Most students don’t seem to care about OUSU why should they?
The student union should be there to support students, it should be providing information for them whether it’s academic problems or a welfare issue, it should be there. I think that when students feel that their student union isn’t doing anything for them, too often these are the issues being focused on but we can look at other ways that OUSU can have a positive influence on students’ life, whether that’s saving them money or engagins students that just aren’t interested in the political side of it, that;s one way to move forward as well.
How can OUSU go about involving more of the student body?
This has been one of the areas that students have been most frustrated with with OUSU, that they feel like they have no role in it, they don’t get to say how it’s being directed or have the sort of influence that they should have and we really want to make a focus on it being a student-led organisation and I think this means that when OUSU goes to common rooms, it shouldn’t just be telling you what OUSU does, it should be asking you what you want OUSU to do. There should be forums of discussion, you can talk about the issues that are affecting you whether in your common room or in your community as a whole. We should follow up with things like annual surveys to get some feedback on the services that OUSU is providing for its students and use that to build a student union around the issues and areas that students want to focus on.
How would you propose to carry out those forums of discussion?
I think this is an area where we need to engage with the whole of the OUSU executive and not just rely on sabbatical officers. Between us there are over 20 individuals and with 30 common rooms its quite easy to make sure everyone is getting a common room visit. We’re there making sure there is a period of discussion, making sure that before we come to the common rooms are aware that they have an opportunity just to talk about the issue. Sometimes OUSU has already got an answer but is something where I would hope it bring up new areas for OUSU to pursue as well and really focus on the issues that are important to them. Every common room has its own issues and areas that it wants to focus on or its own particular problems, having discussions like this will hopefully pick up areas that haven’t been found before but also build links between different common rooms so they can work together on shared issues.
Only four people turned up to the hust at Exeter last night, do you think OUSU has a problem with advertising and how do you propose to improve that?
I think it’s quite clear that OUSU has a huge problem with advertising what it’s doing for students, when it’s holding meetings and how students can be engaged. There are quite varied levels at which you can work with OUSU or have some sort of role, from engaging with your common room executive and then going to OUSU meetings, to running for positions in elections or working on the behind scenes things like the website. I want to make a real focus on making sure that OUSU is there for its common room officers but also there for general students and helping students that have got other areas of interest. Lewis campaigned on introducing a CSV and then held a committee, mainly made up of JCR Presidents. I would want to make sure that we have students who want to do consultancy work or something like that so that we can then use their skills to develop a business plan or some sort of document so that they develop an area that they want to work in and OUSU gets something from it which is useful.
David Barclay mentioned that he would like to use the student media more to publicise OUSU. Is that something you would look at or would you choose other routes?
I think, in particular, in the last couple of weeks we have seen how the student media plays a really important role in holding OUSU to account. I think when you say that only four people went to a meeting for a hust, it shows there’s not a lot of student engagement there and I think that they’re relying on newspapers a lot to make sure they’re questioning OUSU, making sure they’ve got proper financial transparency and are printing the numbers that it should be and not running at a deficit which it is. So student media plays a critical role there but I would want to make sure they keep their independence. I would focus on information that could go out through the presidential email list, something that McClusky used very well, was underused last year and I don’t think has been used very effectively by Stefan this year. This doesn’t mean just spamming students with endless amounts of information, it means providing them with clear headers about what’s going into the email and where they can find more information. I think then that’s also starting to look to the website as well, for students who want to go and find out a little bit more you can put the bulk of the content up there and then you use the links through so its doesn’t feel like you’re getting a 1600-word email from Stefan every week.
You mentioned that you think that Stefan hasn’t used the mailing list effectively enough this year, what would you do that Stefan Baskerville hasn’t done, are there any mistakes that he’s made or anything you disagree with that you would change?
I think an area, this is just from personal experience, is the Fresher’s Fair which I organised this year and worked with Stefan on that. I found it really frustrating as we were going through the summer trying to actually get definitive numbers on what the pricing was going to be for students to go to the Fresher’s Fair this year, it was something I had to push both him and other members of the OUSU team on. Saying, if I’m going to contact common room officers and contact presidents and different staff members to actually tell them what the price is, it’s really infuriating when you don’t have that number. I’m pleased that it came down. My own view is that I think it’s a core service and we shouldn’t be charging for students anyway. It was useful to get the move between charging for all the commercial activities as well, the commercial marquee is now supposed to cover itself. Unfortunately, Stefan then didn’t go through and look at the itemised costs, we never sat down and we never discussed every single cost that I could associate with it, so there were still areas that I felt where some of the cost should have been transferred to the commercial side. One example would be the laptops that are used to collect names to go on to the OSSL mailing list, so it’s not a direct service, not part of the core aspect of OUSU it’s part of the OSSL side and the extra side and that cost didn’t get transferred across in the price. Because there was a slight communiciation problem there. I know that the summer is a very busy time but a very short conversation and it would have gone thorugh and it would have solved that and would have helped again reduce the price of tickets for students, lower to where I believe it should be.
Cherwell reported last week that OUSU has made one of the biggest losses ever in the last year, how do you propose to increase the efficiency of OUSU funding?
Yeh, I think this is a massive problem and one that has obviously been going on for a couple of years and is probably going to take a couple of years
to solve. I’m really pleased with the sabbatical team’s progress on this and that right at the start of the year they probably expected that this sort of problem had been solved by last year’s administration. But they’ve brought it up, flagged it up, they’ve paid back bad debts which have been carried on for years and are actually getting to the point where the student union is actually recognising the financial situation that it’s in. I think that’s actually the first step. Moving on from that, I think that the ideas behind he proposal that was put forward last year are very strong and I would want to emphasise moving towards a system where core services are covered by colleges. I don’t think that any student should be affected on a welfare basis or have access to welfare, academics or sport depending on the college that they go to.
I think if we can move towards that system it means we can have more positive debates about whether colleges want to disaffiliate or not, cos they can disaffiliate on services that OUSU are providing above and beyond the core services. I mean everyone expects that they should be provided, as soon as we can have a debate on those issues then we can be a bit more critical or a bit more positive on the areas that OUSU is either doing well or doing poorly on. As for, increasing extra funding, it’s a very tricky area I know that the new staffing structure is a positive move, I think having a full time business manager will help increase revenue there. Again, from the fresher’s fair you can see the difference between having someone who is roped in for a few months and someone who has been there for a while. You can see this when we’ve got companies already negotiating for contracts both for next year and contracts to last for five years so I think the sort of stability that we can offer to organisations there is useful. I think that an area of funding which is shockingly undervalued is the website and again this is because no one wants to use it at the moment, but if the website was redesigned and became this central, focal point for information where students could find out different issues that their student union are interested in, info about clubs and societies, a calendar of events and things that are going on in and around Oxford, you start increasing the students that are visiting that website and then it’s turnover potential increases as well and then you can start doing advertising offers where you can do a premium rate for the first few weeks of Michaelmas, a premium rate in the run up to Christmas and Valentine’s and target it to specific organisations who might want toadvertise at those times of year and then hopefully that will generate more revenue too.
What do you think of the student funding review that was launched on Monday and if you were to become president what would your position be on increasing university fees?
I think this is a fantastic opportunity for us to engage with NUS and really see what Oxford students voices are on this. I was disappointed last year with the way that the motion about whether we go for a graduate tax or tuition fees was brought about I thought htat it was a very poorly-worded motion and it made discussions difficult in common rooms. I think there are a lot of students who probably aren’t aware that OUSU does have a policy in supporting graduate tax. I happen to think that the graduate tax is the best way forward, as soon as you have a tuition fee based system we’re already seeing at this round of negotiations that aas soon as you set it up one level the next step is always to increase it again, and then increase it again year on year, it’s never going to decrease.
I think that if you have a graduate tax it’s the most fair system, it makes it easier to make sure that students aren’t inhibited when they’re applying and I think that’s the real area of the funding application that we can be working on, making sure that it’s used as a positive way to look at the way that bursaries are funded that scholarships are provided both for undergrads and grads. I don’t think that the way that the tuition system was brought in before, tuition fees, that it was done in a very clear manner. A lot of students still don’t know when they’re applying for bursaries what they can expect to get, that can create problems when you see that you have 3000 to pay now but then you have a loan coming in, but then a separate maintenance loan, then a grant and maybe something from your college or common room. If we talk about the difficulties that students are having with the current system then use that voice with NUS to hopefully communicate that ata national level to make sure we have a funding system that current students would have wanted to have so that students who come in the future can benefit from it.
Who’s your role model for the position of president?
It’s a fun question. I imagine it would probably be quite a similar answer on this, but it would have to be Martin McCluskky, he was seen by amny as being a very good OUSU President. I liked a lot fo the little things that Martin did, I mentioned before that he used the email system quite well, I felt when I was here that I was informed by OUSU and not spammed by OUSU because of him. He also did impressive things like when he came into a common room meeting, he came in and said right everyone get your mobile phones out and we did and he read out a number and he told us this was the safety bus number and he explained the system for that. I think that’s a fantastic way – he was very big on contact time and he recognised that talking to students was the most productive thing. Just putting up posters and a publicity campaing like that will only ever do so much but when see so many posters for plays or conferences or htinkgs like that around Oxford it doesn’t actually help. I think that when you can actually ask someone what the safety bus is or target schools, until you actually have a conversation about what target schools is it’s not necessarily clear that it’s an access scheme in Oxford for students to go back to their schools before and I think that he did that very well andit’s something I hope to emulate.
What evidence is there that the future of OUSU is going to be different from the past?
I think that the hard work of the sabbatical team right now, like I mentioned before, the fact that they’ve recognised the depth of the financial problems that OUSU’s in and are working towards that. It’ll be interesting to see the way they go about moving on from this. My own position is that you really have to work with bilateral relationships with common rooms on this area, to make sure that OUSU is financially secure and while it’s tyring to propose a new funding model you’ve got to make sure that that funding model has been discussed between each common room and their staff members so that you don’t get to a situation where you have a committee meeting with colleges and you put a paper in front of them which they’ve never read before and they’ve never had any input on. I think that’s the only kind of real way that OUSU can move forward, it means that common rooms can really hold OUSU to accountable and says if you want something from us you’ve got to make sure you’re providing the services that you said you would and hopefully that will create a positive bond there to move the institution forward.
What makes you a better candidate for president than David Barclay?
Again, good question. I think that this comes down to experience for me. David has spent a year as JCR President, obviously an excellent position. Myself, I’ve spent two years on my JCR executive, I was first welfare officer, I’ve then been VP. The VPs position at LMH is a lot higher that some others have been, I sat on governing body, I sit on buildings committee, I’ve negotiated accommodation rebates for students affected by building works,helped see the transition between two common rooms presidents as well , we’ve had overlapping policies that we’ve worked on, like producing an academic feedback system that supported students by showing them regardless of whether you’re on report or whether you thihnk you’re going on report the levels of support that you could have at any one time then the way that you can then move back up through the system as well once you’re on report. I think that then combined with my experience at the Oxford Hub which is the focal point for charitable activities at Oxford and is an organisation which is now only in its third year but has already shown a dramatic impact in really raising the profile of charitable activities in Oxford. My experience of managing a budget of 60,000, four staff members, we have 4500 members and we’ve organised national conferences that have been very high profile and had international speakers come to them. But, I think at the heart is still the Oxford Hub’s goal to connect students with causes and the way that we do that in the most primary way is supporting other charities, so it’s very much like a second tier organisation and when you’ve got groups like Amnesty or community volunteering projects in elderly centres or helping run projects for children reading after school, it’s a really diverse range and we’ve shown the way that we can work with different groups and actually provide a relevant service and help them achieve the things that they want to achieve as a second tier organisation.
I see that’s very similar to the way OUSU needs to work, it should be there to support common rooms and working on the issues that they want to work on. When you’ve got someone who’s been elected as a rep or an officer or a president OUSU should be talking to them to find out the issues that they were elected on and working on them and helping them achieve the things that they want to achieve and that’s a very relevant way that OUSU can say that they’ve helped students or they’ve done something for you because they’ve done something that’s more personal, you’ve votted that person into a position and then the student union’s helped them to achieve the things which you were hoping they would do in their time in office.