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 Sebastian Vogelpoel, hoping to win his place as Union President.
You say you want to create a handbook charting the hierarchy of SUSU, so students can affect change without having to become ‘too involved’. Do you not think establishing a hierarchy makes SUSU seem less approachable, particularly sabbatical officers?
This is really my own problems coming out here, as someone who has founded a society and is president of a society, I would have found it a lot easier if all my interactions with SUSU and all the different ways [of getting in contact]had been listed, quite simply, in one location. So putting them in one location in a PDF handbook that would be found online, so that students know how you can access SUSU, how they can get something done. This is also specifically meant for societies, so that they can act quicker and SUSU can be more responsive.
As you say, this year’s sabbatical team have done a lot for funding enterprise projects. How do you plan to take this further?
Well, I’m not completely sure yet. I’m in the middle of my third year, so I haven’t had all the time in the world to consider how exactly I want to enlarge these things, but I have had several ideas. The basics are already in place: connecting with alumni communities, trying to get them involved in the university here. I think what we really need here is to give students the opportunity to fail. They need to know that if you enterprise, if you try something, if it all falls to pieces, you have this university backing you up which allows you to have this space for creativity, and creativity ultimately means there’s the potential for this going wrong. A chance to try things in a free environment – that’s what I want.
You mention having a calendar that societies can upload their own events too, but this can already be done via the calendar on the SUSU website in advance of their events. What would your plan of action be?
Well I don’t think anyone really checks the SUSU website any more, so if we could have the SUSSED and SUSU website calenders coordinated and maybe something that is interactive on Facebook so that you could also access it on social media, I think that would be much much better. I mean I want it to be for all events, not just society events, SUSU events and lectures. I want you to be able to tailor a calender that records your interests so that you aren’t left in the position where you go “damn, I really wanted to go to that special event, but it was yesterday.”
You explain your plan to expand the services on offer by societies to help struggling students. How do you plan to achieve this?
So special consideration is actually something I’ve personally experienced and I think anybody with experience knows what a complete and utter shambles it is. The lecturers don’t understand it, the students don’t understand it, very very few people actually understand it at all. So the first thing you want to do is you want to get at the beginning of every year the faculties to give a speech on special considerations, just like they give a speech on plagiarism. Special considerations can be something anyone can experience. You might have a relative that dies, you might have a medical emergency. The lecture would explain if something really bad happens, then this is how you can deal with it. Then, following on from that, I think your supervisor should be able to pre-emptively act if they see a student under their wing who seems to be continually struggling. They should be having meetings with these students, send them to enabling services to help those students get a foot up.
You state that you want supervisors to focus more on aiding student wellbeing. With so many academic supervisors across the university, how and when do you hope to achieve this by?
Well I don’t think it’s too much to ask really, it’s already technically there, we’re just reminding them more of their place. Sometimes they’re unsure of how to act and now they’ll have more certainty in that. I think this is something that is relatively easy to achieve.
Q6: How are you going to channel your previous experience into this role?
I’m not a SUSU insider, and I think a lot of the other sabbatical people are. I’m coming here as much because I’ve often been disillusioned with SUSU. That’s not to say SUSU isn’t a great organisation, but it does have a really bad way of communicating a lot of the things it does do well and sometimes I find it lacking. You don’t see these sabbatical people often enough, we’re not sure what they’re doing, so that’s where there’s the whole openness approach. I also started a society, I am president of that society, I am very adaptable, I am good on my feet. I think it’s important to have someone who can deal with something going wrong, and I think I’m that kind of person. Lastly, I think I am clearer than most in my manifesto about the sort of things I want to do, and what that means is that I have fail standards, so that people who vote for me can judge me on whether I’ve succeeded or failed based on what I’ve said there. I think it’s very important that candidates have something like this, otherwise it can be very difficult to measure their success or failure at the end and thereby improve the university.