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- VP Education and Democracy Sebastian Graves-Read Candidate Interview
Wessex Scene interviewed Sebastian Graves-Read, 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?
I think it’s a mix of two things. The first is I’ve got a lot of experience. I’ve been a course rep and I’ve worked with the academic head at my old university, so I’ve got a good grasp of how universities work and how education within universities works. At the same time, I have also been in other leadership positions within the charities I have worked for, such as a trustee of the Sexual Consent Awareness charity, so I understand how the democracy element works too. I think that is quite a significant part of what makes me ideal. The other part is that I really do care what students think and that is why I have been involved in the Union my entire university career. I think we need to ensure students are correctly represented. I was the LGBT officer at my old university and through that I was able to see the changes I was making and that made me really care about student representation.
On the education side of the role, you’re responsible for representing postgraduate as well as undergraduate students. How will you handle this responsibility and further help integrate postgraduates in the University?
I have a slight advantage as I am a postgraduate myself, so I understand the different needs of the two groups. I think this is where my Personal Academic Tutor (PAT) manifesto point comes in because at the moment post-grads who weren’t here before do not know anyone and aren’t going to have a support system so personal academic tutors are their only point of contact. I think it is really important that all of our PATs are up to the same standard. I know earlier in my time here I didn’t really know anyone and I didn’t really know my PAT – she wasn’t particularly communicative which meant I didn’t fell particularly great. I see the effects that a bad support system can have so I want to make sure that is improved at the same time as plans to improve the system for undergrads as well.
How do you plan on closing the bridge between undergraduate and postgraduate students?
I think things like societies are a great way to do that. I’m in the light opera society and in Enactus. Both of these have post-grads and undergrads and they aren’t treated as two different classes. That is a really important aspect. Encouraging more post-grads to get involved with those societies would be a great way to start blending those lines between undergrads and post-grads.
How will you handle the responsibilities that have been added to the position due to the merging of the roles of VP Education and VP Democracy?
By prioritising students’ needs. If I feel like there is more demand on the education side of the role, then I will focus a little bit more attention on that. If I feel like democracy is particularly unstable at any point, I will focus more on democracy. It will be wherever students tell me that they think the attention is needed and then assess what I see as important.
Many students reach third year or even graduate and are unsure about what they should do next and how to get a job. How should the University provide assistance and facilitate the transition?
The University already has a careers facility that provides a really important service. But sometimes I don’t feel like it goes far enough. They are very good at helping with CVs and interviews, but they are not great at career planning. So, one of the things in my manifesto is to try to build in that career awareness into every course in the University. Now that is a really big ambition, but I am hoping to lay the groundwork for future VP Education and Democracy leaders. If you have that first and second year, students can actually start thinking about what they want to do with their degrees. I’m still not certain what I want to do with my law degree, but I’ve had lots of guidance so I have a better idea of what directions are available. However, if you are doing history without any guidance you might not know that you can go into teaching or consulting or a range of things that are open to you with any undergraduate degree.
Additionally, do you believe that the University should play a larger role in helping students find internships and summer placements?
Yeah absolutely. The University benefits from students entering internships because it means their professional job statistics increase because statistically if you get an internship, you will be offered a job as long as you work hard and perform well. I think it’s in the University’s best interest as well as the student’s best interest. So, 100% I think they should. I know they do promote them a bit across some courses and there is that provision within some subjects, but for people who don’t have it built into their degrees there isn’t that same level of support. I think that could really be looked at in the next few years.
You’ve emphasised your charity roles. Do you think this is something you could encourage students to take part in if you were to be elected?
Yeah ,absolutely. I think I would want to work with VP Activities to find ways to involve the voluntary sector in the day-to-day student life. It doesn’t have to be a year-long commitment for students; they can look at doing a freelance position where they go in for a few days and help paint a school just to build those skills and promote the feeling of charity. If you start helping other people, you gain a lot from it.
You state in your manifesto that you want to launch a democratic accountability review. Who or what exactly will be reviewed in this?
So, this will be targeted at two main things. The first would be all of our part-time and full-time officers and making sure that in their reports they are fully transparent in what they are doing and that they are holding themselves to their manifestos. I understand part-time roles are voluntary, but on the other hand if you don’t feel you have the capacity to fulfill this role, you probably shouldn’t have run for it in the first place. A stronger view on this is needed. At the same time, I think a lot of the polity sessions that happen in the Union in the different sections need review. A lot of the minutes aren’t on the website or if they are, there needs to be more transparency in how easily accessible these are. This would help improve engagement with democracy.
How do you propose to get tutors on board to engage with your PAT manifesto?
I think anyone who volunteers in the first place to be a PAT wants to help students and I think that’s a really nice foundation to build on. What I am suggesting is that we get students to survey their PATs. We will find people who are very, very good and they can peer mentor other PATs who are maybe struggling a bit more or who need support or guidance in how to better support students. This way it’s not students telling PATs how to do their job better; it’s a much friendlier approach using peer mentoring.
You mention in your manifesto about library provision and space, although it appears worded mostly with Hartley Library in mind. Do you have any thoughts on other library spaces, like Avenue/WSA libraries?
Yeah, the same solution would work across campuses. In exam periods the library is just full – there is no space. So, what the University could do is when there are free rooms available, have a rotating study room where people can go and work, be it in a lecture theatre or seminar room. That can be applied across all our campuses.
Finally, on the democratic side of the role, You Make Change, the student union feedback system, falls under your remit. What are your views on You Make Change currently and do you think it needs any changes to the way it works?
I think it’s a really nice way and a modern way for us to get good communication from students – knowing what they want and to have that understanding is useful. I think students speaking to the electorate and (although You Make Change will go through me) will show them the avenues through which they can make change themselves. I think if students were more aware of the options they had, they might be more willing to make change.
Find out more about Sebastian Graves-Read and his policies by reading their manifesto here.