I hope you’re all keeping well, your families are safe and you’re looking after yourselves.
As some of you know I’m a postgraduate student and originally did my undergrad here at Barts and The London SMD in medicine. After I graduated in 2016, I worked for a couple of years as a doctor before deciding to take a break from medicine and returning to do a master’s here at QM in Global Health. During that time, I returned to work for the Students’ Union, this time in the staff office as the Deputy Chief Executive Officer’s intern, and once again sat on Student Council. I ran for President and won somehow (I’m only the second Barts student and the first mature student to become President in a very long time). 3 weeks ago, I emailed the NHS saying I was willing to come back and work as a doctor. The NHS gladly welcomed me back, they’ve approved my paperwork and have asked me to work at the NHS Nightingale Hospital in London.
This of course means that I have to leave the office of President which is what I want to tell you all in this email. For now, it will be a sabbatical and if after 2 months’, things have subsided enough and I’m no longer needed in the NHS, I will come back. However, that’s quite unlikely with all the backlog of operations etc. that have been put on hold. As far as I’m concerned, this is more a resignation, but only time will tell. There is no protocol for the resignation of the President (because who would be silly enough to resign?) but seeing as I was elected by the student body I decided my resignation should also be sent to the student body. I’ve delegated out my work and meetings to the other Executive Officers. Megan, who is Deputy President, will now be the acting President, until Shamima becomes President in August . I feel truly blessed to have such an amazing Exec team who have supported me through everything and I just want to thank them for everything they’ve done this year.
This year I’ve been working hard on fixing a lot of democratic and governance issues that I’ve noticed over the last 10 years, whilst trying to ensure the Student Voice is at the heart of every decision we make. The democratic structures and our Board of Trustees will change from next year and the way the Union operates is following suit. Not only that but we as an Executive Officer team have all worked on several wide-ranging projects which will empower students to run their own projects and campaigns, get more involved and have the ability to directly lobby the University themselves via being able to set-up petitions through the Students’ Union website. The Union will change from a representative based democratic system to one that is a mix of a participatory and representative democracy. This essentially means more of you will be able to get directly involved.
Communications to students will change to let you know more about what we’re doing to make your voice heard, this will include a weekly faculty email and 2 monthly emails, one regarding welfare and one regarding political updates in the Union and University. Reps will also be given more power to make changes. Not only will we have 2 additional Executive Officers, we will have a rep for each school, and almost twice as many subcommittees of Student Council with the power to pass policy. A new scrutiny panel made of voluntary random students will ensure the officers and reps are doing their roles effectively and given feedback on improvements they can make. The Board of Trustees will have a new subcommittee dedicated to ensuring the governance structures of the Union are a) in place and b) regularly reviewed to allow for better scrutiny. The fundamental way in which decisions are made at a high level will also change. I’ve rewritten and reviewed every Bye Law this year (twice in a lot of cases) and the Bye Law review will finish next year. Finally, the way in which our strategy is written, implemented and reviewed will fundamentally change, and with all of these changes put together, I’m hoping you will see a new Union that will work for all students.
There’s so much more I wanted to do and I’ve started handing stuff over to the other Executive Officers and some staff. I had originally wanted to write a 5 year digital transformation plan in May/June but ironically this work is now being sped up thanks to the virus. Student Group development will come more into focus next year (it’s the one regret I have about this year that we couldn’t do more on this) and I’m hoping with more Executive Officers we’ll be able to get more involved at a national level as other Students Unions’ do. When I first decided to run, I made so many plans of what I wanted to achieve knowing that I would never be able to achieve everything I wanted to do, but hoping I would get through a large chunk of it. Whilst I think I have done a lot there was a lot more I wanted to do that I’m no longer able to do and that is a hard pill to swallow. With the effect the virus has had on you and the Union I feel like I’m abandoning all of you, the other Exec and staff at a truly awful time when I really should be leading the Board and that is also a hard fact to deal with.
Resigning was not an easy decision to make, but it was definitely the right one. I have skills in A&E, ITU and microbiology and I could not in good conscience not put these skills to good use when so many people are dying from such a horrible disease. I am so so proud of all the students who have volunteered both locally and nationally to help those around them; it makes me proud to have come from a University with such compassionate people. I’d also like all of you be considerate of the staff and your lecturers who all have families to take care of during this time (as do many of you) but are still trying to do their best to give you the best experience they can during a truly unprecedented time. The other Executive Officers will continue to lobby and work with the University and I’ve helped them draft an email to you all in regards to what’s going on and where we need your support in making your voice heard and that will be sent to you soon.
Finally, I just wanted to thank each and every one of you who have messaged me, supported me and gotten involved with the Union this year to help improve students’ lives. I have seen some truly great and selfless leaders in our Course Reps, Student Councillors and Student Group Leaders this year who have raised the voice and improved the lives of those around them. I also want to thank those students not involved in the Union but who have nonetheless campaigned and worked hard for their fellow students and staff, you are truly amazing human beings. This is a difficult time in everybody’s lives, the world has suddenly changed and the future looks much darker, but I know you’ll all make it through if you help look out for one another as you have done throughout this year. And when the opportunity comes along to help make other peoples lives even the slightest bit better, and you have the capacity for it, grasp it and help shine a light in the dark, a lot of people could do with it right now. Good luck to all of you with whatever you decide to do in the future, I hope you make the world a better place for those you care for and everyone else around you.
Alright I’m going to stop now. I hope I don’t end up seeing any of you in the hospital so please look after yourselves and take care!!! I am truly wishing you all the best!
Dr Talhah Atcha
Ex-President of Queen Mary Students’ Union 2019-20
Locum SHO, NHS Nightingale London