Over Easter term 2020, the JCR conducted a survey open to all undergraduates encompassing all areas of student life, called the ‘Big Newnham Survey’. Each JCR Officer drafted their own section, where their role allowed, and further sections were added to gauge opinion on the JCR Committee, College response to COVID, rent and finance, to name but a few. This was incentivised with a random draw to win three £50 vouchers to an online shop of the winner’s choosing. Survey sections that corresponded to specific liberation groups (e.g. LGBT+, BAME) were labelled as such and it was asked that only those students who identified as a member of said group respond. In total, there were 186 respondents to the Big Newnham Survey. It is important to note that there is a chance these statistics are positively skewed, as those who are more involved and engaged with the JCR are more likely to respond to a JCR survey.
Rent, finance and accommodation
The rent and finance survey section revealed that half of respondents agreed with the statements ‘Newnham accommodation is good value for money’ and ‘My rent is affordable’, whilst the other half disagreed. The roughly even split will most likely be due to the wide range of accommodation facilities available at one standardised rent. However, students do not want a banded rent system, with a 55.7% majority of respondents saying no to this, 21.6% saying yes and 22.7% being neutral. Furthermore, a large majority of respondents (79.8%) said they were happy with the amenities included in the rent, and a further 76.2% of respondents feel the KFC/BPMP options are appropriate for their needs. Comments in this section identified a strong desire for better or free vend laundry machines, faster Wi-Fi, and an overwhelming 66.1% of respondents indicated that an online balloting system would be preferable. There was positive feedback for the Room Guide and the Halls Officer role – and students love the pool table!
Welfare and pastoral support
The welfare section of the survey found that only half of those respondents who had received counselling at Newnham had been given an appointment in a timeframe they felt was reasonable, whilst 22.1% of respondents to the question ‘’If you received counselling, was it helpful?’ said ‘No’ and only 38.2% of respondents said ‘Yes’. However, the large majority of respondents found the nurse helpful and understanding (77.8%) and 73.9% of respondents agreed that there was enough support in College for their emotional wellbeing.
Responses to questions around tutors and pastoral support were positive on the whole – 48.9% of respondents feel their tutor is very approachable and 40.7% feel their tutor is quite approachable, whilst 45.4% feel their tutor was very helpful dealing with financial or pastoral concerns, 28.2% partially helpful and 22.7% neutral.
Similarly, there is strong support from JCR coordinated sexual health supplies. 90.8% of respondents said ‘Yes’ to the question ‘Do you feel the sexual health supplies on offer are adequate and reflective of your needs?’, and a further 79.7% said ‘Yes’ to ‘Do you feel comfortable requesting sexual health supplies?’. In the LGBT+ survey section, however, 30.2% of respondents felt they could not access welfare provisions specific to their gender or sexual identity.
It should also be highlighted that 96.6% of respondents agreed that they feel safe and secure living at Newnham.
It is very encouraging to see that academic and pastoral staff have been supportive to the accessibility needs of disabled survey respondents: 23.1% responded that academic staff had been ‘Very accommodating/understanding’ and 42.3% selected ‘Fairly accommodating/understanding’. The disabled students’ survey section also revealed that respondents were overwhelmingly satisfied with their physical access around the College, with 63.6% stating that they were ‘Very happy’ and a further 31.8% selecting ‘Fairly happy’. Students with accessibility needs were generally satisfied with the suitability of their accommodation: 36.4% said that their living space was ‘Very well suited’ to their needs, with 60.6% selecting the option of ‘Fairly well suited’. Only 5% said that their accommodation was ‘badly suited’. Specific locations cited as inaccessible included Peile, distant Colleges, and the Old Labs (which are unsuitable for students with visual impairments, as the route to them is very poorly lit in the evenings). An area of specific interest is the ramp going into Peile, which the JCR raised with the Domestic Bursar in Lent 2020.
Issues raised in regard to academic accessibility included a lack of adjustment in supervisions. Pastoral issues raised included a frustration with the bureaucratic elements of obtaining accessibility adjustments, such as needing to provide ‘expensive amounts of medical evidence on multiple occasions, despite evidence already existing in College’.
Lack of awareness
A recurring theme in survey results was a lack of awareness surrounding various aspects of JCR and College workings. For example, 42.9% of respondents to the Green survey section had not heard of the College Environment and Sustainability Committee whilst 82% indicated that they would like to know more about what is discussed at these meetings. 79.4% of respondents also indicated that they wanted to know more about how Newnham is divesting. A further 70% of respondents were unaware of the Bar’s opening days and times, and 51.4% of respondents were unaware of funds available to students through the JCR or how to apply for them. 43.8% of self-identifying LGBT+ respondents felt they didn’t know how to access information about LGBT+ events and services within and outside of the College. It should also be noted that 84.6% of respondents in this section felt trans people need further representation in Newnham.
Unsurprisingly, results indicated that the vast majority of people either rarely or never use either the JCR website or google drive.
This is particularly worrying in the context of reporting misconduct through official College channels. According to the gender- based issues survey section results, over three quarters (78.4%) of respondents did not feel like they adequately knew how to report gender based or sexual misconduct or assault. Similarly, only 7.5% of self-identifying BAME respondents know what the procedure is and who to talk to if they had to report a racist incident, 50% were not sure and 42.5% had no idea.
Following on from this, the BAME survey section results proved to be some of the most concerning. Just under a quarter of self- identifying BAME respondents (24.4%) reported to have experienced racism or microaggressions within Newnham from staff members, where microaggressions were more common than racism. 48.6% of these respondents felt there had not been enough BAME events held in Newnham in the past year, and 66.7% stated they felt there is little to no sense of community amongst BAME people at Newnham. Furthermore, 45% of respondents don’t feel like there are any staff at Newnham that they would feel comfortable talking to about a racist incident if it happened and 48.6% don’t feel like there is any staff they would feel comfortable talking to about their general experiences at Cambridge as a BAME person.
The survey also found that 56.9% of respondents were happy with the way the College responded to Covid-19, with over half of those surveyed feeling communications from College were clear and timely. Similarly, 82.1% were happy with the way in which the JCR responded. A common complaint, however, was about the treatment of international students over this period. International students were generally dissatisfied with the timeliness of information.
The survey reported that the majority of students feel represented by their JCR committee (16.2% strongly agree + 44.5% agree). 60.9% of respondents are aware of the work done by the JCR (13.8% strongly agree, 47.1% agree), and the most respondents similarly felt they could approach a member of the JCR if they had any concerns. (17.4% strongly agree, 46.5% agree). 75.3% of respondents said they felt comfortable with the JCR committee choosing to sign open letters as a student organisation, which is encouraging to see as this has been accepted practice over the past few years. Interestingly, 46% of respondents wanted more bops.
75% of 169 respondents supported the creation of a JCR Class Act Officer, a liberation role to support Newnham students who fall under the Class Act umbrella (those who self-identify as having experienced social, educational, cultural or economic disadvantage including, but not being limited to, being working-class, low income, first generation, care experienced or estranged).
Buttery and bar
The results in this section were hugely encouraging – over 90.9% of respondents describe the quality of the buttery food as very good, good and fair with only 9.1% of students of students saying that it is poor. 81.6% of respondents believed that the College buttery times are suitable for them – however, comments suggested that the College buttery could be opened 15 to 30 mins longer than regular times to accommodate those who have evening supervisions, extra-curricular activities and long practicals. Moreover, an overwhelming majority (91.1%) of respondents would like to have more cultural events/oriented food in the buttery near festivals such as Chinese New Year, and 76.3% were keen to see more themed formals.
Regarding the Iris Cafe, a lot of comments argued that Newnham students should have discounts. When asked if they would go to the Bar more if it looked different at night than in the day, 70% strongly agreed or agreed, 20% felt neutral, and 10% strongly disagreed or disagreed.
Increasing student awareness and engagement
Many of the key issues surrounding awareness highlighted in the survey could be somewhat ameliorated by the wider dissemination of information through different mediums, such as email, website or social media channels. This would be the case for example, with making students aware of the process of changing tutors – 40.8% of respondents stated they would not know who to speak to if they had any problems with their tutor. The survey also found that for many students, but particularly freshers, a clear date of when bursary money will arrive would help with financial stress – this is something the JCR can promote via our website alongside the bursary in College. The JCR should also work hard to increase student engagement by publicising and incentivising attendance at the termly open meeting.
Wheels in motion
Some of the findings highlighted above pertain to conversations already going on between the JCR and College management. One such example would be that of how Newnham can better provide for and support disadvantaged and underrepresented students during their application to and while studying at Newnham – several comments raised the importance of more access events for prospective applicants with physical disabilities as well as the introduction of a JCR Class Act Officer. I’m glad to report that planning for both of these is already underway.
There is also evidence to support the fact that there needs to be serious reform and clarity on the complaints system – currently discussions are ongoing with the MCR and College management that look to improve this. Furthermore, both the welfare and BAME survey sections’ results suggest that a second counsellor rather than an increase in current counselling hours is required, for reasons of diversity, time flexibility and varying counselling needs. We believe that having a BME counsellor will be the best way to address everyone’s needs in College and understand that the Senior Tutor is already looking at further counselling provisions at Newnham as well as in the University Counselling Service.
Generally, there is a very positive attitude to the student experience, life in College and relationship with the JCR. This is testament to the hard work of past committees and Newnham staff members and academics. Unfortunately, with the new COVID restrictions some survey results will be difficult to implement, but we will do our best as a JCR to make all changes possible before the end of this coming academic year. This survey has been a hugely valuable exercise for us as a committee and it is our strong recommendation that another be carried out next Easter by that term’s committee.
Rosie Stevenson, JCR President 2019/20 12/09/2020