Putting students first

Ken Harris is the University of Wolverhampton Students’ Union President. In April, Ken won a second term as President, only the fifth person since 1931 to do so at the University. Ken is a mature student, having spent 14 years working in sales before deciding to take his interest in British Sign Language to the next level by applying to the University.

During his first year as President, the Students’ Union was completely refurbished thanks to a donation from the Ambika Paul Foundation and HEFCE’s Matched Funding scheme. The success of the fundraising project resulted in the University receiving an award at the recent CASE Europe 2011 Leadership, Matched Funding and Volunteer awards.

What is the role of the Students’ Union President?

I am the direct link between students and the University.

One of the things I do is update the Vice-Chancellor about student matters such as any needs or problems the students have. Representation is the main thing we do, and that can be at a local or national level. It can also be for students that need advocacy or support at a University hearing, general advice on their studies or the social side of the University.

I also lead the Union Executive team, which includes the Vice-Presidents and the part-time officers.

Why did you decide to run for a second year?

It has been an amazing year and I have been able to achieve so many positive things with the rest of the team. Some of the projects couldn’t be realised in a year, for example the re-opening of the Students’ Union at Walsall, which will happen in September.

I want to cement what we have done in the first year and carry it through to the second year.

What are your plans for the year ahead?

We have been discussing how the Learning Centres’ opening hours could be adapted to further meet student needs.

I also want to focus on helping students to get better access to grants and other funding that is available. There is money set aside to help students so we want to make them aware of alternative sources of funding. I also hope to spend more time at Walsall and increase the Students’ Union presence.

The Students’ Union has been transformed in the last year thanks to the Ambika Paul Foundation and the Matched Funding scheme – how has this made a difference to students?

It has made us more visible and accessible to students.

We went out and spoke to students and asked them what they wanted from their Students’ Union. One of the main things was social space where they can relax and study. We took that on board and that has helped us to create the new SU.

Before we were hidden away from students, but they are the reason we are here. It is really important that we are right at the heart of where students are.

People know who we are and where we are now, so we have seen an increase in the numbers of students using our services, coming to us for representation and getting involved in our activities and volunteering. People come to the union now and use us, even just to have a coffee between lectures.

What sort of feedback have you received from students about the new-look Students’ Union?

They have said it is relaxing, vibrant and a place they want to spend time in.

I have people come over to get advice about all sorts of things, from their course or graduation or even where the prayer room is.

You have studied an undergraduate and a postgraduate course at Wolverhampton – what do you think are the strengths of the University?

The cultural diversity.

There are lots of people from different cultures and backgrounds and everyone just gets along. I studied a BA (Hons) in Deaf Studies with History and that course has a great reputation, especially among the Deaf community.

I am doing a Masters in Conflict Studies and the lecturers are experts in their field.

What are your plans and ambitions after this year?

I’d like to either continue with research in Deaf Studies or working for a Deaf organisation.

At the moment I do a lot of work related to international students and student employability and I am finding that really interesting so maybe something in that area. But I would definitely like to put my sign language to use.

If you were going to sum up the University of Wolverhampton Students’ Union in three words, what would they be?

Putting students first.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Every day is different. I get to work with a team of officers and staff to make positive changes for current and future students. It is never a dull day! I am never bored – there is always something new.