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Meet Your Students’ Association President

In an interview with Mr Juan Pablo Rodriguez, the Students’ Association President for the 2022-23 academic year, he discussed his plans for the upcoming year, his work so far, and his advice for incoming freshers.

When asked why he ran for the job, Mr Rodriguez spoke of his awareness of rising prices, both generally as well as in town. However, he mentioned that when writing his manifesto, he realised that there were further issues to consider.

“I noticed that certain concerns also required attention, like improving the ways in which the Union communicates with students and how we can get students involved. I think that those were the two main driving forces behind running the campaign.”

Alongside the other candidates campaigning in March 2022, Mr Rodriguez had to submit a manifesto for students to help them decide for whom to vote. His key goals included affordability, community and student engagement. With student engagement in mind, he said, “Certain things require immediate attention, such as writing the strategy of the Association together with the other Sabbatical Officers. This is so we have a clear direction of where we want to go between now and the next three to five years, and how that many dictate the way in which we interact with students and interact with the officers of the Association. I think this strategy is one of the main priorities at the moment.”

One of Mr Rodriguez’s key goals is improving the affordability of St Andrews. He will provide, for example, a scholarship for a student using money from his own salary. This scholarship will be somewhere in the region of £1500-1800.

He also wishes to increase the pay of casual Union staff, something which requires discussion with university management as well as Director of Events and Services Lucy Brook.

He said, “Getting the ball rolling with wages should be one of the first things that is done”.

Moreover, he wishes to help students living out of town through providing a free bus service. This would, according to his manifesto, run three times morning and night respectively.

He said, “This definitely is a priority and through the transition months I’ve been in touch with people from the transport units in the university and there has been some movement on that. We’ll see where we get”.

In terms of where the University’s priority for this year should be, Mr Rodriguez once again has a clear focus on affordability.

“I think given the situation with inflation and prices, it’s just trying to make the student experience as affordable as possible and looking after students that are renting privately. We need to look at how the prices of services for example may affect the way students experience university. We need to think about how students can develop themselves in the University and also through the Association”’.

When asked about how he will balance potential conflicting interests between the University and the Student body, Mr Rodriguez said, “The first thing here is the fact that my role is to amplify and echo the concerns of the students. That's one of the things I mentioned in my manifesto. I would like to go to different halls throughout the weeks of the semester, chatting to people in person and also keeping channels of communication open so that the students are letting me know what their concerns are, and these concerns are brought up to the University and I can advocate for them. So, I would say that the priority is the students’ voice. After that comes how we can also create the University’s voice.”

To help students understand how the Students’ Association works, the Sabbatical Officers have been working on social media posts, some of which have already been posted on the St Andrews Students’ Union Instagram (@standrewsunion).

“These posts should help students to understand the roles of the Sabbaticals, so they know that we work as a team as well as how we work as a team. We are equals. I hope the posts will also clarify to students how to better engage with the Union.”

The Association has six Sabbatical roles: the President, who acts as a student advocate and takes care of external relations, the Director of Wellbeing, who looks after student welfare and inclusion; the Director of Student Development and Activities, who supports student societies and subcommittees; the Director of Events and Services, who organises major events of the year such as Freshers’ Week; the Director of Education, responsible for representing student matters related to learning an teaching; and the Athletic Union President, in charge of student sport at the University. These officers sit on the Union’s Student Representative Council and the University Court.

Mr Rodriguez was keen to place emphasis on why freshers should get involved with the Students’ Association.

He said, “I think that it's one of the big platforms that are available in town, and indeed the University, in which students can get involved. The Association can actually do something for the student experience overall, both in the area of representation and the area of activities. I think that right now, we are finally having a year that we could qualify completely as normal compared to the past two and a half years of the pandemic. It's opening a lot of opportunities to have more engagement. We can bring the Union to where it used to be before, before the pandemic, in which the activities we could do were restricted.”

Mr Rodriguez had advice for freshers that included both the academic and the social side of Freshers’ Week. When asked what his advice was for incoming freshers, Mr Rodriguez was keen to suggest that freshers participate in as much as possible.

“I would recommend trying a bit of everything, especially in Freshers’ Week. You have give-it-a-go sessions with sports, socials with societies and subcommittees. Try and do as much as possible because that way you will find groups of people you want to become friends with, and activities you will want to do throughout the year and maybe throughout your degree. So, get involved with that.”

As well as sports clubs and other societies, Mr Rodriguez encourages students to get involved with the academic schools.

He said, “Try and get involved also with what the schools put up. I did History, and I know the school of History did a couple of events. I’m sure other schools put on events that will let you interact with lecturers and understand a bit better how your school works.”

In a final quick fire round of questions, Mr Rodriguez was asked his favourite pub, his favourite café, and his favourite outdoor spot in St Andrews.

“My favourite pub would be Aikman’s. Favourite café? I’m going to say the Old Union Coffee Shop. I like the vibes and how it looks. And for my favourite outdoor spot, I love the Cathedral when it’s open. Hopefully it will be open by the time freshers arrive!”

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