Candidate Interview: Anjit Aulakh, VP Student Communities

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In the run up to the 2015 SUSU election, the Wessex Scene team have been interviewing the candidates running for sabbatical positions. Here, I interview Ankit Akulah, hoping to renew his place as VP Communities.

Why are you rerunning? Do you feel you haven’t achieved enough this first term?

The reason I’m rerunning is because I absolutely loved the job, it’s probably the best job in the world. The power and responsibility that you have to actually influence change is astounding. For example, on my seventh day in, I literally just asked: ‘why don’t we have seating  for kids in our commercial venues?’ Our Head of Commercial said: ‘that’s a really good idea!’ Three days later – we had seating for kids in our commercial venues!’ This is an example of something more operational. Take something more strategic: the Winchester transport. People have been trying to get something in place for I think five years. I don’t know whether it was luck of the draw, or if I spoke to the right people, but now we have got the Winchester School of Art on side, and fingers crossed, in September we’ll have something like a shuttle bus for students in Winchester. So in short, the reason I’m rerunning is because I think I have a lot more to offer and second time round it will take me less time to do things, so I can achieve a lot more.

In your manifesto you talk about improvement of space and infrastructure, how do you intend to deliver this?

The space thing is regarding sites, for example if you go to the NOC, and you look at the Common Learning Space, only few people use it and there’s not much of a SUSU presence there. It’s a brilliant space, but considering what we have in Winchester which is just a desk, it’s a really good space! What we need to do is revamp the infrastructure. Make sure more people can go and chill out there. But at the same time we need to have the proper marketing in place to get information out to students. So, as I said in my manifesto: completely change the infrastructure by having new computers (NOC) and having a display screen to give info about who the NOC officer is, who the relevant Sabb is, who the course reps are, and what’s going on at Highfield. For example if there is an International Forum going on, the international students will be informed and can plan to go to Highfield for that time. Similarly, with the SGH and Winchester, there needs to be a screen displaying information and a wider range of events over there. Just recently we did something called ‘Reunion’ to explain that we have a new manager [for Winchester]and that we want to make a fresh start. Lots of people turned up! So once we can show the university that students do want more from the union, we should be able to improve spaces.

You talk about improving the spaces and providing computer and screens – is there a budget for that?

There is a budget, but all these changes will probably come into effect coming into the next year. The budget is will be completely different going into August. So the exact details of where we will get the money from, have yet to be decided – it might be that we have to pitch to different budgets to get the money.

A theme that runs through your manifesto is the issue of transparency, how do you intend to achieve this?

Similar to the improvement of infrastructure – simply by having screens at the satellite campuses, as an easy access to information about who to contact in case they have a problem. The policy of having Sabbs actually at the sites at regular intervals has helped that cause too. But there is potential for more. Simply put: if student knows who their representatives are, then their voice can reach us. We just need to tell them exactly how we function, what’s to be done and how. Some people may not even know that Student Communities Committee exists, which they can come to. They don’t get a vote but it’s open to anyone. Same is the case for Union Council, anyone can rock up because we have ideas session right at the beginning, and people come up with brilliant ideas. For example, the idea of the 24hr library policy was voiced by someone attending the meeting, and David Mendoza-Wolfson, the current President, (VP Education last year), actually made that happen.

You talk about the inclusion of MedSoc in your manifesto: why are they so important?

Medsoc is in itself a mini-union. They have roughly 200 societies underneath them, and the way they function is very good. They have a parent-system structure in place, so every year, a student gets assigned two ‘parents’ and gets to chose a ‘partner.’ When they go into their second year, they in turn get a ‘child’ assigned to them – it’s a brilliant network of how information can be passed along. We’ve worked with MedSoc this year: we increased their funding from £5000 to £10,000 which subsidises their membership fee from £50 to nothing. This is a great first step. The main reason they’re so important is because of the sheer number of students at the SGH and in Medsoc.

Do you then want to create a university-wide buddy scheme?

There are some structures already in place, like peer-support, and some faculties like engineering already have a buddy-scheme. But my main focus would be to implement it for international students, because when they come they are oblivious to what’s going on and how. When I first arrived – I didn’t even know how to use a zebra crossing! In my country [India] no such thing exists. When a car stopped for me, I thought I should be polite and let the car go, the guy stuck his head out the window and said: ‘it’s your right of way!’ Then I realised this is a place where I don’t have to look left, right, left, right and then pray I don’t get hit by a car. 

You mention a lot about international student policy, what are the key tenets of your plan?

Loads of things! I am an international student myself, I’m actually the first non-white international Sabb. When I first came to England, as I said I was confused by zebra crossings, I also didn’t know you had to press the bell to get off the bus! In India buses stop at every stop. So I know that when students come here, they need the right kind of support. I will do this through videos: explaining things like how to get bank statements. Some people come over to the UK and take up drinking for the first time, this is a really interesting experience but they need to know things like you can’t drink out in the open with bottles or cans. Other stuff like stereotypes: when a lecturer says: ‘this may come up’ they should not take it literally, and see it as a hint that it will come up in the exam. It’s small things like this which can really help. There is no easy fix but we’ve started it already with the International Forum, where all international students could come forward and voice their views about how the union can make things better going forward. If I get the post again, I would like to do a weekly video post based on suggestions from international students.

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  10. SUSU Elections: Debates Round-Up
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  13. Candidate Interview: Kerry Sclater, VP DCI
  14. Candidate Interviews: Dan Varley and Flora Noble, JCR Officer
  15. Candidate Interview: Hannah Talbot, VP Engagement
  16. Candidate Interview: Shruti Verma, VP Education
  17. Candidate Interview: Jenny Bortoluzzi, VP Engagement
  18. Candidate Interview: Anjit Aulakh, VP Student Communities
  19. Candidate Interview: Chibeza Mumbi, VP Welfare
  20. Candidate Interview: Sam Bailey, VP Welfare
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History student with Mandarin on the side. Spent a year in China and a semester in Spain, plan to go back to China again after graduation. Opinion Editor at the Wessex Scene for two years.

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