VP Education and Democracy Candidate interview with Alexander Beyene

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Wessex Scene interviews Alexander Beyene, candidate for VP Education and Democracy. 

Why have you decided to run for the role of VP Education & Democracy? 

The reason that I am running for the role of VP Education & Democracy is that the student union, despite the great work it does to enhance ‘Student Experience’, it is not yet clear how the university study is going to be affected by the Coronavirus. There is going to be a new norm which is completely different to what everyday study/life balance used to be; additionally, there will be many challenges due to Brexit and the global economic disruptions which are going to impact the university.

Therefore, the university might be forced to adopt to the new norm, though I have not yet heard anyone articulating what this new norm entails,  and whatever the university is going to do will impact students’ education and experience. Hence, I want to be at the forefront representing students’ interests, so whatever actions or decisions the university takes – students’ interests are included in every decision or direction the university will adopt.

What experience do you have that would make you an excellent fit for the role?

I have worked in different industries including airline, chemical, logistics, care and leisure marine in four countries in the past 20 years which gave me an exposure to different cultures and developed interpersonal skills. Additionally, in the past four years I have been a course representative from undergraduate till masters, presenting my peers’ interests in the staff-student liaison meetings. Also, in the academic session 2019/20 I served as SUSU senator and had exposure to the working of the union and how decisions or programs of sabbatical officers have long term impact on the direction and actions adopted by a student union.

What are the main problems you identify with the current role of  VP Education & Democracy and how would you fix that? 

The main problem with the current role of VP Education & Democracy I can identify is distance from the student body, despite the great accomplishments on behalf of students. To fix this I will strive to make time to get to know the faculty officers and course reps in person. Also, I will make sure to meet the different societies in different occasions, so that there can be better engagement between SUSU and students.

SUSU has faced a lot of criticism this year for the method and execution of their all-student student votes, with some students arguing that they are neither democratic nor a mandate for action. What is your opinion on this, and how will you tackle this issue in the role?

The main mandate of SUSU is to represent and enhance students’ learning and social activities so a whole person is developed. SUSU deciding to engage in the all-student votes whether to support or abstain from the staff strike goes against the interest of students. However, I am not against the strike as it is every employees’ right when they have valid reasons that impact their work/life/income. Additionally, the number of votes obtained was not 50 plus 1 for the student union to decide in supporting the actions of staff. Moreover, lectures or activities disrupted due to the strike were not recovered in my experience.

How will you improve the visibility of things like SUSU’s AGM/Making Change Summit, Union Senate and the You Make Change platform? Furthermore, what would you like to see students bring to these platforms?

The visibility of SUSU’s AGM/Making Change Summit, Union Senate and the You Make Change platforms announcement period is short and by the time most students hear it, they will not be pro-active. I would like to see representatives of societies taking an active role in creating awareness of these meetings way in advance, I suggest a minimum of one month, so that student participation can increase. I would like to see students holding their society leaders accountable.

Student engagement in the SUSU elections has seen a huge decline this year, with many positions (including this one) remaining unfilled and the number of voters dropping from 4,323 to 2,145. Why do you think this has happened, and how do you propose to revive interest in student politics?

From my experience, the faculty officers were not proactive in making an effort to get to know the course reps of the different degree courses in their respective faculties. And knowing the course reps in person could have given them more understanding about the wider expectations of the student body in their respective faculties. I believe this played a part in the loss of interest by students in participating. I propose reviving student interest by personally meeting faculty presidents and department representatives. Additionally, creating platforms whereby as a VP I will meet and know who the different course reps are. Additionally, I propose leveraging societies influence to revive students interest in the workings of the student union.

What will you do to support students whose studies have been impacted by the UCU Strike Action?

I would liaise with the university and ensure that back-up measures are put in place, so students’ study is not affected by similar UCU strike actions in the future. However, the one that happened at the beginning of the year cannot be recovered as the academic year is concluded.

What is your opinion on making recorded lectures compulsory?

I am for the recording of all lectures; this will allow students to listen the same lecture again. Moreover, during the lockdown all lectures that were done from distance were recorded allowing students in different time zones to access them at their convenience, therefore no lecturer can complain they do not want to record their session, at a minimum voice recordings need to be made.

How will you support the academic interests of students who are typically side-lined, such as Joint Honours students, disabled students and postgrads?

I believe the best way to support the academic interests of students who are typically side-lined is to listen, understand and identify areas where they require additional support and then in collaboration with the university identify viable solutions that address the issues or problems these group of students face. And as I said earlier, I want to bring the role of the VP Education & Democracy to the students and not wait for them to come to me. All this can be achieved with a strong SUSU that is closer to its members.

If you were elected, what would be your top three areas of focus?

Though I have five points of focus the top three areas will be

  1. Unity in diversity – foster platforms where societies of international students will be bridges that inform and create awareness of the members’ culture and norms in a way that create unity with students from UK or other international countries, and thereby eliminate the prevailing norm currently where this societies isolate create barrier from engaging with other cultures.
  2. Sustainability – this goes beyond environmental concerns, but my focus will be on its social dimensions where the union in partnership with the university will be able to provide more support for disabled students, national and international students in areas of study support, peer support and mentoring. The purpose is to enrich students’ learning beyond what is provided in lecture halls.
  3. Student engagement – students’ engagement with the union is at its lowest point with less than 10% of students participating in voting for their sabbatical officers in the current year. I believe as VP Education & Democracy I will work to bring the union closer to the student body than waiting for the students to come to the student union. I am confident with increased student engagement; the student union will be empowered to represent and negotiate with the university management for better support in areas where students feel neglected.
What Skills did you learn as a SUSU Senator and as representative for your course that could help in your role as VP Education and Democracy? 
The skills I learned as SUSU Senator are listening and asking why before approving any project or program proposed by different sabbatical officers, as this decision will have longer impact on the way SUSU operates and their impact on the student engagement. Secondly, as representative of my course I always approached my classmates and asked individually in different occasions what they were enjoying, what areas of their studies they were struggling and identified areas of support and presented these in the staff-student liaison meetings. The main lesson learned here was that most students are not willing to take the first step and express the concerns they have unless their representative approaches and asks. Especially, in PGT where majority were international students, they were isolating in their small country societies and that is why I mentioned at the beginning these societies need to be bridges to foster friendship and networking and not create islands that separate.
How do you think SUSU can strengthen student representation?

The best way SUSU can strengthen student representation is by being reaching out to students and creating the human and social touch to its operation. Emails are great but more than anything meeting and greeting students by any of the representations will create stronger engagement that can lead to better representation.

You can access Alexander’s manifesto here https://www.susu.org/elections/view/11509/alexander-beyene.html

Disclaimer: Wessex Scene reached out to all of those running for the role VP Education and Democracy , but were unable to reach some candidates.

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