At the end of July, James Perkins finishes his two year term as Vice President Education for the Students’ Union and alumnus of City University London. He has been a great asset to the students and staff of the university in many ways and worked closely with our team on numerous projects and activities, including his keynote presentation at this year’s Learning at City conference exploring students as partners. Fortunately this isn’t the end of James’ work with us as he will be joining LEaD from 1st August on a one year fixed term post as a Student Education Enhancement Project Officer. To mark this ending and new beginning, here is an interview with James reflecting on his time as VP Education, what he has learnt and how City can build on his legacy:
Tell us about your role as Vice President Education.
As VP Education, I am the lead student officer for academic standards, quality assurance, enhancement, learning and teaching, and programme representation. This is an enormous remit, but so exciting and interesting and looking at all of this has given me an incredible understanding of how higher education is built, delivered and improved.
What is one of your warmest memories or moments during this time?
It has to be the Student Voice Awards on the 31st March 2014. Last year, I was able to revise the student-nominated staff prizes to also include our programme representative awards. Whilst the 2013 iteration of this was incredible, this year we received over 250 nominations, had over 100 people in attendance (both staff AND students more importantly) and had new awards for research supervision, personal tutoring, guest/visiting lecturers, innovation and sustained excellence. The entire shortlisting process was inspiring, but to be honest the awards night felt like the culmination of what I have been working for – enabling the recognition of the outstanding individuals (from all parts of the University) who make City the great place it is.
What has been your greatest achievement during your time as VP Education?
It isn’t easy to show, but I worked really hard to make sure postgraduate (taught and research) students better represented within the Students’ Union and University. Through holding postgraduate student forums and working with lots of postgraduate reps, we have begun to better understand what postgraduate students need from the Union and University and I am happy to be leaving knowing this work can continue, and that we aren’t the typical ‘undergraduate union’. There are some exciting things coming soon, but it’s early days so watch this space!
What lessons have you learnt?
I think the main lesson I have learnt is to value not just the people at the top or those who stand out, but to actively seek out those people grafting away at the grass-roots level in either their education or their work. In any organisation, these people are the most valuable and when they see you paying attention, they can open doors for you and make achieving your goals much more manageable.
What has been your experience of working with LEaD (aka LDC, Learning Success, Mental Health and Counselling)?
I have worked with LEaD on so many projects in the last couple of years it is tough to think about them all! We worked in partnership over the Student Voice Awards; I co-convened the Lecture Capture Working Group for policy and implementation which also saw me work with Learning Success; we established a disabled students’ officer and created links between Learning Success, Mental Health & Counselling; I was part of a cross-institutional team for an HEA project on Recognising Teaching Excellence; I was a member of the Learning Spaces Group in my 3rd year of University; I served for the last 2 years as a member of the Learning Development Advisory Board; and I am also a current student on the MA in Academic Practice. I think you could say I’m a royal flush!
What should be City’s priorities in the coming future?
City needs to consider how to create opportunities for active student engagement with their academic and co-curricular lifespans with the institution. People often talk about City being a commuter university, students ship in and out and don’t consider the campus home. It was for me as a student, and I think it was because my course and department took little steps to make me feel part of the university and also I had a lot of opportunities to interact.
What advice would you give to City?
City needs to recognise that it’s biggest asset is the professional focus of our courses, our students, our staff, and our graduate destinations match this. Not just utilising our London location but becoming a university proud to produce not just well-rounded graduates but the professional graduates who will be leading their fields. And everyone has to contribute to that – the future of our students should always be our main focus.
Tell us something about the incoming VP Education.
Issy Cooke is an incredibly creative, vocal and focused person. She in many ways will be a different kind of officer to me, but I think after two years that’s exactly what City, the Union and most importantly the students need.
What will you take with you from this role in what you will do next?
I think what I’ve realised is that you can achieve anything with the right people behind you, and that they aren’t always the people you expect but that’s what’s exciting about the job I have done and I can’t wait to see what my next step looks like.
Many thanks to James for his significant contribution to City and taking the time to be interviewed!