As part of a Welcome to SUSU series, Wessex Scene are interviewing the 2015/16 Sabbatical Officers. Here I speak to Anjit Aulakh, VP for Student Communities.
What are you hoping to achieve as a sabbatical officer this year?
A lot of things actually, and we’ve already started on a fair few of them. A lot of my second year as VP Comms will be focussed on reviewing and restructuring areas that we already have in place. An example of something that we have already started on reviewing and restructuring is the JCR’s, so with this we’re going beyond just changing the names and the positions, we’re looking at how they actually engage people in halls and how they fit into the overall structure. On top of that you have the restructuring of how things up in Winchester are run in both the academic and events side of things: so for example we’ve changed the position of Winchester Officer to Winchester Campus President and when they are elected we will know how they want to lead and develop a restructuring of things up there. You also have- what was a big aspect of my manifesto- the campaign which we plan to launch in terms of international students for increasing their profile and support. So overall, A LOT, hopefully!
What are you most proud of in your first 3 months in the job?
The thing I am most proud of in my first three months is quite simply the successful start that I have been able to achieve. I think that I used my time in June through to August pretty wisely, to actually try and launch the review projects which are now in place, so that by the time we get to Christmas, we will be able to use these review projects as a springboard to develop and carry on the work that we have already achieved. Also, I am most proud of- which I think everyone will agree on- what was a very successful freshers. I think that it has been the best freshers that I have seen, personally, from my own time at Southampton. People seemed to be very happy with it, and the feedback that we have received on freshers has been brilliant. It was a top-class effort from everyone involved, so this past freshers for me has definitely been one of the highlights so far.
So this is your second year as the VP for Comms, why did you decide to run for a second year? Was it to build on what you have already done or was there something particular that you wanted to address this time around?
The main thing that I wanted to address this time around was the international side of things. I mean, it’s no secret, I mentioned it a lot in my manifesto and it’s something that I have started to campaign on quite strongly now. I think the previous year in this position has really allowed me to gain a true understanding and insight as to how all the structures work. So, from that I did think that the structures for the international side weren’t perhaps engaging quite as many people as they could of, so I just wanted to use the second year partly to complete this restructure. Also, seeing the Winchester Shuttle bus finally in action- thanks to my efforts last year, in all of it’s glory, has been a really good thing! But I guess that’s just a bonus, the main thing is to tackle the restructuring process.
Plus, this really is a fantastic job to have, it’s been a fantastic experience in my life. It truly gives you a platform to implement impacting changes and to get your own voice and opinion heard. So if anyone wants to run for VP student communities next year, please do it and come and have a chat with me! It’s amazing!
You discussed in your manifesto about creating an ‘astute support package’ for international students, how have you developed this idea so far and what does it entail exactly? Is there a “Anjit Plan of Action”?
Ooh, I love that name firstly… But yes there is, so I will first take you through a step-by-step process of what we have already done. Over July and a bit of August, we asked the university to hire an excel placement intern, to carry out an in-depth research into best practices of other universities in the UK with regards to how they support international students. So things such as how they engage international students, what campaigns they have for them and also to look at what campaigns and support structures that we have currently within the University and at the Student’s Union. On the back of the report, we’ve now set up a project board, where we can identify key stakeholders who we can tie to the projects. So we’ve come up with a PID (Project Initiation Document), which we wouldn’t have been able to have done without the research. So I’m very happy that we did the research as there are so many areas that wouldn’t have been identified which really need addressing. Once this PID has gone on to the relevant people, we will be meeting fairly regularly to discuss what kind of actions we can take on these issues. So this is where we are with it right now, it’s in the infancy stages, but I think it is going to turn out to be a very key piece of research that we can implement on. There will be some quick wins off of this research, however, ultimately it’s going to be a campaign which lasts for years to come as it looks into virtually everything international student related. So hopefully in a few years we will have a very impressive global presence here at the University of Southampton. I think that point is pretty key actually, because, you can’t say that it’s going to be a one-way street, it has to be clear at both ends of the international students scale (in the UK and abroad). I mean a good example of this is multi-national cuisine, I mean that stuff is amazing, so if we can do wonders with food, we can do wonders in a load of other areas.
In your manifesto you discuss how you want this year to raise the support and presence at southampton’s satellite campuses such as WSA, NOC and SGH. What steps have you taken so far or plan to do to increase this?
Well we have already talked a little bit about our plans with Winchester, so I won’t go into too much detail about that. One of the things we are wanting to do at the NOC, is to revamp the student centre space that we have there. This is where the Student’s Union will then start to publicise any campaigns that are ongoing, and David Allwright (NOC Officer) will be at the forefront of that. We have just received funding for the revamp, so I am looking forward to see how that campaign unfolds in the months to come. With regards to the SGH, we are working very closely with the MedSoc this year, as you know the MedSoc President this year is also a student leader (Iona Maxwell), so she and other members from MedSoc have been coming to the student communities zone group. Already we’ve had some very good discussions with them, so for example, they told me about a platform they’ve set up where they can get concurrent information out to all first-years and we have also discussed collaborations with other societies to help publicise events they may have over at the SGH. I think this could be a really good partnership and collaboration with them. Just touching back on Winchester, we’ve probably had THE best freshers EVER over there, people have been very happy with the Winchester shuttle bus for example, but it’s not just going to stop there, it’s only going to get better. There are representatives being elected for the new structure once that comes in at Winchester which should take it to a whole new level. The Erasmus Park JCR have been brilliant in engaging people with getting people to come to campus. So yeah, I think it’s all changed, and it’s changed for the better.
If there was one defining thing you’d like to achieve this year as VP Comms what would it be? Like the Winchester Shuttle Bus was your pinnacle last year, what would it be this year hopefully?
For something meaningful to come out of the research around International students that we have carried out over the summer. That is the main thing, to try and get the University to understand that this is probably one of the most important things that we need to be addressing right now. It’s something I think that will be the pinnacle if achieved. It won’t perhaps be a materialistic goal- if that makes sense- because with the Winchester Bus the effects were tangible as I could physically see the bus running. But, with this one, it’s going to be a lot more like a long-term strategic goal, which if I can deliver on, will be really great for years to come. Just to think of an example we’re thinking to change long term, I mean take myself or example; I was the first sabbatical officer to ever be elected who was a non-white international student. Those sorts of statistics need to change. So if we can see a change in that sort of trend in the future, then that will be the best achievement I can take away from my second-year.