Agile thinking, diplomacy and reaching out: Q&A with our outgoing student trustee and lead student representative, Phoebe Farrell

Posted on: 13 July, 2021

Student feedback is integral to UCEM’s operations, whether provided informally on our virtual learning environment (VLE) or formally by one of our student representatives, ambassadors or trustees.

The trustee role is the most prestigious position a UCEM student can achieve, with input given at board level where strategic decisions are determined. Phoebe Farrell, who studied on our BSc (Hons) Real Estate Management programme, became only the second UCEM student trustee and, as her term comes to an end, she reflects on both that role and the lead student representative position she held over the past few years in this Q&A…


Phoebe Farrell


How have you found being a student trustee and lead student representative?

It has been one of the most rewarding and productive experiences of my professional career. To have the ability to influence real change, and be able to pitch and discuss ideas with the decision-makers and they, in turn, listen and support those ideas has been empowering.

What have been the differences between the two roles?

The lead student representative role is more pastoral. You are called to be the ‘student voice’ which means talking to the student body and gathering information and general consensus feedback, as well as recognising emerging trends and sentiment, and conveying that to UCEM to convert opinion into action. There is a great support team of student representatives and ambassadors who work with you to help ensure there is a wide reach to the student body. This role, therefore, calls upon you to be empathetic and creative, it tests your listening and communication skills, and calls for you to not only gather feedback but to close the feedback loop by reporting back to the students with the action points and outcomes.

The student trustee role works in harmony with the lead student representative role. You are called to relay to the board an all-encompassing yet concise report on student opinion and sentiment whilst also commenting on all aspects of UCEM that affect or could affect the student body. The other trustees are of great standing and influence, and it is an excellent opportunity to discuss the student experience and work together to continually enhance it.

In order to be an effective lead student representative, you need to be a trustee and vice-versa; the roles are intertwined and complement each other.

What has been your proudest moment in the roles?

One of my proudest moments was at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though UCEM is an online university, it still like every other business was impacted, as were its students, and I fielded a lot of calls, texts, video calls etc., with students. I relayed the concerns to staff at UCEM who acted incredibly quickly to implement change to benefit the student body. For example, when it was clear exams as they traditionally were taken (at physical exam centres) would not be able to take place, UCEM facilitated online exams. The university consulted me very early on and took on all my suggestions and enhanced some of them. It was a true credit to those who work for UCEM on how much they took on board student opinion, as there were often three or four teams that needed to assess changes and all of them liaised with me, and the turnaround times from student concern to student resolution was impressive.

In the trustee role, I would say it was when I pitched a new student communication strategy idea to UCEM for the board to comment on and I wrote a research paper to support it. When the trustees agreed and complimented me on my report, it gave me an enormous sense of pride especially as they are all at the top of their respective professions.

Other than those examples, I would say the many interactions I had with students who came to me with personal concerns. It was humbling to be taken into their confidence and it was rewarding to help them. Being a former student gave me the insight to many student worries and I felt like I could truly empathise with them in many circumstances.

What have you learnt?

I have learnt a great many things but so as not to turn this into a dissertation I will summarise. Professionally, I have learnt to identify, interpret, communicate, and input actions based on student opinion in a timely manner. This has been vital as everyone is busy, and being able to be succinct whilst ensuring nothing of importance is left out has been a great skill to learn. Personally, I have learnt more about different people’s needs and triggers, and how best to approach certain situations. UCEM gave us mental health training and it really helped me help the students.

I would like to give a quick shout out to Aled Williams (UCEM – Director of Research, Innovation and Partnerships) who recommended me to interview for this role after I worked with him on UCEM’s first NUS Sustainable Futures accreditation audit. At the time, it wasn’t something I had the confidence to go for and it has made me a much more self-assured individual, so thank you, Aled!

How will you build on the experience going forward?

There are parallels between my job at JLL [chartered surveyor] and what my role was at UCEM. I saw the students and UCEM as my clients, with myself as the mediator between both parties to reach mutually satisfactory conclusions. My clients at JLL are also often time-poor and my role is called to be a negotiator, idea-maker, portfolio-enhancer, etc., therefore, my experience at UCEM will serve to help me enhance client satisfaction.

I would also like to find another role such as this. This was a unique opportunity whereby it was in the same field, real estate, as my job at JLL, and being a student further added to my suitability for the role.  I really enjoy helping people and making a difference, so I hope to continue to be able to do that. Getting more people from all backgrounds into real estate is a passion of mine, and the nature of UCEM being online makes it more accessible for potential students worldwide.

What advice do you have for your successor? And would you recommend applying for the roles to those earlier in their UCEM journeys?

My advice would be to make the role your own. Although there are key performance indicators and action points you have to meet, there is huge scope to put forward your own ideas and shape the role in your own way. UCEM is very open to working with you and implanting new ideas; it is a great opportunity to be an influencer in enhancing the student body experience. Also, to maintain a balance between realism and idealism, there is often a middle ground that has to be agreed and resources that have to be found. In my experience, UCEM tries its very best in each circumstance but there are many factors that influence a decision so it’s important to make all parties aware of the likely outcomes whilst striving for the most favourable one.

The roles are brilliant but they do require due attention and care. I started the role after just over two years as a student which gave me enough time to understand how UCEM operates and get comfortable with the academic workload. I would recommend applying whenever you feel like you have a handle on those things; it could be sooner for you than it was for me. There is currently availability for student representative roles, and I would recommend students applying for them – it’s a great opportunity.

Any final words?

I just want to express my sincere thanks to the entire staff, academics and board of trustees at UCEM. I have worked with many talented and caring individuals and I could not have asked for a better experience.

Thanks for sharing your reflections, Phoebe, and all the very best with your future career!

If you are interested in applying to become a student representative, take a look at the ‘My voice’ section of the VLE.