VP Education and Democracy Jessica Harding Candidate Interview

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Wessex Scene interviewed Jessica Harding, who’s running for the role of VP Education and Democracy in the 2019 Union Spring Elections.

What makes you an ideal candidate for VP Education and Democracy, and what differentiates you from other candidates?

Ok, first question: I’m a very good candidate for VP Education and Democracy because I’m currently the Academic President for History, so I’ve already had a bit of experience working underneath Sam Dedman who is the current VP Education. I would say, generally, having that experience behind me and running SSLCs [Student-Staff Liaison Committees] and organising Course Reps underneath me has been really useful in understanding how SUSU works in itself – just in the basic form – so that I have better knowledge than other people. And that experience has given me the confidence to go for this role – I never thought I would before, but having done the President of History, I feel like it’s worth going for it.

And the second one, why do I stand out from other candidates: I would say, generally, I am a very, very hard-working person. In my studies I work really hard and I find that you need someone in SUSU to work really hard for student benefit because things don’t come easy and it takes a lot of time and perseverance, and I feel like I’m the best person for that.

Many students at the university are completing Joint Honours degrees. In your manifesto you mentioned that you will try and develop a greater student community for Joint Honours students. How do you plan on accomplishing this?

For Joint Honours students, the way I’d work this is using the current course rep structure. Sam Dedman has already put in a Joint Honours course rep position which is great, but not a lot of them have been filled. I feel like it’s really important to really push this in the first couple of weeks of September – push for all these Joint Honours students to make sure these positions are filled and then we can actually understand the voices of the Joint Honours students and then we can understand exactly what they want in order for them to feel more engaged with SUSU.

So tell us about your printing credit policy and the reasoning behind it.

So the printing credit policy is my main one that I hope the students will be interested in and they’ll know my name and know that I am going to try and improve this initial printing credit for them. The reason behind this is because in Humanities we don’t get anything at all, but I know in some departments – some sciences, such as Biomedical Science – they get £25 printing credit allowance. I’m not sure on exact figures, but nonetheless, some do, some don’t. I feel like having something for all students seems a far, far fairer way of doing it, especially as Humanities students do a lot of their own writing and reading. It would be nice for all students to have the opportunity to print off whatever they chose to a certain extent of having an allowance from the University.

Do you believe the Union is equally present in all campuses?

No – so that’s another part of my manifesto. I feel like there is a real lack of having presence in Winchester School of Arts in particular. I would work in having – some of the other candidates within VP Education and Democracy want to work in having extra spaces and having a presence that’s more permanent – I would like to look into having more regular or periodical events from SUSU. So it’s not just once a semester, it’s every other week, or every week or so. I’ll look into exactly what I’ll do with that but it will be ensuring that they’re more involved in more events that go on in SUSU, because there’s a lot goes on in Highfield, there’s just not a lot that goes on elsewhere.

Do you believe the academic services available meet the student’s requirements?

I do think that they do, but I think the issue is that they’re not marketed to students properly. I went to an SSLC a couple weeks ago and was informed by the librarian in the meeting that there are dissertation workshops – I didn’t even know about that, but there are resources. They’re in Hartley Library in the Skills Services Centre. There are resources and the University has spent money on it but it’s just they’re not being actually advertised to students properly. So it’s not just completely transforming the academic services, but it’s just making little implements and little changes to ensure that students actually know about it.

How will you handle the responsibilities that have been added to the position due to the merging of the roles VP Education and VP Democracy?

So I guess it will just go back to my character again. I will ensure that I work as hard as I can and I will equally divide my time – there may be, I’ve got a feeling already that within this role the time would be quite intense on one thing and then the other. So, for example, Democracy will be busy this time of year such as next year making sure candidates are really well supported. Equally, for Education, it will be busy next September/October time when they do have the Autumn elections in ensuring all the course reps get nominated. So it’s just managing my time to ensure that I do split it evenly, but also I know it could be more busy at times than any others.

On the democratic side of the role You Make Change – the Student Union feedback system – falls under your remit. What’s your view on You Make Change currently, and do you think it needs any changes to the way it works?

You Make Change I do think has made a real good progress already – especially with the stuff in Hartley Library they have been advertised saying ‘you make change’ and they’ve added in having charging ports, and having more water facilities in Hartley. It does show that the University are listening, so I do think it’s definitely a good thing that has progressed with in the last couple of years, but there is definitely more progress.

Some might say overall, your manifesto very much tackles the Education side of the role, but doesn’t touch on the Democracy area. What policies do you have in this area and are they mostly a case of continuity?

So with Democracy, I would say now I’m a candidate I’m already a bit more prepared for if I do get Education and Democracy. I kind of do understand a little bit more about the process in which Democracy helps students in the candidate election processes. I’d say, within it, I would ensure that – there is a lot of support already for candidates and in the democratic processes, but I’d say just to help the candidates more in their own wellbeing across the candidate process would be something I’d really like to work on because we’re always looking to ensuring student welfare is really a part of what SUSU does. In these couple of weeks it can be really intense for candidates and I feel like just ensuring it’s democratic, but also that it’s also fair on those who are running for it, because then it might entice more people to go for it, because otherwise people might just think it’s too much work.

You’ve said in your manifesto about the experience you’ve gained this year since your role as Academic President. How much knowledge and experience do you have for issues facing more science-based subjects?

That’s a tricky question because obviously I’m not going to have as much knowledge. Any student isn’t going to have as much knowledge in the side – a science student wouldn’t know much about humanities, so that’s just something I’ll have to gain or experience within the role, and starting to understand about how the University works more broadly within different departments. I think that just comes down to experience and actually being in the role, and thinking more broadly about what I’m doing.

Do you have any thoughts or plans on library services currently? It’s a topic very much picked on by other VP Education and Democracy candidates, but relatively untouched in your manifesto.

I feel like there has been a lot of progress with the library, we have reduced the printing costs and we have ensured that there is hot water facilities, so it is much more comfortable for students who are working there. The library has already had a lot of work done to it, I feel like that has been quite a big focus for Sam Dedman, and it is really important. I will look into how else I can improve it, but there’s already been a lot done so I feel like there’s other areas that are worth considering rather than just the library.

Returning to the Education side of the role, you’re responsible for representing postgraduate students as well as undergraduate students. How will you handle that responsibility and help to further integrate postgraduate students into the community?

So postgraduates are really, really important and they often feel a bit isolated because they’re often part-time students, as well as working and they don’t feel as connected with the undergraduate students. One way I’d work and deal with this is by working alongside the premise that has already been done for postgraduates so they have the brunches, and although that is great there is still more progress. I’ve currently, within being the Academic President, I have organised SSLCs and there has been three postgraduate representatives within those which has been a really good way to understand their voice. So I feel like, again, working through the current structure of course reps would still be another important element of that.

Finally, what do you feel are the main challenges in the role?

One of the main challenges is – that’s a good question – I think it’s to ensure there is actually good communication within the structure because as VP Education and Democracy you would be at the top and then underneath you have different lines. So you have all the School Presidents, the Department Presidents, and it’s just ensuring that they all understand exactly your policies and exactly how you want education to progress.

So I think it’s just communication, I think is an important one, because it is such a big structure – you’d be at the top and how you communicate to all students underneath you is a big challenge, but one I’d be fine with.

Find out more about Jessica Harding and her policies by reading her manifesto here.

More articles in Union Elections 2019: Vice-President Education and Democracy Candidate Interviews
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  3. VP Education and Democracy Evelyn Hayes Candidate Interview
  4. VP Education and Democracy Sebastian Graves-Read Candidate Interview
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