President's Blog - #MicrowaveGate - RGU Shame On You



One of the continuous issues this year has been the provision of microwaves on campus, and in particular the time restrictions placed on the microwave in the Sir Ian Wood Building. This is been a silly, but never ending issue that has been dragging on for months, and still drags on to date. I think it's important that we are open and honest with students about what has been going on with this, and where we are at with it.

The background to all of this is student feedback. For the past few years, student representatives have been asking for microwave provision on campus. There are various reasons for this: cost, convenience, dietary requirements, availability of food at evenings and weekends, and many more. After various discussions, last year students and staff worked in partnership (through an enhancement theme of our Student Partnership Agreement) to secure an investment to install three microwaves on campus. The logistics of this with health and safety and contracts  were baffling, but none the less we were able to get microwaves in Gray's, Garthdee House Annex, and Sir Ian Wood Building, with the initial intention that it was provided for out of hours use.

The long battle was won, the microwaves were here, and it was a big win for student representatives. However, because the original focus for microwaves was on out of hours provision, it was decided that the Sir Ian Wood Building microwave would only be available from 7pm. It was only when it was all set up did we all realise how silly it was to have a time limit on the microwaves. From the start of the 2015/16 academic year, student representatives have been bringing up this issue constantly. From class rep meetings, to meetings with Dean's of Faculty, to forums to Annual General Meetings, this has been a clear message from students that they want the SIWB microwave to be open all the time.

RGU:Union has taken this feedback and actively passed this on to RGU senior management to get a decision made. What should have happened is the extension of the microwave opening hours then and there, four months ago. However, instead, we've ended up dragging this out for even longer. The first reason we were given, which was reasonable enough, was that the permission was originally given with a focus on out of hours provision. In terms of what we originally asked for, they did provide it, we can't deny that. However, our argument was that in light of recent feedback, the original ask has changed and we'd like them to reconsider. The response from the university was that they said they would have to get feedback to support a change in the decision, and the plan was to have this feedback take place in January/February.

We were unhappy with the delay in this, and wanted to push for the microwave to be available for 24 hours in January for exams. We supported RGU by bringing forward their survey to December. We used our PR staff, asked class representatives, society members and more to get as much feedback as possible. More than 70% of respondents specifically raised concerns that the microwave was not available at the time they wanted to use it. We delivered all of this to management at RGU, and once again, they should have made the decision there and then to just remove the cover.

Some of the key concerns with removing the cover were the impact that this would have on the revenue of catering outlets. Our argument for that was that it would be impossible for them to measure the impact if the microwave was not available at the same time. At this point, it has zero impact. They should open it up, and if it is having such a negative impact, we could reconsider. Our other argument was that students already bring in food from home, what difference does it make whether it is hot or cold?

So, by January 2016 we'd had a huge amount of feedback from students, the Dean's of Faculties had discussed it (and were supportive of opening it up), we'd conducted feedback surveys and even the Deputy Principal knew about it. What more was there to do? Well, of course, for a major, life changing decision such as this (a plastic cover on a microwave), it would require a formal paper to be written and submitted to the universities Executive, by which I mean the highest management committee at the university consisting of the Principal, Deputy Principal, Vice Principals and senior Directors. This is where we are at now. Waiting for the Executive to make a decision, and quite rightly, they've been very busy with much more pressing matters.

At this stage, I am just so confused as to why this is the process, and why this one decision has been so unnecessarily complex. RGU is a university that (usually) values it's partnership with students, and during my time as President, I've had very little issues. I've found that 99% of the time, the university is willing to listen and act on student feedback. Earlier this year, Estates completely revised their proposed building closing hours for Gray's School of Art, based on student feedback. Last year, we were able to secure investment from the university to develop University Street as well as other projects (including the microwaves). Student feedback has always been at the forefront of change at RGU.

Regardless of what the eventual outcome of this situation is, I am disappointed in RGU for how they have handled this. The issue is small. It's about a plastic cover. However, what I don't think the university has appreciated is the impact that this delay may have had. We have been working for years to ensure that our student representatives feel valued and that their opinions are able to make a tangible impact on their student experience. This is something the university highly values. However, in this incident, there are dozens of class representatives who have raised their views and seen nothing done about it. There are hundreds of students who filled in surveys, and seen no change because of it. There are hundreds of students who have seen RGU:Union fighting for this, who may have lost faith in our organisation. That deeply disappoints me.

I'm writing this post to update students on what has been happening, and to remind them that their views are always important and supported by RGU:Union. While this situation does not represent the whole of RGU, that as I have said does generally hold student views in high regard, this four month drama, which stems from years worth of feedback, has been a real shame. I'd like to apologise to any the reps who may be frustrated or dissatisfied for the lack of result on this. We've tried as much as we can, and I just hope that we get a result soon, and the impact of this is minimal.

Thanks for taking the time to read this mammoth of a post! If anyone has any questions they'd like to ask me on this, just get in touch: Edward Pollock (prescd@rguunion.co.uk)

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