Candidate Interview: Hannah Niblock, VP Education

Interview conducted by Pete Hodson, news editor, @PeteHodson

What’s your plan of action if you get a second term? What motivated you to stand for re-election?

There’s just so many things that are not tied up. I feel that I can’t wrap a bow around it and leave it. There are things that have been initiative this year that I’ve been working hard on, like the planned restructuring to the academic year. I am 100% in support of that. I’ve made sure that students are consulted, where they weren’t really being before. I was the only student involved in the process beforehand. All school reps have had a working group with David Jones, Pro-VC for Education. From what I can tell a lot of councillors are excited by it. It didn’t happen last year as council blocked it but that was because of misinformation, because certain individuals didn’t tell them what was going on.

I’ve tried to make sure information is available, so at least people can have an informed opinion. There are certain things that are undecided yet, such as the three week Easter break. Catching problems at school level is important. I just wanted to make sure I was here to see the whole thing through.

Queen’s also faces a higher education review next year, which is a document which explains how good it is – then the SU submits a further document highlighting areas of good practice and where other things are not working. The University knows what problems that are out there, they just don’t want anyone else to know. I’ve been lucky having a Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education that is really student focused and honest.

Any new ideas in the pipeline?

A lot of continuation. Part of the reason why I want to stay on is to see things through. I’d like to push the University to create a few solid policies on things that are lacking at the minute. One particular is ‘fit to sit’. The idea is that if you go into an exam and sit it, even if you’ve had other issues, the fact that you’ve gone into the exam hall and sat it you’re saying “I’m okay to do this exam. I’m ready to accept these marks.” Students don’t really understand that and the University doesn’t actually have a policy on that – they just talk about it. It’s not really written down anywhere – apart from on a website where people go when they’ve already got into trouble. It’s hard to get information out to students, but we’ve put it on QOL. There’s no money for anything. I spend a lot of my time trying to get money and sponsorship, whereas if you just had the money there you’d be able to get your head down and get on with it.

Are DEL cuts a source of concern?

People would probably be surprised that I would be against cuts, because I would probably vote Conservative. But I think higher education is different. I think we need to fund it, particularly in Northern Ireland – we don’t have anything else. I found the thought process behind what they were doing bizarre, pumping money into enterprise and chipping away at education. There’s only so much a Students’ Union can do. To be fair I think we did quite well with the first one [budget
cut]. There really isn’t going to be much of a change in the University’s attitude towards cuts. It will have to cut places, courses, departments. Paddy’s [Johnson] vision, as far as I can see it, is to create a university less dependent on funding. It could mean more private sector contribution, but then you have a University that is entirely driven by industry. I think that companies and big industry already have enough influence over society. University is a place that you should come and be able and get an education, sit around and think about things.

This is the second year VP Education is uncontested. Why do you think VP Education has proved an unpopular portfolio for which to seek candidature?

It’s not very sexy is it? It’s hard work. I have to do kind of what the President does in the sense because I go to so many committee meetings. At the minute I’m flat out going to various meetings, there’s so much to do. I know that a lot of people see that and rethink. As far as I’m aware there were a few people that looked at my role and switched to other things, because people have told them Hannah’s in here from 9 in the morning to 12 at night. Now that’s not every day, but it is a lot of the time. I could come in here at 10 and leave at 4 but there’d be a lot of unhappy people standing around. It’s not in me to do it half-assed. It’s the one that interests me. It’s my mission to have 4 people going for my role next year.

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