Wednesday, 27 March 2013

My motion to Labour Students National Conference 2013, on democratically electing the Chair of Steering.

Labour Students notes:
- Currently, the constitution states that the Chair of Steering will be nominated by and from among the democratically elected three members of the steering committee.
- The constitution is unclear as to how this decision should be made.
- Although the Chair of Steering does not have voting rights on the committee, they none the less perform a very important function, requiring an in depth understanding of democratic process. They are also a very high profile position, as they chair debates at democratic events.

Labour Students believes:
The current process is unclear and confusing, especially for those on the steering committee who are required to make the decision as to who the Chair of Steering should be.
- The current process is not transparent, and means that the Chair of Steering is not directly accountable to Labour Students members.
- All positions on the Labour Students national committee, whether or not they have voting right, should be elected in a way that is clear, open and transparent.

Labour Students resolves:
- That the Chair of Steering should be directly elected by the Labour Students membership at Labour Students National Conference.
- That a steering committee of three should still be elected at council, and the Chair of Steering be elected from among them.
- A person may still stand for steering committee but then choose not to put themselves forward to be Chair of Steering.
- When standing for steering committee, candidates should declare their interests in running to be Chair of Steering to ensure transparency.
- The Chair of Steering should be elected by club delegates, until such point as One Member One Vote is introduced, and then they should be elected by One Member One Vote.

(motion was passed and will go to National Council, where if passed a second time it will become constitutional)

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

My motion to Labour Students National Council 2013, about postgraduate funding...

Labour Students notes:
- Relative to its undergraduate equivalent, postgraduate provision has suffered neglect from successive Governments.
- Even before the recession, the number of UK students taking up postgraduate degrees increased only marginally between 2002 and 2008.
- The removal of over 80% of teaching funding to universities by the government in the comprehensive spending review will hit postgraduates particularly hard as they are not eligible for fee loans.
- The proposals for increased scrutiny of international students is likely to put many off, choking off this source of funding for universities; which risks universities raising further their already high postgraduate fees.
- This combination means many are excluded from postgraduate education all together, while many are partly funding their course through ‘highly unstable’ sources such as overdrafts or credit cards and many others have to work such long hours it hurts their studies.

Labour Students believes:
- The UK’s future growth, both economically and socially, rests on a highly skilled population and we cannot rely upon attracting international talent to provide this base for the future; we must therefore seek to encourage more students to take up postgraduate study by working to remove financial barriers.
- No one should be unable to take up postgraduate study because of their financial circumstances.

Labour Students resolves:
- To work towards an NUS policy of lobbying for a system of low interest Government loans, as are available to undergrads, for up to £10,000 of postgraduate fees; not to be paid back until the graduate is earning over £21,000.
- To work towards an NUS policy of lobbying for better terms for Personal and Career Development Loans (PCDLs) and to make these more widely available.
- To encourage NUS to lobby and work with universities to encourage them provide better and more widely available bursaries, targeted at students from lower income backgrounds.
- To encourage NUS to lobby and work with industry to encourage them to sponsor postgraduate provision; and efforts must be made to encourage employer sponsorship of individual students.


Saturday, 23 March 2013

"What do you want to do when you grow up?" is the wrong question.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”; it’s the question that we’re asked from about as early as we can conceive of what growing up and having some sort of job means. And for many of us, the question keeps getting asked, again and again, maybe in slightly more sophisticated ways that involve paths into industries or quizzes that probably tell us nothing we didn’t already know, but it’s essentially the same question. Of course, careers education varies greatly from school to school, but for too many students the approach to careers education is still far too linear and far too simplistic.

Careers education is still too often based upon an increasingly outdated view of education, of jobs and of careers. It's based on the idea that you go through education, get a job and stick with that job. And therefore your decisions in education are to be made with this career goal in mind. But increasingly, people aren’t staying in one career or even one industry for most of their lives. People are increasingly likely to do one job for a while, and then move into a whole other sector. And so people don’t so much need to know a lot about one field, but instead be well equipped to take on a wide variety of roles. And so our careers education needs to shift away from the idea of a single career path, and towards teaching students to be flexible and to be creative in their approach to the job market and equipped them with the broad range of skills they will need for this.

Work experience should be compulsory for all secondary school children; even doing just a week of good work experience can be really beneficial. But schools should be taking this a step further by encouraging and facilitating students to do volunteering, or run clubs, or just get part time jobs. Working in retail in Saturdays will teach you a tonne of skills that will be useful when you need to get a full time job. University is a great chance for those who go to do things like volunteer, get involved in societies or work part time but, especially for those who don’t go to university, schools should be ensuring their pupils have the same kind of experiences and opportunities.

And this should be part of a shift in focus from choosing your career path to taking the opportunities available to you, making good decisions in the present for your development, building skills and exploring the big old mess that is the world of work. We should be ncouraging students to make decisions in the present that will be valuable experiences, rather than focusing on charting a course for the future; instead of asking “what do you want to do when you grow up”, we should be asking what students want to do, want to experience and what they want to get involved with now.

Additionally, careers education can still be far too focused on “this is what a job will involve if you get it”. Schools should be better at equipping pupils with tools to get into those jobs in the first place, from CV writing to approaching employers to creating a good online presence (and actually how to create a visible and strong presence; not just “keep your facebook as private as possible and make yourself entirely invisible because sometimes you’re noticeably drunk”).

Careers education should be a central part of secondary school, especially post-14, not just something on the side. It should be comprehensive and it should be about what students can do to grow and develop right now, not just what they might want to do one day. Not only is this view increasingly out of sync with people’s career paths, it puts an unnecessary amount of pressure on young people to make the “right” choices now; because if it’s leading you down a path that will end at a job for life…that’s terrifying! Easing that pressure by focusing on doing a lot of things and building a broad skills base, and emphasising that jobs need not be for life would not just improve careers education but would ease this pressure on students, making the transition from education to work that little bit easier and maybe even make the whole thing a bit more fun!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Speaking up about mental health.

This is quite a different blog post from what I normally write, and I did think about putting it on my personal blog, but it is a political issue, just as much as issues related to my gender or sexuality are political issues. I’m talking about my mental health. Well, more, why I don’t feel comfortable talking about issues related to mental health anymore. I used to. But since coming to university I’ve become increasingly unwilling to be just…be open about the whole thing.

I’ll preface this by saying I have depression and I have anxiety. I first remember being properly depressed when I was nine…the worst it has ever been was when I was fourteen, which was in large parts because I just didn’t know how to deal with it or, more importantly, have any real desire to. I’ve had plenty of depressive periods since then, but none that bad. I’ve self-harmed, although I don’t think I’d describe myself as a self-harmer…more a depressive who…dabbled. I have really rare panic attacks, and I have bouts of social anxiety when being around people just…freaks me out; and this can be strangers or my best friends. This isn’t most of the time, by any means, and depression especially I am for the most part really pretty decent and coping with. But it’s still something I suffer from and that’s probably not going away, well, ever.

Before I came to university I was fairly fine with being like “yeah, I have this thing…” if the issue arose; and I suppose one of the key reasons I'm not anymore is just that when you meet new people, you're hesitant to bring it up too early on...but then they become your friends and you still haven’t brought it up and then so much time as passed and it just feels weird to suddenly insert it into conversation.

But there are a lot of other reasons why I think I feel very uncomfortable talking about this stuff. And I know that that’s bad and that I should be open about it because mental health is still something with this huge stigma attached and people speaking out is helpful…so I wanted to write a post about why I don't feel comfortable speaking out about it anymore.

I worry about people not believing me because I seem fine. And, for the most part, I am fine and I can see why the idea I’d be depressed, let alone the idea I have episodes of social anxiety, would be surprising to a lot of people. And so I do feel like people just won’t…take the idea that these are actually problems I suffer from seriously.

Then, there’s this feeling that I can’t say I have mental health issues because they’re not nearly as bad as other peoples. And they’re really not; there are so many people who suffer from mental health problems a million times worse than mine. But on the other hand I’m more than happy to speak out about issues related to being bisexual, but I’ve never experienced  hate crime, I have a supportive family etc…my experience of this hasn’t been anywhere near as hard as a lot of other people’s.

And it’s good to speak up about milder mental illnesses…because that helps challenge the idea of a binary mentally ill or mentally well state of being....right?

I guess the other big thing is that wonderful world of jobs and careers that university makes you really, really aware of…which is a good thing, but when you’re conscious of presenting yourself in an employable way you, or at least I, tend to not want to mention the bit where you’re so sad you just don’t want to get out of bed. Which is silly on two levels; for me, personally, depression etc has never stopped me doing anything I had to do. It’s made it a whole lot less fun and it’s stopped me doing things I’d like to do, but with school and work I’ve kept going, albeit unenthusiastically.

But more importantly if someone wasn’t prepared to hire me because of these issues, that would be really wrong of them. I shouldn’t hide this because some people might be horrible about it.

We do need to, as a society, be more open about mental health and mental illness, and I know that. But it can be tough, you know?

Leeds Mind Matters society is running an excellent campaign called the elephant in the room, which inspired this is important that we all find the strength and are given the freedom and the safety to speak up about mental health problems; because a whole lot of people have them, and the sooner we can start accepting them as normal, the better.

The elephant in the room facebook page;