What do you believe the role of the Union President is?
I think a lot of people don’t often understand the role, it took me a good few months to get my head around what it is. There’s four parts: I’m strategically in charge of the finances of the union – making good money for our students and investing it well. I’m in charge of the staffing side of the union – I link in with that and make sure we’re employing and supporting our students with the right staff.
I’m also involved with the commercial services, so the café, the shop, the nightlife, those kind of services we provide that hopefully give value for money to students, but also bring some money back in, so we can turn our £2m block grant into £7m turnover – quite a big operation.
Finally the umbrella part of my role is really the leadserhip part of the union. I’m the national face of the union if issues come up, I go to various conferences, I link in with the national organisations. I also lead the sabbatical and student leader teams and provide them support, and Im chair of the board of trustess. So the role is diverse, but it’s quite clear what I need to achieve.
What are the 3 most pressing issues facing the union?
One of the big ones is the 9k fees, it almost feels like a cliché but it’s a real issue – we’ve got students coming in paying three times the amount now,so they should expect high quality. The real worry is there is no more money in the system so that’s a hard one for the university – how do you deliver higher quality with the same money – but we have to push them to deliver that higher quality if they’re not providing the experience students deserve.
I think the social side and how we engage with students is very important. When we started listening to students for Friday nights, it was a success because we were providing what the students wanted – great acts. That’s kind of a microcosm of what we should do across the board. Let’s take that ethos to all of our student groups – so go and speak to our international students and ask them what they want, not tell them what they want, let’s speak to our postgrads and not assume they don’t want to have entertainment and go out. I know postgrads that love to go out and go clubbing, and I know undergrads that don’t. This year has been delivering things on that narrow level and a second year would be taking what we’ve learned and applying it across the field.
Third would be our facilities, they’re at breaking point with the number of students using them. To be frank this building is coping buts it’s struggling, and it’s an embarrassment what we offer on other sites as well. We are letting down those sites terribly and that needs to change. I’m currently leading a project on how we can support them and I want to be in office next year to deliver the promises from the project and keep the continuity.
What is the issue people seem to forget about?
I think the funding for our student groups is very poor – what they achieve for such little funding is incredible and we need to reprofile the way we budget in the union. We’ve got a situation where we’ve got sports clubs that can’t go to competitions because they don’t have enough money. We’ve got 150-180 societies receiving £24,000 – the reality being about £16,000 this year. That’s just wrong. They touch the lives of thousands, if not tens of thousands of students – that’s why I’m promising to double the budget. And doubling is the first step, they should be having substantially more funding.
Our societies quite conservatively requested £100,000 this year – we’re not supporting them anywhere near as we should. You can always find money for these projects if you make them a priority, and its not a matter of losing services elsewhere. It’s one of the issues everyone in societies complains about, but it’s never really a hot issue. I’ve got the experience now and I’m writing next years’ budget in May – much earlier – so we can engage with our societies and groups properly. If you increase funding and support for societies, you will see a radical improvement in the student experience here.
Do you think it’s feasible to get all your manifesto objectives done by the time you leave office?
I’d say if you look at the evolution of my manifesto from this year to last year,this one involves quite a lot of projects that I’m currently working on – and I’m working on quite a lot – so that’s why its quite long. And I’ve missed things off – housing agency, storage space – there’s a whole range of things I’ve been working on with students that just isn’t there. It actually could have been a bit longer. It’s based on the work I’m doing now and the work I’ve continued from the previous year. It’s completely achievable – it gives people a good idea of the breadth of stuff I’m working on.
You can read Sam’s manifesto here.