In the run up to the 2018 SUSU elections, Lii Mohamed hoping to become Union President was interviewed by Wessex Scene.
There’s been a lot of talk this year about the union not being open and transparent about the way they communicate with students. What do you think are the main issues with the relationship the union and its members and how can the situation be improved?
Transparency and communication are in my manifesto because I will be the first to say that we have a lack of both. And it’s not the fact the Union’s hiding it, it’s that the Union’s not saying it. Our members need to know what’s going on, what their money’s being spent on and if a scandal happens. If a problem happens, we need to know.
There’s a couple of things that have happened this year that the Union didn’t speak out about, which I don’t think is the best thing to do. I think it’s bad if students are hearing things from each other and not from the source, because it makes it sound like we’re covering something up.
When things happen, we need to be the first ones to say it. If things aren’t being disclosed, students raise concerns. We need to be able to tell them how much we bought something for and what we’ve done with it. I definitely think there is a problem with transparency.
Should the Union take a stance for or against the proposed University restructuring from eight to five faculties? Do you think that’s the right move?
When it comes to job losses, restructuring is a sensitive issue and needs to be something which is really thought about because it’s people’s livelihoods on the line.
Overall, the redevelopment is something which I agree with if it is something which is needed for our University to improve. To go from eight faculties to five would streamline it, and there’s nothing wrong with more efficiency.
On this issue, how would you communicate student feeling to the University, and what further consultation with the student body needs to be held?
Of course, as President, I will sit on the University Council and will have direct contact with senior staff within the University. We need to be brave. We’re sometimes too afraid to say what needs to be said. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. We represent the students, and they’re what make the University.
Just like we need the University, the University needs us. I will say it how it is at council meetings and voice what students have told me. With regards to consultation, whatever form of consultation that needs to happen, will happen. Whether that’s us standing on Redbrick, holding a meeting or holding an open debate in The Bridge. The best way to consult with students is finding out what they want and implementing that.
Should the Vice-Chancellor take a pay cut? Where else do you think savings could be made across the Union and the University?
Personally, yes I think the Chancellor gets paid a lot. We hear that this is the case, but did you know that the last Vice-Chancellor got paid a lot more than our current one is now? No one kicked off a fuss then, so it’s one of those things that everyone needs to be educated about before making an assumption. Does he deserve a pay cut? If people are losing their jobs, maybe he should lead by example, I don’t know.
Fair enough, should there be more clear and detailed procedures for holding elected Sabbatical officers to account, and recalling them if they are deemed to have acted unprofessionally?
Accountability? 100% agree with it. We’re elected by students and therefore students should know what we’re doing at all times. We should have meetings where it’s completely open so anyone can turn up and ask questions if you’re a student of course. You shouldn’t have to apply to sit on a board. If you’ve been acting unprofessionally and grossly negligible, then yes you must be called up on it and should lose your job.
In your view, is the Union becoming increasingly commercialised?
There is a lot of commercial activity going on within the Uni, and the Union especially. But I feel like we need it in order for us to fund things. I feel like students feel like it’s commercialised because they don’t know how the money’s getting re-invested into the Union.
If students knew that whatever we made in Stags or the Shop doesn’t get pocketed but gets reinvested into the Union, I feel like a lot more people would be comfortable with it. I don’t think it’s a problem that we’re becoming commercialised, because it generates money for our clubs, societies and student activities. The issue is that we’re not communicating what every pound goes towards.
So again, more transparency is needed?
Yes, we need to be more transparent about our commercial aspect, and we need to put student welfare before commerce.
How important is freedom of speech and encouraging students to express their diverse range of opinions, even if they are not the same as your own?
Freedom of speech is by far one of the most important things, so long as it’s fair and justified. Of course, like many others I don’t believe in hate speeches. However, if someone has an opinion, then I’m a strong advocate in ensuring they feel free and supported in exercising their right to say what they want
It is the collective opinion of students that will make our Union great, not my single view on things. So I whole-heartily encourage people to share their opinions, even if it doesn’t concur with mine. That’s why in my manifesto I state I want to support people’s views and opinions, and that it’s time to be brave doing so.
Now a bit about your personal statement. How can the Union better adapt to serve the underserved groups you mention in your personal statement. What is not being done at present that should be?
I talk about catering to all groups at all sites. The main ones I want to talk about are nurses and NOC users. These are two groups of our population who are forced to go to a different campus. They don’t have a choice, they have to make their own way there.
Why don’t we team up with the University and Unilink and come up with bus travel to provide nurses and NOC users a free bus pass to their campuses. We do this for students in halls, why not for them? Especially when nurses often finish shifts at around 9pm and have to walk home in the dark. We’re here to make things easier for people.
Why do you feel that the Union is not standing up for students? Do you have some examples as to when they haven’t?
I feel it’s more that they don’t want to say things because they don’t want to put themselves in a certain position or box themselves in. I don’t think that’s the case. We want to be in the top five unions by 2020, so we need to do certain things and be brave. We must have stances on things. For example, you asked me about the Vice-Chancellor, right?
If we ask the current Sabb team, we won’t get a Union response because it’s controversial. Another example was an issue with one of the Sabbs a couple of months ago, the Union decided not to talk about it and decided it was something that they were not willing to address. We should have addressed that because students were talking. A more controversial opinion is Brexit. As a Union, we can’t take a stance on that, but if we had done a poll we could have leaned on one side or the other. It’s things like that we need to have a stance on to express our students’ opinions instead of being safe and viewing it as too controversial.
How well would an accreditation scheme develop and recognise student talent work across different zones, and what will be the benefits of this from a future employability perspective?
When you come to University, they come because of their degree. I think the Union is the hub to enhance student’s degrees. It’s quite difficult to get a reference from your University, and it’s hard for many students to know who their referee is.
Why don’t we be that hub and offer students workshops where they work with us so that we can provide that reference? The Union can then endorse students because they have seen their talents first-hand because you don’t get that in your faculty. When an employer asks for two referees, some people don’t have two. We can do that, and we have the capability, so why aren’t we doing it?
Last question, will employers recognise the importance of the accreditation scheme if it is a scheme only understood within the Union?
To say that is to ask why would an employer understand any form of acknowledgment or endorsement. We’re an established body and therefore they will recognise that endorsement.
Because other universities don’t have that kind of scheme, could it detract from the credit given?
Yes, but the Union is a respected body and hopefully, it will be in the top five unions within the country by 2020, and therefore we’ll have more backing behind our name.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just that a lot of people complain and say the Union doesn’t interact with students enough. I am saying to people to put their faith in me. If you want change let’s do change together. I’ve done so much with the Union already, so I’ll be straight up with people, transparent and brave. I’m ready for it.
Find out more about Lii and his policies by reading his personal statement here.