Candidates running for the upcoming Students’ Association elections faced each other at a town hall meeting last night. These meetings are happening across three days in the run up to voting taking place on Tuesday 14 March. The theme of the first question-and-answer event was on academic issues facing students.
The second town hall taking place later today at 6:30pm in the Student Union Large Rehearsal Room will be on advocacy and the event on Friday will discuss wellbeing and equality. Students are thoroughly encouraged to send in questions before and during the meeting, to be answered by candidates competing against one another.
The Saint brings you highlights from the first academic town hall. A full recording of the event is available on the St Andrews Students’ Association Elections Facebook page.
Candidates: Alden Chau and Matthew Ko
Running for: Science and Medicine Faculty President
Alden and Matthew were the first candidates taking the “stage” on Wednesday. The first question was on the biggest problems facing the science and medicine faculties and what could be done about it.
Matthew said that the biggest issue was obtaining internship experience – describing them as “gatekept”. He said, “If you manage to get a coveted industry internship, you can do stuff that employers and academics love.” His solution would be to introduce research and summer internship opportunities that could take place within the faculty and see what could be done to build networks with external companies to provide internship opportunities to undergraduates.
Alden, a medical student, said that the main issue was the “wildly imbalanced” office hours across schools and access to mental health support. His solution is to increase awareness via posters, and find “better equality within each faculty” for office hours.
Alden also added that he would introduce a “science showcase” which could include displays of some aspect of engineering, bio, and physics. This would be an opportunity for STEM students to interact outside of their departments.
Candidates: Hitanshi Badani and Yasmin Coffey
Running for: Arts and Divinity Faculty President
Hitanshi and Yasmin agreed over the biggest issue facing the arts faculties. They both mentioned diversifying the syllabus and both suggested improving the accessibility of resources.
Hitanshi, a third-year studying International Relations and Psychology, said that she wanted to “make socialising accessible”. She explained that departmental socialising is primarily through balls.
Bull & Bear Ball, Ambassador’s Ball, Serotonin Ball, Pi Ball are associated with the School of Economics, International Relations, Psychology and Neuroscience, and Mathematics and Statistics, respectively. Hitanshi said that balls are largely inaccessible as a method of socialising.
Yasmin, a third-year studying Management, added that she would work to decolonise reading lists and represent communities that are not visible in the western canon.
The candidates differed most in their responses on how they would promote environmental sustainability and how they would address industrial strike action.
Instead of explaining how she, personally, would promote sustainability, Hitanshi spoke about achievements of the Eden Campus. The new campus is driving the University’s pledge to be carbon net zero by 2035 and has generated heat and electricity for campus buildings. She described the importance of raising awareness of the sustainable measures taking place at the University.
Yasmin said that she would ensure that none of her policies, such as printing a journal, would have a negative impact on the environment. She added, it was important for sustainability representatives to also be recognised for their work.
When it came to discussing strike action, Hitanshi said she supported the strike “one hundred per cent”. She described a case in which a member of staff was stuck on a series of three-month contracts. Hitanshi said she would make sure that students knew where to direct their frustration and provide letter templates to students.
Yasmin said that she would find “any way to avoid striking”. She added that it was important to understand a student and staff perspective and ensure that information regarding industrial action was communicated effectively and equally across all schools. She highlighted that some schools had better communication regarding industrial action than others.
Candidate: Cam Brown
Running for: Director of Education (DoEd)
Cameron is running uncontested for one of the six paid Sabbatical Officer positions. He is a postgraduate student in legal and constitutional studies.
The chief academic issue that he would want to bring to attention would be to reintegrate and retain students who take a leave of absence.
Cam said, “It is really hard to come back to university after [a leave of absence]”. The second key issue he would highlight is turning the current extensions policy into a novel self-certification policy.
Cam explained that his undergraduate university introduced a self-certificate model where a one-week extension would be “automatically processed”. An online portal would enable students to fill out a form that would process the application for an extension. It would be conditional on fulfilling appropriate reasoning such as wellbeing, bereavement, or illness.
Cam added it would “give breathing space”. He also said that a 24-hour study space should be made exclusively for undergraduates – a proposal that may prove to be contentious at Friday's wellbeing-themed town hall.
The Saint asked the candidate what would be done to address the imbalance of online and in-person exams within individual subjects. A student in the School of English may sit an online exam whilst their peer taking a different module in English may sit an in-person exam – yet both are expected to produce two essays and memorise a mountain of quotations.
Cam gave a model student representative answer saying that he would, “Have to speak to the students to respond”.
Cam also said, the “University can be a red tape printing machine”. He added, it is his job to be “cutting the red tape” and work together with the University to enact positive change.
Photo: Hannah Kershaw