus. I was trying to promote events the VPE’s Facebook account. It’s difficult because students are not following that one, they’re following the DUSA Facebook page instead. So I’ve been trying to get events promoted on there as much as possible.

One thing I’m very happy with is that a student approached me with an idea, and I will help her realize it in the second semester. It’s a campaign to pick up litter, where students will have the chance to clean up campus. It will take place on Wednesdays between 12 and 3. It’s after “Skint”, so there will be plenty of litter on campus, and people usually don’t have lectures on Wednesday afternoons. We’ll three main days during the semester: 5 February, 5 March, and 26 March. If it gets the momentum we expect, we can spread this across the whole campus and maybe even into the city.

You said in your candidate statement that you wanted to establish a “framework on bringing the announcement of exam timetables” to an earlier point in the semester. Have you had any success on that?

Such a framework is hard to establish and unfortunately, it’s not going to happen. I’ve been telling the University that students want their exam timetables as early as possible for two years, first as a member of the Student Representative Council (SRC) and now as VP Engagement. The key thing is to contact the person who is drafting the timetables. That’s Kieran Clifford [the University’s Examinations & Graduation Manager], and I’ve been in contact with him since week 1 [of the academic year].

The winter semester is very problematic for this because the University can’t can start working on the exam timetable until week 3. As you know, students can change the modules they take up to the Friday of week 2. However, in the [Graduate School of Natural Resources Law, Policy and Management], students can change their modules until week 5 – they have three weeks of general foundation studies and then get to try their modules for two weeks. So you either remove them from the central timetabling project or try to anticipate their choices based on numbers from previous years, but that will always be problematic.

Someone from the Exec or the SRC will have to talk to the person constructing the timetable every year. And school presidents need to talk to the lecturers from their departments. After the timetable is drafted, it’s sent to lecturers, who have to approve it. But sometimes, lecturers have to attend a conference or so, which they aren’t always telling the University about early enough. That needs to be worked on. Students need to be active every single semester, telling their lecturers to pass on that information.

You also said you wanted the Union to be a place where students can “spend the day productively without needing to buy a drink” through “movie screenings and debates”. How is that going?

That’s what “Aspire” is for. I’m doing one lecture a month when students are on campus. I’ve already done two of them, and I’m pretty happy with the way they were run and the attendance. There were 40, 50 people at both events. We have three more planned for the second semester, one each in January, February and March.

I was writing my candidate statement before I knew DUSA’s financial situation, which was announced at the [annual general meeting]. It became clear that movie screenings are not going to happen because of financial constraints. I’m happy to say that it’s not going to happen because of something I didn’t know about when I wrote my statement.

You said you would support the Deputy President in organizing the elections and the Vice President of Student Activities (VPSA) in making RAG (raising and giving) more successful. How involved have you been with those events?

I oversaw the elections for the halls reps, because it was when Jade [Rea, DUSA’s Deputy President] had to promote events and deal with complaint procedures. I’ve been talking to students about running for positions on SRC. I have also attended the society councils Doug [Schreiber, DUSA’s VPSA] is organizing. I helped him with the elections of the two society members that became members of the SRC, and the election of the funding council.

For the RAG project, I’m the deputy coordinator and basically Doug’s right hand. I spent a weekend in the Overgate collecting money, for example. I’ve also used my position on the Westend Community Council for that. My involvement with RAG this year is focused on promoting it to the community, because you cannot collect £15,000 only from students.

You’re one of three non-sabbatical member of the Exec, and there are four sabbatical ones. Would you like to see the VPE job to become a sabb position?

I would say that every single position on the Exec should be a sabbatical one. Non-sabbs are spending lots of time in the office, and if their positions were sabbatical, that would be an incentive to work even harder. I also study, so I cannot focus completely on the job. It would definitely make more sense for every single one of the Exec positions to be sabbatical, like in other universities.

What was the most surprising thing for you as VPE? Something that made your work very difficult, for example.

You need to do lots of work not related to your policies. I was thinking that once in office, I would be able to focus on my policies, but there are various other events and meetings I need to attend. That slows it down a bit.

Are you going to run again for the Executive this year?

Yes, I will be running for Deputy President.

DUSA Media is part of DUSA, but you knew that already. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Dundonians get to the point in under 10 minutes

Do you ever spend ten minutes of quality time with Lisa Ann and your right hand? For many readers, the answer will be yes.

As half our audience likely knows, Pornhub is one of the world’s biggest websites for sharing videos of a certain kind. It’s also among Britain’s 50 most popular places on the internet, giving the company plenty of data to analyze the habits and fetishes of its viewers.

Dundonian visitors spend an average of 9:37 minutes on the site. The average Scottish user needs almost ten seconds more to take care of business. Locals also use their time more efficiently than their neighbors. Only visitors from St. Andrews are faster (9:22 minutes) to close that tab, whereas users from Arbroath (10:12) and Perth (9:58) are taking their sweet time.

Dundonians are also more decisive (or just less picky) when it comes to selecting the right video to enjoy. They only look at an average of 6.73 videos. Visitors from Perth (6.82 videos), Arbroath (6.85) and St. Andrews (6.94) inspect a higher number of candidates to spend some alone time with.

Somewhat impressively, the average Scottish visitor to the site manages to squeeze 8.76 videos into just 9:45 minutes.

Among Scottish cities, Dundee stands out as the only place where “smoking” doesn’t make the top 5 of search terms. Our city’s residents are just as keen to discover, however, what adult actress Lisa Ann looks like her birthday suit.

Other popular queries in Dundee: British, Lesbian, Madison Ivy (who told Twitter that her “face needs to get” you-know-what), and MILF (a “mother I’d like” to do the thing to that Ms Ivy wants done to her face).

Pornhub also reports that on cold days their traffic, unlike other things, grows.

‘There’s no slowdown, there’s no slow pace, there’s no real rest’

This article first appeared on DUSA Media.

Douglas Schreiber, DUSA’s Vice President of Student Activities

Douglas Schreiber, DUSA’s Vice President of Student Activities

About six months ago, the Exec – the seven student-elected leaders of Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA) – took office with ambitious plans. Now that they are more than halfway through their terms, we sat down with them to talk about their experiences, successes and lessons learned. In the third instalment of our series, Vice President of Student Activities Douglas Schreiber talks about how the Union benefits societies, UKIP’s accusations against DUSA, and why he was naive about the Careers Fair.

You promised “better benefits for societies affiliated with DUSA” in your candidate statement. What did you do in that regard?

I made access to booking Freshers and Refreshers Fairs very easy. It’s all done online, and I’ve created documents showing students exactly how to do it. That’s why we had such a busy Freshers Fair, and Refreshers will be bigger than last year, too.

We did the same thing for societies funding. I’ve made it very easy to understand how you apply for funding and I’ve detailed what you can and can’t apply for. Obviously every case is individual but if you just want money for booze or so, that is not going to happen. In the past, we had a lot of societies applying for party money, and we can’t legally do that.

I’ve also tried to represent societies better in the Student Partnership Agreement. The University is now going to give them free room bookings. If they have to employ staff to come in, there might be charges for that, but for the rest, regardless of what building you’re in, it should be free, which it hasn’t always been in the past.

Some campus groups are reluctant to affiliate with DUSA, in part because they would have to use Union venues. I think the Sports Union is one of them. Do you see that as a problem?

One of the problems with the Sports Union, although they were originally affiliated, was that a lot of the clubs felt that there’s more benefit in going to other venues and have big Sports Union nights out elsewhere.

Societies are never told that they can only use DUSA. They can go wherever they want and they can get sponsorships from wherever they want, that’s fine. We do not allow societies, for instance, to ask us for printing when they’re going to Liquid or Fat Sams. That would just demolish the Union. Advertising or using competitors might give your society a couple of hundred quid in the short term, but you can easily get that and more in the Union. Students have to remember that all the money made in the Union goes to students.

Last year, UKIP’s youth wing accused DUSA of banning them from campus and creating obstacles that weren’t raised for others. What happened?

I was on the affiliation committee when the UKIP society and the Young Independence Society tried to affiliate. Anna Dimitrova [the VP of Student Affairs at the time] stepped down as chair because being Bulgarian, she could have been seen as biased. What I saw as someone who’s politically neutral was the folk there to affiliate didn’t handle it well at all. Every time their constitution was amended by them and Anna to make it something we could work with, they came back and it would be exactly the same as before.

I think they went away to speak to the chairperson of Youth Independence UK and somewhere along the line somebody claimed that they had been called Nazis and things like that. What was said in the meeting, though, had to do with folk bringing in speakers who had been accused of Nazism in the past, but it wasn’t directed at anybody in that room.

The chairperson of UKIP’s youth wing misquoted [current DUSA president] Iain MacKinnon. What that person quoted online and on their Facebook page was a lie. I’ve never banned anybody from coming to the Freshers Fair. I didn’t receive any applications. I tried four times to get in contact with the fellow who tried to affiliate them last year during the summer, but to no avail, I didn’t get any replies.

You promised to work for “a bigger and more interactive Careers Fair”. How involved were you with the one last year?

I was perhaps a little bit naive in what I said. You can’t understand the amount of work sabbs and non-sabbs [full and part-time members, respectively, of DUSA’s Executive] do until you’re there. With the sheer amount of work for the Freshers Fair and students coming back and all the societies, I just did not have time.

I also realized that what they have in Bonar Hall is almost at full capacity. It might be tailored toward certain degree pathways, but I know many other degree pathways have their own careers fairs. I just wasn’t aware of that when I wrote my policies.

It’s the area where I’ve had the least impact because of time constraints and because there isn’t really an availability for change unless we were to use a far bigger venue. I’m working hard, though, toward the volunteering fair coming up in February.

You also said to make RAG [raising and giving] week more successful. What’s been happening on that end?

RAG week is no longer RAG week. There will still be a RAG week, but it’s now RAG year. Although the events last year were really well organized, the timing of RAG week just after Christmas and the fact that it was compressed into one very jam-packed week weren’t ideal. You’re not going to get students out every night of the week, spending a tenner in the Union. That’s not the way to go, particularly when RAG at this University is not that big yet.

The theory behind the RAG year is to have six or seven weekends throughout the year for students to come out and get involved. We’ve already had three of them and we’ve had [DUSA Radio’s 55-hour marathon broadcast]. We also had a “Bring a pound to Uni” day, which was more about publicizing RAG, but it still made more than 600 quid. And we had public days around the Overgate and at local community fairs.

We’re just getting the word out. The money for the charity is a byproduct, although it’s a very good byproduct. We’re trying to make locals and students aware that Dundee University is here with RAG, and we’re hopefully going to kick ass.

How much money have you raised so far?

Just under four grand, which was about the total for last year. Last year, quite a lot of money was spent to raise money for the charity, but this year we’ve spent next to nothing. I wanted to show that we can raise money from people’s efforts.

What was the biggest surprise for you as VPSA?

The sheer number of small requests. I knew it was going to be a busy job that keeps you on your toes. You come into the office in the morning with three or four hours to sort things out. By ten o’clock in the morning, that’s all gone. Societies will be looking to meet with you, for example, to discuss funding. It’s a very difficult job to plan around. It’s very varied. I love that about the job, but it’s obviously a shock to the system. There’s no slowdown, there’s no slow pace, there’s no real rest. You’re always in – at night and on weekends, too. But I enjoy that.

Are you running for re-election?

I am indeed running for re-election.

DUSA Media is part of DUSA, but you knew that already. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

‘I realized how much I could do and how important this place is’

This article first appeared on DUSA Media.

Tim Hustler-Wraight, Honorary Secretary of DUSA

Tim Hustler-Wraight, Honorary Secretary of DUSA

About six months ago, the Exec – the seven student-elected leaders of Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA) – took office with ambitious plans. Now that they are more than halfway through their terms, we sat down with them to talk about their experiences, successes and lessons learned. In the second installment of our series, Honorary Secretary Tim Hustler-Wraight talks about students struggling with money, a controversial logo competition, and the importance of DUSA.

You said you’d “maintain organisation, tradition and order throughout all meetings”. Did you succeed in that?

It was hard at first. I’ve done loads as part of my role in [DUSA’s disciplinary process]. I’ve digitized the system completely, taking away a lot of paperwork, and I have organized it much more rigidly than [previous Honorary Secretary Ian] MacKinnon. I think I’ve kept on top and maintained and improved the process.

With regards to the organization of the Student Representative Council (SRC), that’s taken a bit more effort. Trying to coordinate 50 members is quite hard to do at times. I’m still trying to master things like minutes, but when it comes to getting papers together and so on, I’ve definitely picked up the pace over the first semester.

You also said you’d try to communicate with students to keep everyone up to date.

The generic policy to engage more with students… I have been communicating quite a lot, especially on social media I’ve tried to be as active as possible. The best thing we’ve done with regards to the SRC was passing the payday loan motion, for which we got national press.

We definitely engage with students who are looking at what’s going on. Obviously there’s a problem with apathy – that’s a horrible word, but some students don’t really care. I could’ve done more trying to engage those students. Unfortunately it’s much easier and much more rewarding to engage with students who want to engage, rather than engage students who don’t.

Do you have any plans to engage more in the second semester?

Yes. During Refreshers Week, we are running an SRC awareness week, where your reps will be out on the cold campus. There’s also going to be a pub quiz.

I have also started a competition to redesign the SRC logo, primarily directed at DJCAD students, but it’s open to all students.

There has been criticism that there’s no compensation for this competition.

The winner will receive a Freshers Pass, and I’m working on getting everyone who entered a St. Patrick’s Day ticket. Unfortunately, the SRC doesn’t have any access to funds, so these rewards are all that we can do.

I can understand that some students, especially in fourth year, are angry. The initial idea was to get the message out that the SRC is for all the students. That’s why we started this, and I stand by that.

Another goal you ran on was to “improve student financial assistance”. What results have you gotten on that front?

I have been working endlessly with the University’s Student Funding Unit. My original plan was to put the application form online. That hasn’t worked, because the SFU don’t have the finances available to do it. Instead I went for Plan B, which is trying to market the SFU as much as possible and working alongside them.

With the anti-payday loan campaign, the goal was not to tell students not to use payday loans, but more to tell them about the Student Funding Unit. We give you interest-free loans, we give you help, we give you advice, which is much better. It’s really worked for a lot of students who have started using the SFU much more than before.

So when should students use the SFU?

If you are, for example, a single mom and you’re really struggling because you got a kid with mental health issues* so you can’t have a part-time job, that’s when you should to go to the SFU. Because not only do they provide you with financial assistance, they also sit you down with a cup of tea and help you assess the situation.

Same for a first-year student from England. It’s his first time away from home, and he didn’t realize how quickly money goes and really mucked up with his finances. A student I know spent two-and-a-half grand in two-and-a-half weeks. These students can get advice on how to budget properly.

Your third policy was the introduction of “feedback cards”. You said these would be available throughout campus so that the University could be continued to be improved…

That’s something I haven’t concentrated on fully. I’ll admit that’s been sidetracked with so much other stuff going on, and it’s something I hope to address in the second semester.

It’s been hard to define what sort of system could be put in place for feedback across the University. A lot of feedback is coming through the SRC, especially with the Library. For example, the 24-hour access trial during the exams in the second semester is based on an SRC motion, that came from feedback we got from students. So it’s about whether there is the need for a feedback card or whether your reps should be a stronger force on campus.

In your candidate statement, you talked about your “hopeful DUSA career” and how the Honorary Secretary post would be a stable foundation. What did you mean by that?

I can happily admit that when I first ran in February [2013], I did it on a whim. I didn’t even think I would win at the time. But when I started campaigning, I realized how much I could actually do, how important this place is to some students, and what it could be.

You’re one of three non-sabbs on the Exec. How do you manage to combine your job and uni stuff with your responsibilities as HonSec?

With difficulty (laughing). I thought with all of the work I got done over the summer, it would die down. That did not happen. It’s been a struggle. A couple of weeks ago I nearly had a breakdown because there was so much work to do. It leaves very little time for a personal life.

So would it make sense to increase the number of sabbatical positions or to make your position one?

My role is a bit different than those of [the VP of Engagement and the VP of Student Welfare] in the sense that there are, constitutionally, things I have to do, like disciplinary panels and convening the SRC. This isn’t to take away from the other non-sabb roles, they are just as intense. But mine’s constant, whereas the VPSW, for example, can be not so busy one week and then insanely busy during Sexual Awareness Week. But overall I think the system works.

Were there any surprises in office you didn’t expect when becoming HonSec?

I didn’t expect it to be so easy to speak University. They’re very open to us. And I didn’t expect the Exec to get on so well. I thought after a while, strains might start to show in our relationship, but we’re still getting on pretty fine, but no. There’s still seven of us, so…

Another thing that has really taken me by surprise is just how much fun it is. I thought I would hate certain parts of it, but even though minutes are the bane of my life, I enjoy it.

So are you running again?

I am.

DUSA Media is part of DUSA, but you knew that already. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

*) The wording has been changed to reflect terminology recommended by mental health organizations.

‘I don’t want to look back and think I haven’t fulfilled my policies’

This article first appeared on DUSA Media.

DUSA-Media-Interview-with-DUSA-Jade-Rae-

Jade Rea, Deputy President of DUSA

About six months ago, the Exec – the seven student-elected leaders of Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA) – took office with ambitious plans. Now that they are more than halfway through their terms, we sat down with them to talk about their experiences, successes and lessons learned. In the first installment of our series, Deputy President Jade Rea talks about student representation, apathy on campus, and the upcoming elections.

The first goal you mentioned in your candidate statement was to increase “communication within schools, with more responsibility on class reps”. What have you done in that regard?

I made a class rep handbook before the semester started and met with every school secretary before the semester started to introduce myself and let them know about Student Representative Council (SRC) motions that had been passed in relation to class reps. I also made a video that went to all first-years and on [MyDundee] to encourage class reps to run, and I held four class rep training sessions.

Would you say class reps play a bigger role now in schools?

I wouldn’t say I’ve done has made a massive impact. What I wanted to do was build a foundation that could be improved on, because that wasn’t there at all. I hope in future years there will be more communication between reps and schools.

As you know, student reps had varying experiences with the openness of their school to take feedback. What’s the biggest challenge in that regard?

That’s a difficult one to answer because some schools have a president who will come to me with issues, and some schools will have a president who won’t. That is a big challenge. What I’d love is to have all the school presidents feel that I’m a link they can use, and that isn’t always the case. It’s difficult.

Do you think moving school president elections back to February will be beneficial?

It’s not something I supported. People have to realize that you won’t be able to see the benefits of something if you only give it a year. I think we would’ve seen the benefits of the September elections if they had been given a second year. But it was decided democratically to move them back to February, and plans have already been made to utilize that. I plan to introduce a school presidents training as one of the the last things I’ll do before I leave office.

The second goal you mentioned in your candidate statement was “bringing the world to Dundee”. How has the experience of international students at the University improved?

Working in the [Premier] shop, I saw that it’s very daunting for international students to come to Scotland, because it is such a difference in culture. I wanted to have an Exec that were really out there on the ground, so that they knew first hand that we were here if they needed us.

In my role, I have found that to be quite beneficial because of the amount of international students that I’ve had had come to me, specifically with housing issues. I think there is still great room of improvement in having people from different cultures mixing and getting together.

Is there anything you’ve done to increase that kind of integration?

In September, the Exec as a whole went to every possible meeting for all the different groups, to welcome international students and students in general. In particular, we had postgrad students come to us who were like “You know, we’re only here for a year.” I totally understand that – if I get a postgrad somewhere, Dundee will still be the place where I did my undergrad and where I developed as a person. However, you still want to make the most of the facilities that you have.

This year, Douglas Schreiber, the current VPSA, will be doing “Culture on Campus”. I haven’t done as much as I thought I was going to be able to do when I first got elected, so I want to get heavily involved in that. Obviously, I don’t want to look back and think I haven’t fulfilled my policies.

Tell us about “Culture on Campus”.

We’ll put on different events throughout the week. As a Northern Irish student, I would’ve loved to do some of the things international students get offered, but we don’t. With “Culture on Campus”, we hope to attract more homebody students as well as international students.

Your third policy was to increase “student engagement” and “awareness of the SRC”. Do you think you have achieved that?

It’s ongoing. I feel this year’s SRC candidates really did a lot, and I was very proud to see candidates from the SRC out and about. As someone who has ran for the SRC, I openly admit I did no campaigning publicly, it was all done online. This year’s candidates really put themselves out there and wanted to engage with the students. It’s something we will continue to do. We are having an SRC awareness week [starting on 13 January].

I also communicate what happens in the SRC back to school secretaries. It’s really important that not just students are engaged with the SRC, but staff are as well. The Exec are only here for one or two years, and the SRC changes every year. But they make decisions that will affect staff, who will be here for years after.

What has been the biggest surprise for you as Deputy President?

I didn’t expect my views and opinions to be so greatly appreciated. You know, I’m 23. I’ve just graduated. But I feel really valued on the committees I sit on in the University, particularly on my college board. Right now, for example, we’re looking at at results of the National Student Survey. All schools have action plans for how they’re going to improve, and we’re making sure they are being implemented. That’s a big thing to me. There’s a lot to be said for how our representation works at Dundee University – we basically have a student rep on every committee.

Do you think student apathy is a particularly big problem in Dundee?

It needs to be put into perspective. I don’t think all the other universities are miles ahead of us – it’s not that way at all. Student apathy is always at the forefront of every Exec’s mind. A student might not see the difference made in a year, but if you look at where we were five years ago, there’s increased student engagement now. Like I said, it’s not something the Exec forget about. It’s always there, it’s always on our mind.

By the end of September, the Exec were absolutely drained because we wanted to make sure that our faces were everywhere. There were posters all over the University. I think people know who we are, even if they don’t know exactly what our individual remits are. But when things go wrong, that’s when students think, “I need to see my Deputy President”, and that’s fine.

The next big thing for DUSA are the Exec and school presidents elections in February. What are you doing to make sure this year’s elections don’t have the same issues we saw last year?

We have lots of plans. First of all, changes we made to the SRC elections [in September] – really simple things – had a big impact. We usually had the candidates briefing in a meeting room in the Union. This year, it’s in Dalhousie. It’s a much more formal setting. I’ve also written a Q&A for candidates. We tried that for the SRC elections and it was really useful.

Last year, we had a lot of difficulties with what candidates were buying and how they used the budget they were given. There have been changes to the bye law now to insure that nothing can be donated from an external organization. I’m also asking all candidates to write me a plan of what they plan on spending their money on, so if I see something that wasn’t in their plan, I can ask them for a receipt right away.

I guess if you weren’t aware of previous difficulties, that all seems very strict. But without these guidelines, we would’ve been looking at cutting candidates’ budgets. When I ran as Deputy President, I spent my entire budget because I was out from 9 in the morning till 9 at night in the pissing rain. It is a priority of mine that creative campaigning should not be stifled.

Are you going to run for re-election?

No. I absolutely love my job as Deputy President, and I love DUSA. I’ve worked for DUSA for over three years. However, I need to go traveling, and I need to leave Scotland. But I know the day I have to leave I will be devastated.

DUSA Media is part of DUSA, but you knew that already. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Exams go ahead despite weather

This article first appeared on DUSA Media.

Examinations at the University of Dundee will go ahead today despite the weather. The University referred students who have been adversely affected by weather-related travel difficulties to its extenuating circumstances policy.

The University said on its website: “Students who are prevented from sitting an examination because of the adverse weather conditions must email or telephone their School Office on the day of their scheduled examination. Students must then provide their School, within seven days, evidence of the travel difficulties which prohibited their journey to the University.”

The University said it would accept printed evidence from travel websites like Dundee Buses, Scotrail, flight itineraries, rail tickets, etc., along with BBC or Met Office travel information. Students “ should clearly demonstrate how this has adversely affected their preparation, attendance or performance in an assessment.”

The University also warned that students who show up late to their exams will not be given additional time, regardless of circumstances. Within the first half hour after the exam starts, all students will be admitted. After that, they will only be allowed to sit the exam if no other student from the same module has already finished.

The severe weather has made travel across Scotland difficult. The Tay Road Bridge has been closed for traffic all morning. Train operator ScotRail said on its website that the rail network had been closed until further notice. “All trains are making their way to the nearest station so passengers can safely disembark. No trains are running, so please do not attempt to travel,” the company said.

The Courier is running a live blog with further updates on how the weather is affecting travel in and around Dundee.

Today’s Winter Market, originally to be held in front of the Union building, has now been moved to Mono. “Please come along and support our students who have made lots of lovely products, which will make perfect Christmas gifts,” said Zuchaela Smylie, DUSA’s Vice President of Campaigns and Communications.

Update 10:40 AM: The Tay Road Bridge is now open for all traffic except doubledecker buses.

University staff to go on strike next Tuesday

This article first appeared on DUSA Media.

Members of three unions representing staff at the University of Dundee will go on strike on Tuesday, 3 December. The University and College Union (UCU), Unite and UNISON are participating in a nationwide day of industrial action, demanding higher wages for university employees.

The walkout falls in the first week of Dundee University’s examinations period. University Secretary Dr. Jim McGeorge said in an email to all students that the University was “taking steps to ensure that exams … will take place as planned.” He added that students should turn up at the times and venues stated in the exam timetable and that the University would try to inform them about exam cancellations ahead of time.

Staff members are not required to say in advance whether they will show up for work on Tuesday.

Janice Aitken, a lecturer at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design and the President of UCU Dundee, told DUSA Media: “We do not take strike action lightly. Our members are dedicated professionals who care deeply about the education and wellbeing of students, but we have been pushed to the limit.”

She added, “Whilst we have great sympathy for students who may be worried that their exams will be affected by the strike, it is important to emphasise that no students will suffer long-term detriment because of the action. If exams have to be cancelled … the University will be obliged to reschedule them at a suitable time. This is no different than if the University had to close because of illness, health and safety concerns or bad weather.”

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), the body representing UK higher education institutions in pay negotiations, has offered a one-percent pay increase, which the unions have rejected as “disgraceful.” Their members have been working to contract since 1 November, meaning they don’t work in the evenings or on weekends.

In a press release, UNISON said: “The squeeze on staff pay comes at a time when pay and benefits for university leaders increased, on average, by more than £5,000 in 2011-12, with the average pay and pensions package for vice-chancellors hitting almost £250,000.”

For the academic year of 2011-12, Dundee University Principal and Vice-Chancellor Pete Downes was paid £219,000, up from £212,000 the year before. He was also paid £23,000 in pension contributions before opting out of the scheme in April 2012, according to the University’s financial statement.

DUSA Media asked the University for details on its preparations for Tuesday but hasn’t heard back by the time of publication.

SRC moves school president elections back to March

This article first appeared on DUSA Media.

Supporters of the motion, introduced by School of Business president Barbara Jedlinska, argued that the move would provide time for a handover between officeholders and allow newly elected presidents to use the summer break to settle into their role. They also said that first-year students would benefit from meeting their school’s president during their first week at the University.

Opponents said that electing all student representatives at the same time had improved students’ awareness of the SRC and its role in decision-making processes on campus, and argued it was important to allow first-year students to participate in the elections.

The issue had been debated since the beginning of the academic year, including during a special SRC meeting earlier this month. School presidents will now be elected together with the Student Executive of Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA).

The SRC also supported a motion calling for 24-hour access to the Library during exam time, which was introduced by J. B. Fyfe, a councillor without portfolio. Additionally, student representatives voted for a motion put forward by Honorary Secretary Tim Hustler-Wraight that asks the University to ban payday loan companies from advertising on campus. Students were instead encouraged to contact the University’s Student Funding Unit.

Disclosure: Like the SRC, DUSA Media is part of DUSA. The author is an SRC member.

Students blame University for winter grad ball cancellation

This article first appeared on DUSA Media.

Graduating students blame Dundee University for the cancellation of this year’s winter graduation ball, which was announced in an email from the University’s events team to graduates on Thursday. The event, jointly organized by the University and Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA), was to be held in the Union on 22 November.

A spokesman for the University cited low ticket sales as the reason for the cancellation: “Despite having been advertised to students and graduates for several weeks, at the point the decision to cancel the event was taken only 16 tickets had been sold and we had been informed a significant number of students were planning on attending other events, which would make the Ball unsustainable.”

According to a DUSA representative, successful events such as society fundraisers in “Mono” sell at least 200 tickets.

The cancellation mainly affects graduating nursing and doctoral students.

Francis Nicholson, president of the Nursing and Midwifery Society, said graduating nursing students traditionally held their own event and this year marked the first time the University wanted to organize winter graduation celebrations.

Nicholson said, “As this was not brought to us until late in the year, planning had already started to take place regarding our ball. When students were then consulted as to how they would like to proceed, the majority voted in favour of a nursing only ball … When this was fed back to the University, they explained that the majority of graduates in winter come from the Nursing school and so it was financially crucial for us to be involved in the night somehow.”

As a compromise, Nicholson said, “[t]he University and the [society] decided that the best option would be for us to hold our own ball as planned, and then the University would stage a scaled down winter event that the nurses would then join at 12 AM as a sort of after party to our event.”

Nicholson told DUSA Media, “we had arranged for nurses to pay on the door, on the night”.

Naomi Bridges, who will graduate with an MLitt in Comics Studies in three weeks, said she was disappointed with the University: “I hadn’t gotten round to buying my ticket yet as there are three weeks to go … I think the events team could have done a more thorough job in reviewing the event and perceived interest. The whole thing smacks of laziness to me.”

Nursing and Midwifery School president Sophy Parr said she had not been involved in the matter and referred questions to Nicholson.

Spokesmen for the University and DUSA said they were working on an alternative solution for winter graduates. Those who already bought tickets will get a refund. By the time of publication, 12 people had signed up for student-led “Alternative Graduation Celebrations” on Facebook.

Standard disclosure: DUSA Media is part of DUSA. But you already knew that.

Correction: This article originally stated that Bridges was a nursing graduate. She’s not.

University court defends £4,500 weekend retreat

This article first appeared on DUSA Media.

Members of Dundee University’s highest governing body started the academic year with a £4,500 weekend retreat at a four-star Hilton hotel, DUSA Media has learned. 19 of the University Court’s 23 members, along with various University officials, attended the two-day getaway. Among them was Iain MacKinnon, president of Dundee University Students’ Association.

According to the University’s policy officer for corporate governance, Dr Christine Milburn, the total cost of the retreat was £4,507.50, excluding transportation expenses. She estimated that the latter would be “a few hundred pounds at most.”

The Court met on 5 and 6 September at Dunkeld House in Perthshire. Located “in 280 acres of picturesque Scottish countryside,” the hotel offers “luxury accommodation,” a health club and a spa, according to its website. It was chosen for its cost-value ratio, location, facilities, availability and flexibility, Dr Milburn said. Alternative venues would have cost between £4,100 to £7,500, she said.

In emails to DUSA Media, Court members defended the retreat. Dr Milburn denied that student fees paid for the weekend. Such a claim would be “misleading,” she said, because the Court’s budget is part of the University administration’s, which in turn is paid for by College contributions based on the University’s total income. According to figures provided by Dr Milburn, tuition fees accounted for 17 percent of the University’s income in 2011-12.

DUSA president Iain MacKinnon said that by being away from campus, Court members “are removed from routine distractions so that uncluttered thinking can prevail, especially when working in smaller groups.”

The rector’s assessor, Bernadette Malone, made a similar point. The retreat gave the Court a chance “to discuss and explore in detail ways to enhance the quality of the learning experience for students” and other issues, “all of which benefit students and staff,” she said. The assessor represents actor Brian Cox, who students re-elected as rector last year, on the Court.

The Court, an institution unknown to many students, oversees the employment of staff and manages and administers the University’s properties and finances. Its obscurity, Mr MacKinnon said, was an “underlying issue here – so few students are aware of what Court actually does that when they see money being spent on it they understandably want to know what they, as students, get from this.”

University secretary Dr Jim McGeorge said that more could be done to make the Court’s work more transparent. He said that the retreat was particularly useful for those members who are neither University staff nor students and are not compensated for their time. For them, the “retreat provides concentrated time to get to know the other Court members, build effective relationships that are beneficial for the governance of the institution, and … provides dedicated time to really understand and discuss difficult issues.”

According to Dr McGeorge, it was the Court’s first residential retreat in 12 years. Both he and Ms Malone said such getaways were not unique to Dundee University.

Six senior University officials, among them Dr Milburn in her capacity as clerk to the Court, joined the retreat for the entire weekend. Nine other University representatives only attended meetings held on Sunday.

Standard disclosure: DUSA Media is part of DUSA. But you already knew that.