Wessex Scene interview Akshita Karia, who is running for the role of Union President in the 2021 SUSU Leadership Elections.
Why have you decided to run for the role of Union President?
I have decided to run for the role of the Union President because of all the problems that I faced during my time studying at the university. I realised that my voice wasn’t being heard. There was nowhere I could go and explain the issues that we as students were facing. Our advice and suggestions weren’t taken seriously. I think it is very necessary for every student to be heard and to have their issues heard. Because of these reasons, I decided to run for this position.
What experience do you have that would make you an excellent fit for the role?
I have acted as a course representative and as a Law school president. I am quite aware of how to deal with problems with the university and how to implement student’s suggestions to solve these problems. My experiences have made me capable enough to excel in this role.
What are the main problems you identify with the current role of Union President and how would you fix that?
I think the current issue would be a lack of communication and accessibility. Students aren’t aware of how to have their voices heard. There hasn’t been much communication and the little communication that took place hasn’t been much effective at all. If I get elected for this role, I would ensure to be accessible to the students and to get to know their issues from small to big in as much detail I can. I will assure that there will be some known important changes in favour of the students.
How will you work to improve SUSU’s presence and visibility on campuses other than Highfield, especially considering the current circumstances regarding online learning?
I think the first thing to do is boost the social media accounts of SUSU. Now that everything is online, it is even more important to highlight SUSU online. Organising small quizzes and socials online for each campus and course is very important to have that interaction with the students. Putting up interesting stories for the students so that there is a constant connect between the students and the SUSU. Also by providing updates regarding everything that’s happening around all campuses. Lastly by advertising SUSU via each course representative especially for the first years.
SUSU released a new strategy in the autumn, with their new core values being ‘Stand Strong’, ‘Join Together’ and ‘Take Responsibility’. How will you work to ensure that these values are upheld within the union?
I think it is very important to let the union know the reasons behind this strategy. If students don’t know the policy behind it then it is unlikely that they will uphold these values. Teamwork is very important and that’s what I aim to achieve within the union which would inherently uphold these values. Assuring the union that their work is being recognised and helping students is very important. The union’s morale should always be positive for these values to be in effect and I plan to do so by having a fun and friendly working environment. The aim would be to talking to each member personally and helping them deal with any problems that they might face.
Students throughout the country have been demanding the implementation of a Safety Net or No Detriment Policy this year. How will you respond to the students’ demand for such policies and how will you work to ensure student voices are heard?
I think it is very important for each student to be heard, especially when it comes to the no detriment policy as it has a huge impact on the end result of each student’s degree. I would firstly email each and every student asking them to let me know about their opinions regarding the policy, whatever they might be. I would also explain to them the exact effect and meaning of this policy. This will be done via email, Google forms, social media, through course representatives, and the Law president. I would then take their collective opinion about the implementation of the policy and then put it forward to the university. And then I would take the result to the students to ensure that they know why the policy is or is not being implemented and to assure them that their opinions were transferred to the university and the decision is based on it.
What does ‘accountability’ mean to you? How will you work to ensure SUSU and sabbatical officers are appropriately held to account?
For me, accountability is taking responsibility for your actions. SUSU will be accountable for its actions and will take full responsibility for the effects of its actions and the same goes with that of the sabbatical officers. Each sabbatical officer will be told that taking responsibility and being accountable for their actions isn’t a bad thing, every human makes mistakes and that doesn’t mean that one gets penalised for it. I will create such an environment where no-one is scared or nervous about their actions and in the end, it is a union and nobody is alone. We all as a union will work together and take responsibility for all the actions as a whole and come up with ideas to make it better. It is teamwork!
This year more than ever, international students have felt disconnected from the university experience and the union, how will you work to ensure that international students are fairly represented?
Being an international student myself, I know how difficult it has been to keep up with the university during the pandemic. I would like to hold sessions for the mental health of international students, organise social nights especially for them regarding different country’s cultures so that they feel included. Sharing every international student’s experience and their methods of coping with the situation so it could perhaps help others too. Most importantly putting forward their interests before the university. Their voice needs to be heard as well as asking the university to make some special provisions for them so that their studies aren’t affected either. Provisions such as reducing tuition fees, more academic support, special consideration for their situation and so on.
With the current coronavirus pandemic and the move to largely online learning, what will you do to ensure that the education and student experience is up to par with what we have come to expect from our time at the University of Southampton?
Student participation is the key to fun university life, whether it’s online or in person. I would encourage every student to participate in lectures and tutorials, social nights and other online events which they would have done anyway if it was in person. Providing them with more fun and academic events, asking the library to have more online copies of books, providing all technical support for the students and creating events for further connections between the faculty and students and also amongst the students.
If you were elected, what would be your top three areas of focus?
- Reducing tuition fees.
- Improving the accommodation situation.
- Creating more study spaces and academic support and increasing sources available for the students.
You state in your manifesto that one of your key goals is to ensure that students are better heard. How will you build upon already existing policies such as You Make Change in order to make sure that every student’s voice is heard?
As mentioned earlier, because everything has shifted online, I would have to take help from social media because that’s where most of the students are currently. I would ask course representatives and other officers to collect as many suggestions as they can from the students and pass them on to me. I would personally email all students, post more often on social media and groups mentioning that their voices will be heard. And I will assure them that by stating their opinions and concerns it won’t create chaos for them in fact that will help to build up a more suitable environment for all students. I will create a safe forum where students come and express their thoughts. You make the change is what I will explain to students. If they don’t speak no one will know what’s going on and to make a change everyone needs to speak up. These expressed thoughts won’t go to waste, they will be put forward to the university and a response towards it will be demanded.
You state that you will actually make a difference in a positive way for all students. What exactly do you intend to change?
As mentioned earlier, I would like to reduce tuition fees, create more study spaces, find a solution for the accommodation situation, get the no detriment policy revised by the university and ask reasons for their decisions, have university communicate more with the students in order to inform them what’s going on and what can be expected further. Lastly, having fun social events organised for students because it’s important to have fun as well.