Candidate Interview: Arun Aggarwal, VP Student Communities

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With Candidates for both full-time Sabbatical Roles and Students Leader roles in the midst of campaigning, we interviewed each candidate running for full-time sabbatical roles to find out why they wanted the role and what they planned to do if elected. Deputy Opinions Editor Ana Bond Esparraguera interviews VP Student Communities Candidate, Arun Aggarwal.

 

Thank you for joining us Arun, Why are you running for the position?

I think it would be a great opportunity to work with lots of different types of people and really make a difference. For me coming into the first year, the person who was Vice President of Student Communities at the time was one of the “adults” that I met who got me involved in the Union. Coming to University wasn’t just about getting a degree, it’s about everything else you do and going into the Student’s Union is such a brilliant way to engage people and get people to think bigger. It’s also amazing to meet people and make friends with those who have similar interests to you, I’d like to do that. It would also be an amazing opportunity to work with postgraduates, mature students, student parents and international students, those who don’t typically engage as much as the typical undergraduates. That would be a really nice challenge to see how I can benefit them and how they can get the most out of their University experience.

 

What experience do you have that makes you fit the role?

I sat on the Student Communities board in the second year and I think just being very personable has helped me. I was President of both Liberty Point and Liberty Quays which was a nightmare, but I absolutely loved it! It saw me working with lots of different types of people. Being a Law student is also part of it. Law is quite an open course so you’ve got quite a few postgraduates, Canadian students and other international students. All of those experiences, as well as helping to set up Engineers Without Borders and sitting on the committee for a year, reached an entirely different spectrum of students that I wouldn’t usually work with and I really enjoyed that. I think those help in terms of dealing with the different types of student, but really with a Vice President role, you’re there to facilitate what students want to do and try to put in place a structure for them to achieve and get the best out of what they want. I think that my experiences, skills, and just being a general keen bean in the University and the Union will help other students to be able to achieve what they want to do.

 

What are the main problems that you identify within the remits of the role, and how do you plan to fix them?

A massive problem is how under-represented international students are. With Southampton University it’s not too bad but it’s quite bad under Universities in general. When I was researching into writing my manifesto and going for the role, I looked at what other Union’s do and a lot of them don’t talk about international students. For an example, you have full-time officers for the Students Union that are devoted to postgraduate students, which is great, but with international students there’s a massive lacuna there which I would like to fill. The issue with the Students Union and students, in general, is that sabbs are in the role for a year and they want to come in and change stuff and do whatever they want for a year – and then they go off and somebody else comes in with that same mindset, so it’s always in a constant flux. What I think is really important is that you come in with one or two big ideas, but you also are there with some stability which is what students respond to the most. I want to go into the role and see what needs improving. For one, international students and how the University treats them and how the Union can support them throughout the different sites. With sites, the predecessors of the role were brilliant in bringing WSA into the spotlight so it wasn’t just Highfield-centric, people know about Avenue and BNOC, but it’s still limited in how most events happen on Highfield because it is the hub and that’s where everything is. I want to go out to the different sites and do things just for them. Winchester is a brilliant example. They have such a diverse campus there and to go there and do things that would benefit them would help facilitate what they want to do. I want to be proactive and lead by example.

 

You said in your manifesto that you want to implement Webo and Wechat, how do you plan to do that?

When and if you get elected in the role (which I hope I do!) you have a few months where nobody is at University and you can use that as research time. So what I’d like to do is work with the comms team and relevant experts in seeing how those social media platforms work and whether they will be effective in reaching out to international students who don’t use Facebook. If not those social media sites, then perhaps other ones. I want to see how different forms of social media can be utilised. I don’t have any strong notions going into it, which I see as an advantage because it gives me a lot of flexibility.

 

You also said that you want to design material to aid post-graduates, mature students and student parents with mental health. How do you plan to do that and with what funding?

That would work really well with the Welfare sabb, so with regards to funding it would be split between what we have for the mature students, postgrads and student parents. This group comes under one umbrella term for funding for MSSPN (Mature Students and Student Parents Network) and postgraduates have separate funding. I’d like to work with the Welfare sabb to divide up the funding between the groups. Moreover, a lot of resources concerning mental health are available to undergraduates, so I want to consult with relevant students and their officers who are there to represent their interests. I want to see if we can go about it in a way to engage MSSPN and postgraduates more, for an example the ‘Pet A Puppy’ event engages students across the board, you don’t have to be an undergraduate to find stuff like that attractive. With regards to mental health, you need to have a lot of support that is bespoke to the kind of person that you are so I would work with the advice centre to see how they give guidance in talking to different types of students. Or through organising events that would be attractive to the relevant student groups.

 

Sticking with the same theme, a lot of people that I have spoken to have raised grievances concerning the waiting list times for counselling from the University, surely if you pushed for increased spotlight on mental health issues and getting help, wouldn’t this perpetuate waiting list times? How do you plan to ensure that all students have access to support?

I don’t want to tread into a welfare issue here. I’d see if welfare wanted to work in partnership or discussion to fix this issue. A lot of this issue is down to organisation, I want to have a look at the structure to see how counselling is divided up and how students respond on the ground. We need to see if we need to employ more counsellors or look into more student run and student based services, like the advice centre. We need to make that attractive for students to go into. A way that could work is that nurses need extra-curricular stuff to make them attractive to employers, we could utilise students who want to go into mental health afterwards whether they want to get a headstart now. This would be a goldmine for experience for all students around the university.

 

How will you make international students feel more welcomed and part of the community?

One of the ideas that I had was that when international students have their move in week, the majority of them will move in during that week. However, for those who don’t move in that week and they miss it, it’s still difficult for them to know where everything is and one thing that I got the feel of from talking to bar staff is that international students don’t know what drinks are what and where everything is. I want to put up translated signs around campus, just so that it makes the campus more homely. Translated menus in The Bridge and Cafe would also help students who still struggle with their English and provides an element of reassurance.

 

How will you create a common room at Southampton General Hospital? Where is the space and how do you aim to get the funding?

There is already a common room, I just want to spruce it up a bit. At the moment the common room is a bit bare, with a lick of paint and something like a pool table it will be massively improved. People who work at SGH aren’t just medics and nurses, there are a plethora of different degrees and it might be that you’re shadowing somebody for a day and the common room is an inclusive space where students who are from Southampton can have their own space. I want to make it much more inviting.

 

Give us a 30-second closing pitch as to why students should vote for you, Arun Aggarwal, for VP Student Communities.

Vote for me because I’m really eager, engaged and really want to make a difference. I want to represent your voice even if you don’t fall within the groups that I’ll be specifically working with. I’d really like to hear your opinions and see what can be done to change and benefit students. I’ve got loads of experience and think this role would be loads of fun.

More articles in Union Elections 2017
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  3. Candidate Interview: Thomas Gravatt, VP Engagement
  4. Candidate Interviews: Greg Williams, VP Democracy and Creative Industries
  5. Candidate Interview: Dan Varley, VP Engagement
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  10. Candidate Interviews: Stephen Gore, VP Sports Development
  11. Candidates Interviews: Alex Hovden, Union President
  12. Candidate Interview: Amelia Ng, VP Democracy and Creative Industries
  13. Candidate Interview: Arun Aggarwal, VP Student Communities
  14. Candidate Interview: Leyla Elsey, VP Welfare
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  16. Candidate Interview: Evie Reilly, VP Democracy and Creative Industries
  17. Candidate Interview: Liam St Dennis, VP Welfare
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Hello, my name is Ana and I have the privilege of being deputy opinion editor for the wessex scene. If I'm not talking about politics then I'm probably ill or complaining about the Tories...

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