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Setting Things Straight - QMU President's Response to the Glasgow Guardian


Hello, for those of you who don't know me yet I'm Courtney and I'll be the QMU President for 2019/20. This blog post is in response to an article published by the Glasgow Guardian on Sunday 28th July entitled 'QMU failing, according to QMU'.


Firstly, I'd like to start by saying that picking apart an article in this way isn't ideally how I'd like to be keeping our membership up-to-date on what is going on at the QMU. We had hoped to share with you the positive changes we've been making to the Union, and the results of our Student Body Survey, in our own time, however, this misleading article has forced my hand and I cannot allow misinformation to spread as a result.

Typically the press when writing about an organisation should go to that organisation for a comment. However, the documents which the Guardian have based their article on have not actually been made public at this time, as I'll explain further below, so we would have appreciated a heads up from them before they uploaded their story. I apologise that this will be a long post but I just want the opportunity to explain these issues fully and set things straight.

If you have any further questions after reading then please do not hesitate to contact me at president@qmunion.org.uk, or come to my office on the Third Floor of the Union where I work full-time. We understand, probably better than anyone, that as an organisation we have a lot of work to do to rebuild our reputation and regain the trust of the students, however, hopefully after reading this you'll see that we are taking positive steps and doing the best that we can with what we have.



OUR REPUTATION

"The Queen Margaret Union’s own strategic report has shown that less than half of University of Glasgow students have a positive perception of the union"

This contains a kernel of truth but should really be understood in context...

The report which the Guardian refers to relies on data taken from our Strategic Market Research Survey (titled UofG Student Body Survey), which was conducted on our behalf in April 2019 by the trusted and reputable market research agency Red Brick Research.

The survey, which the University backed, asked students (c.1,800 of them) a number of questions about their experience at UofG including: what they think about each of the 4 student bodies at the University, any issues that they have come across during their time (such as depression), and how their experience could be improved.

We undertook this research to gain a better of understanding of what University of Glasgow students want, and therefore what we can do as one of the 4 bodies to try and provide for what students felt was missing. You may have taken part in this survey, and if so then we apologise that the results weren't made public sooner. We thought we would allow the University and the 3 other bodies to digest the somewhat concerning contents before we went public. You can read the full survey report here.

The question which the Guardian article refers to read 'How would you describe your overall perception of each of the student bodies you're aware of?'.Below are the results.



As you can clearly see, the survey shows that students have very similar feelings towards all of the student bodies. Our overall positive perception (combining very positive and positive) is only marginally lower than that of the other student bodies (by 3%) and our negative perception (negative and very negative) is in fact 1% less than the GUU's.

The overwhelming finding, which the Glasgow Guardian has failed to report on, is that the students who are answered our survey are mainly ambivalent towards all of the student bodies.

Although our positive perception may be lower than the other student bodies, there is clearly a much more worrying trend here that a large number of UofG students don’t interact with, and seemingly don't care about any of student bodies on campus. This is something that all 4 student bodies will have to work together to combat, and something QMU would love to collaborate on.



Of the many findings we gained from this survey, here are a few that the Guardian neglected to mention, some good and some rather concerning...


The Good Stats

  • 77% of the students sampled said they were satisfied with their university experience, with those who are QMU members being more likely to be satisfied

  • 84% of students sampled feel that university is helping them to develop the skills, knowledge and experience they need

  • 7 in 10 students believe that we benefit by having 4 student bodies instead of one at UofG

  • QMU is perceived by students who are aware of it to be the most friendly and welcoming student body

  • QMU members are more diverse than GUU's: we are more popular with postgrads than GUU is (18% QMU v. 10% GUU), with international students (18% QMU v. 13% GUU) with homosexual or bisexual students (35% QMU v. 15% GUU) and with students who identify in another way than male or female i.e. be trans or non-binary (8% QMU v. 1% GUU)

The Worrying Stats

  • 62% of students sampled have struggled with at least one mental health issue (stress and anxiety, depression or 'other mental health issues')

  • 50% of students sampled have not received the help they need at University

  • 50% of students have 'no idea' or are 'unsure' what they're going to do after graduation

  • 45% of students sampled don't have a clear understanding of how to get a maximum value from their University experience

  • 26% of students have seriously considered dropping out of University


There are a lot of points to unpack here, and we hope to address a number of them in our Strategic Plan 2019-2022 which I'll come on to now.


If you want to read the full survey report (and we recommend that you do) again you can find it here.





OUR STRATEGIC PLAN

"The strategic plan, released this month and seen by The Glasgow Guardian, includes research conducted on behalf of the union by Redbrick Research."

The strategic plan has not been released, it is, as it currently stands, a confidential working document which we have been working on with our external HR partner Graham Atkinson since we received the survey results in April.

The draft strategy was shared with the four student bodies, as well as key stakeholders within the university, but is not yet ready for a public launch. Clearly this draft has been shared with The Guardian without our consent, thus we would have appreciated being allowed a comment but have not been approached by the Guardian in some months.

We are aiming to publish the full strategy, which contains a detailed 3-year plan on how we hope to better enrich the lives of UofG students, on 10th September and it shall be available for all members and students to read and access.



OUR COMPLAINTS PROCEDURE

"no sexual misconduct policy and that it had failed to report allegations made against a former board member." "concerns about their trustworthiness and safeguarding"

We have been working on this, and please let me clear that it is of utmost importance to the entire board and staff that we get it right.


Myself and the Past President Mata set up a working group of board members who wanted to work on overhauling our complaints procedure some months ago. We have sought advice from a number of people including: a QMU Past President with a law diploma; the Complaints Resolution Office at the University, as well as from the Student Conduct Office. We have also been working very closely throughout the past year with Chief Operating Officer of the University, Dr. David Duncan who has been very supportive.

We have now completed our draft of our new Complaints Procedure, and I am going to be sending this to Graham Atkinson to look over. As our external HR consultant, we have hired him to help us improve our processes and he will be working on us to improve our articles and bye-laws. Once he has had a look through, it will be shared with the board and approved at the turnaround board (sovereign board) at the end of August.

Through inaction and poor management we allowed our internal complaints procedures to fall into disrepute, and as a result caused upset and pain to our members. We understand that we have to work to gain back the trust of our members and students so that this never happens again.

We are trying to do this. We aim to be constantly open with what we are doing here, and what we are achieving. We strive to answer any questions with honesty and be completely transparent. If the Guardian had contacted us then they would be aware that is what we aim to do. However, without fair opportunity to represent ourselves, how can we achieve anything?



OUR SERVICES

"13% of students regularly use one of the QMU’s services, with six in ten students rarely or never using their services at all."

We undoubtedly have a lot of work to do around our commercial operations (see the work we are doing below) but if you'll look at the image below you'll see that over half of the students sampled think our offering is much the same to the other student bodies and the surrounding services.



"One non-member added that “the union is not very nice inside. Bar is sweaty and badly furnished.”"

We have spent the summer months working on revamping our commercial services and have undertaken a large staffing restructure, including the loss of a number of staff and the hiring of several new positions. These include: our new CEO Margaret Davison who will join us on August 9th; a new Operations Manager in charge of running our commercial operations; a Membership and Central Services Manager who will help us with finance, HR and volunteer management; a Student Engagement Coordinator who will help support our volunteers; and a new Head Chef who will improve the quality of our catering.

With very generous support from the University we have also invested in spaces such as Jim’s Bar, Café 22, as well as our branding, our wayfinding signage and our reception area (who we are working on with acclaimed design agency Jamhot). We can't wait to show you the finished products.

If the Guardian had contacted us we would have been able to provide an update with regards to what we have been working on, and would have been delighted to show them around (the offer still stands if they want to).



OUR FINANCES

"The report also shows that the union has been in financial decline for the last five consecutive years, with their most significant financial loss being in 2017/18, with a £178k deficit. The union declares their financial position as being “extremely precarious.”

We are fully aware of our precarious financial situation. It has been no secret, and we don’t try to make it so. Through our work with Graham Atkinson, a new external finance trustee, and through close collaboration with University senior management we have looked into our finances and produced a budget for this year which we are confident shall allow us to break even.

Our financial position continues to be precarious, however we have received great support from the University that they want to help make us a sustainable and impactful organisation. We are also currently on the look out for an outsourced finance service to ensure we stay above water.

The financial situation we are in now is due to a number of factors including but not limited to: falling revenue in on-trade sales, loss of a regular club-night, failure to maintain our catering offer.

However, that was the past and now we are trying to turn a new leaf with new management, new staff, and a revived sense of purpose and positivity. We were thrown a life-line by the tragic loss of the 02 ABC, and we intend to use it well and to rebuild our reputation as one of Glasgow's premiere live music and clubbing venues, and also to rebuild our once thriving volunteer base who over the years have done amazing things for equality and inclusion on campus.

We have been working effortlessly to improve the place our Union has on campus, and we hope we will achieve this over the next academic year. Our elected officers, volunteers and staff do their utmost to ensure that students are being represented and we hope that this year we can improve on our failings in the past and move forward to provide students with what they want and need. The research has shown us what this is, and our strategic plan will help us to get there.

I also hope that throughout the next year our relationship with the Guardian can improve, and this year I will try my best to work with them to do so. To the editors in chief, my email address is president@qmunion.org.uk and I am always willing to meet up and chat. You know where to find me!

Yours sincerely,

Courtney Hughes

QMU President 2019/20

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