“Students are told to represent the Uni at sport, but are then being told you can’t go”

Calum Wilson catches up with our AU Officer, Gus Taylor, and his campaign to keep Wednesday afternoons free.

14th December 2015

Sports editor Calum Wilson interviews AU Officer Angus Taylor about his campaign to keep Wednesday afternoons free for sport.

Start us off then, tell us what it is your campaigning for?

Basically it is trying to keep the preservation of Wednesday afternoon time for sport and for other societies and activities, but obviously my focus is sport.

Currently there is a policy in place that says there can be no teaching for undergraduate students after 1pm on Wednesdays. That, after speaking to students, isn’t the case in some modules so we’re trying to get that back.

Another recommendation is for students not to be penalised for missing morning lectures to go and represent the University in away fixtures because some obviously might be travelling as far as Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.

Students are being told before they come to University that it’s fantastic to represent the Uni at sport, but are then being told that actually you can’t go because we’ve got a compulsory practical, seminar, etc. It’s about trying to get those contradictions ironed out.

Why now, why has this become an issue we need to address?

It’s something that I had always been aware of when I played sport. I was lucky enough in terms of the only things I had on a Wednesday were either lectures, which I could recap or if I had a seminar on Wednesday morning there was always the same seminar later in the week being taught to other people.

Other people, I knew, from both my club and within other sports clubs couldn’t go to away games because they had compulsory stuff going on that day. I even knew of people that had lectures right up until 1pm and then were even struggling to get to home games. There have even been cases of people having exams scheduled, out of exam season, but on a Wednesday afternoon.

I’m massively keen for people to get involved with sport, that was part of my manifesto and I think this is a massive hindrance for getting involved in sport.

To summarise, it’s about removing that dilemma between choosing sport and choosing your academic commitments?

As much as possible. Obviously it’s hard for timetabling to manage it all, they’ve got 22,000 students to deal with. I’m not saying it’s easy and I also acknowledge academics have to take priority, that’s why people are here but at the same time there’s that student experience.

Ultimately people are paying £9,000 there’s got to be more to it that just studying, in my opinion.

At the minute, someone who is representing the university is being given the same punishment as someone who is sat at home or in halls because they just can’t be bothered to turn up to a lecture or a seminar. For me, that’s not right.

So, have you had fairly good support from students over the issue?

Yes. I’ve sent emails out to all the AU clubs and I received over 100 either case studies or individual emails from 15-20 different clubs who have had issues with it.

Speaking with my executives, they had all been aware of this issue and a lot of the feedback was from students saying that this is a really good thing to push.

The motion hopes to include postgraduates, why do you think this is important?

I feel that both the university and the union have a big policy to get postgraduates integrated as much as possible and it is an issue.

Obviously some of them have not previously been Newcastle students, they’ve come and they don’t get as engaged with the union or the university and naturally they’re not engaged as much with undergraduate students.

I feel that sport is such an easy way for them to come and get engaged both within the union and the university on a non-academic side.

Are you confident you can make a change?

I absolutely hope so. I’ve had positive feedback from students, members of the sports centre and members of the university have been really helpful.

The next stage is to take is to go and have a meeting with timetabling. I’ve made 6 or 7 recommendations and I’m realistic enough to know that not all of them will be changed.

Ultimately, one of the key performance indexes (KPIs) of the University is to be a top 10 university in BUCS, but we’re almost competing with one arm tied behind the back because we’re not having all of our key athletes representing us on a Wednesday.

When you look at someone like Durham, ahead of Newcastle in the academic table and also miles ahead of us in the sports table, they don’t have an issue with their students going to play on Wednesdays. I know there’s a balance to be found but if somewhere like Durham can do it, then it’s an achievable aim.

Finally then, sum up your hopes going forward for the rest of your tenure and beyond?

It’s going to be difficult because there’s a lot of different opinions on it, but I hope that, at the very least, the current policy that says there can’t be lectures after 1pm has to be enforced. It’s there for a reason.

Exams and assessments being scheduled for Wednesday afternoons during normal term time has to stop, in my opinion.

Then just moving towards encouraging students to play sports and represent the university and not penalising them for doing so.

I know it’ll be a gradual process but as much change as we can make will benefit the students.

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