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. News Editor Samuel Tyler, interviews Union President Candidate and Incumbent Union President Alex Hovden to find out why students should re-elect him.
Hi Alex, thank you for joining me today. Firstly, why are you running to be Union President?
I think that immediately, it is because I have loved working for students over the last few months, representing them is a lovable thing to do and really encourages me to carry on. I also enjoy solving the problems that students face and dealing with student issues. I feel that I have a lot to give to the role and another year as President will allow be to greater things for them.
What experience do you have that makes you fit the role?
Firstly, from 2013-14, I was a Union Councillor, involved in the decision making at the now defunct Union Council for students. After this, I took a deliberate year out of the Union to see what it looked like from the outside, what people actually thought of the Union. Then, from 2015-16, I was a student trustee during a huge staff restructure, new strategy and was involved in a large amount of financial planning.
Then, in 2016, I was elected as Union President and I have thoroughly enjoyed the role. I was convinced to run from the trustee position. Seeing Ben Franklin win gave me conviction to run. A conviction which I still have.
What are the main problems you identify within the remits of the role, and how do you plan to fix them?
I think that rebuilding trust with the Union is an important issue that needs fixing. The rebrand exposed that students don’t fully trust the Union to make the right decisions. The Union is run by students, for students and building trust is a key part of that.
I think that also the disconnect between societies and the Union needs resolving. We have over 340 societies, and there is yet a feeling of distance from the Union. The Union doesn’t support them in other practical ways all that much apart from the funding. I think we can deliver a lot more practical support for the societies and build that connection.
I think we also have issues of equality that need exploring. The University’s Vice-Chancellor has been made a Diversity Champion that pushes for these causes to encourage diversity. I would like to see something like this at the Union, this would not be reducing the Equality and Diversity Officer’s role, but taking more of a lead on it.
I think that student safety needs to be addressed too. People feel a lot of isolation at University which is something that I want to solve. I also want to extend the safety bus service, as the decision to scrap Portswood safety bus was an error with a marshalling scheme which has not materialised.
You said in your manifesto you wanted to improve access to education, what do you mean by that?
There are a wide variety of issues with this as the Government has recently scrapped DSA and the responsibility rests with the University with adjustment under the Equality Act. We also have mental health issues that need addressing. The services cannot meet the demand and the University needs to act on the issue to increase support for students. I want to ensure that provisions that enable students to come to University are not jeopardised. I want to ensure that funding from bursaries continues to allow students from different backgrounds to have the opportunity to go to University.
You said in your manifesto you wanted to improve equality at the University, how do you plan to do this?
It is an issue that is quite close to me. In my opinion, the University does pretty well compared to others, but I think we can expand our campaigning into the wider society. For instance, we can start campaigning for bars to have proper access to everyone as it is required in the Equality Act. I want to make life easier for everyone, encouraging equality for everyone. Disability is a very taboo topic in society, and I want to challenge that and allow for open discussion.
You have said that you wanted to bring back the Portswood Safety Bus. Given that it has been out of the picture for the past two years, why is it necessary to bring it back? And why are you campaigning for it this year rather than last year?
Firstly, to answer your second question, I did not campaign on it last year because I wasn’t aware of quite how much of a loss that Portswood safety bus. I want to make sure students are not raped or attacked on their way home. At Freshers, the students were queuing onto the road and the nightclubs were at high capacity.
Well, how would the Portswood safety bus ensure that the students would not queue on the road? And how do you guarantee that it will be used by students, I believe it was scrapped because it was not commercially viable?
It was originally scrapped because clubs like Jesters and Sobar relied on it as a means to allow students to get too drunk. To them, the safety bus was vital, otherwise calling authorities such as paramedics. This would then be recorded against the nightclub. To them, the Portswood Safety Bus was seen as an easy way out by the clubs. I think we need to improve standards of student safety outside the clubs.
So, you do not want it exploited by the nightclubs? Do you expect the nightclubs to make a contribution towards it then?
Well, I don’t think that asking them to pay for it would be feasible and would echo other remarks in recent times. I am well aware that demanding payment from clubs for the bus is not going to work. I think we need a Corporation Agreement between the clubs and the Union that outline the relationship and the discussion of those benefits. This way the nightclubs can get people out and home safe with the Safety Bus before the point of them being overwhelmingly drunk.
Okay, so how will it work?
It will not be available every night of the week. We will work with the clubs so that when they hit capacity at say 23:00, they can call us and ask for the bus where we can then go and work to demand to offer support. It is fundamentally for busy nights.
You say that you want to bring in price deals for Union Outlets for society events, how is this going to happen? Will the prices go up generally to accommodate for this?
I want to bring in a student groups review where we can see how we can incentivise groups who receive a lot of funding from us to put money back into the Union by using our outlets. We will make it so that if you book regular socials, for every social the members get a discount on price of drinks or food. There will be no need for a price increase generally to match that with increased student usage.
You make no mention of the break between semester one and semester two that you were pushing for in last year’s manifesto, have you achieved this?
We received 1159 responses to the survey, and in that 87% of students want some form of change to the academic calendar, either in the Summer or Easter break. Our next steps are to analyse the data, working with MedSoc and UCU to produce a report for University of the findings with the hope of implementing it soon. It’s very much pipeline work, which is not necessary to run on next academic year.
Give us a 30-second closing pitch as to why students should vote for you, Alex Hovden, to be their next Union President?
I have thoroughly enjoyed working for students over past seven and a half months; I have thoroughly enjoyed representing you; I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting all sorts of students and I want to carry on doing. A second year as president will bring about important changes that will improve your lives immeasurable.
Alex Hovden, thank you