Going for Gold is a new strategy co-created by staff and students which aims to deliver the vision of an outstanding, all-inclusive world-class education at Queen Mary.
We speak to Tom Longbottom (Students' Union Vice President Barts and the London), Professor Alastair Owens (Head of the School of Geography) and Emmanuel Nibo (Senior Project Manager in Estates and Facilities), who are leading on Going for Gold pillar four to enhance and improve the campus environment, both physically and online.
22 January 2019
Tom Longbottom (TO): Going for Gold is the initiative that’s been launched this year, headed by Professor Stephanie Marshall, Vice-President (Education) looking at how we can ensure that the University and the Students’ Union are achieving excellence across the board – and while we are doing this, working towards achieving gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Going for Gold is split into four pillars which cover education, employment, learning environment, and student engagement. Within each of those pillars, there are four workstreams which are working towards a certain goal – our workstream is “enhancing and improving the campus environment”.
Professor Alastair Owens (AO): At Queen Mary, both students and staff are genuinely passionate about creating a world-class learning experience. This initiative is unique in bringing students and staff together to work on that collaboratively, where previously they may have been following their own different approaches and strategies. This co-creation is what makes Going for Gold unique and makes us all so invested in it.
AO: I think from a staff perspective, we’re always seeking to understand what our students want to get out of their experience, but we’re missing the obvious: that we can get this by working with our student colleagues. This embeds their perspectives, experiences and aspirations deeply in what we’re doing, instead of trying to cater for something we only half understand, as staff.
TL: I’d agree. I think these partnerships with students are key to Going for Gold. It’s actually engaging with people across the whole institution from the very beginning right to the end of the process, and having this culture change of “we’re partners, students and staff working together”. I don’t think that’s been done in such a massive scale on any other initiative, so it’s quite refreshing.
Emmanuel Nibo (EN): We’re trying to ensure that all our projects in Estates have a strong student presence moving forward. It’s interesting to watch staff and students come together on a project that they can own together. The Students’ Union is also equally represented at all Estates strategy board meetings, so they do have a voice there and can express their views on how the campus should be developed to meet their needs as well. I have Tom on speed dial!
TL: The title of the workstream we’re working on is “Enhancing and improving the campus environment”. This started as a separate project looking at how we could ensure there are areas – either study spaces or social spaces – on campus where students can stay and enrich their learning between, before, and after classes. Then we started looking at the small things which we can change quickly and will have a big impact to improve the experiences of students and staff on those campuses. We started in Whitechapel with safety aspects like lighting, visibility and security, but we’ve also identified things at the Mile End campus that we can work on. Going forward, the plan is to get some student interns to bring together students and staff for discussions but also to walk around the campuses and work out what needs changing. From there, the plan is to work with the Estates and Facilities Directorate to prioritise the areas that need work.
AO: Our campuses are great as they are, but there’s even more that we could do to make them brilliant spaces for living and learning. I think, as Tom was saying, there’s some small things we could do to make this campus even better. When you visit universities in other countries, you often see that campuses are much livelier than they tend to be in the UK. I think we can aspire to achieve some of that here; we’ve got the space and we’ve got a student body who are up to it.
TL: When we started this project, there were certain things that had already been noted as priorities by various teams. For example, Ahmed [Mahbub, QMSU President] raised the issue of lockers over the summer, as we have a lot of students and particularly commuting students who want to store things during the day, and this is something that we were able to implement at the Mile End campus over the summer. These kinds of things are what we know we have to work on, and are working on at the moment. The next thing is looking at the bigger picture, which we’re doing through the Students’ Union survey and focus groups for this workstream in particular. The other side of this is working through the list we have of estate projects that Emmanuel is leading on.
EN: I can provide an update on some things that we’ve achieved so far, and what we want to do with Going for Gold. As we speak, we’ve instructed our campus maintenance manager for Whitechapel to go ahead and install some external street lights. Due to ownership rights we’re unable to replace the faulty lamps along Turner Street and therefore will be installing external lights along the west facade of the Garrod Building on Whitechapel campus. We’ve also looked at secure cycle storage around Whitechapel Library, which will be implemented early this year. On Mile End campus, Tom, Ella Harvey [QMSU Vice President Welfare] and I have looked at poor lighting zones and poor CCTV coverage zones. Those are our quick wins – projects that we can complete quickly but which will have a big effect – but there are also other projects underway.
TL: One way that both students and staff can get involved is through the panel events that we’re running for Going for Gold. There was a launch event at Mile End in December, and there will be a “Going for Gold debate” at Whitechapel on Thursday 24 January. This will offer students and staff an opportunity to learn what Going for Gold is and to ask people like us questions, if they have any.
TL: The whole point of the workstream is to get that feedback, which will inform what we do. We’ve got quick wins – the things that we know we’ve got to work on, and which we are – but the body of the workstream is going to students and getting their feedback about what needs changing. Then we’ll create a list prioritising what we need to work on and in which order. That will then go to Emmanuel and the Estates board and be carried forward. Essentially student feedback will inform what we do, so it’s completely integral to this whole project.
AO: My observation would be that Going for Gold provides a framework for us to have meaningful conversations about staff and students’ roles working together, rather than having lots of people working on different things in a less coordinated way.
TL: I think it’s a culture change. While the student voice has always been listened to at the University, it’s now actively being sought out, particularly thanks to people like Professor Stephanie Marshall, Vice-Principal (Education) and Principal Professor Colin Bailey. That’s the key transition we’ve got, along with this element of partnership, with Colin insisting that students should be present in every meeting, whatever it is. It’s fantastic to be working together to achieve excellence and improve everyone’s experience. I think it will change lots of things.
AO: One thing I think is already done is to give us a greater sense of purpose and an understanding of what makes us distinctive. Our strategy around improving the learning and student experience is rather different to other universities, thanks to this co-creation and co-delivery model. It’s given us greater confidence as an institution. Even just the title is aspirational – Queen Mary is a remarkable university, and we really should be aiming for gold, whether that’s in the TEF or anything else. It’s given people the sense that we should believe in ourselves as a university, and we can work together to achieve something that’s fantastic.
EN: I think there needs to be a real cooperative approach between staff and students. There are discussions to be had about many issues, some of which may cause tension. By doing this roadshow of going around and speaking to people about Going for Gold, I hope we can highlight the importance of this partnership when working. In order to achieve an overall education experience, we’re trying to make staff and students partners on this project. It’s something we want to make part and parcel of university life going forward.
TL: My involvement in this workstream came when we were initially drafting up what the different areas of work would be [for Going for Gold]. Coming from Whitechapel where a lot of my manifesto [as BLSA President] was based on things around safety, campus infrastructure and security, I thought that what was missing was looking at the campus space, and safety in particular. I brought this up at the meeting, and from there I became involved in this particular area.
EN: I’m a project manager in Estates, so I was called upon by the Director of Estates to help deliver changes to our campuses to improve spaces for students between, before, and after classes. In a sense, I provide a project delivery mechanism to implement the projects that emerge from this. So I was involved mainly because of my role here at the University.
AO: I’m the School of Geography’s TEF lead as well as Head of School. In the meeting which devised what Going for Gold was going to be, a really interesting discussion emerged which focused around the learning environment. As a geographer, I understand that space and environment really matter to how people live and learn. We can create campus spaces that stimulate everyone’s learning and enjoyment of university.