DSU Election Interviews 2012: DSU President

Who do you want to run your union?

DSU PRESIDENT CANDIDATES

Aaron Broxham (page 1)

Archie Dallas (page 2)

Ian Williamson (page 3)

Matt Woodhams (page 4)

RON

AARON BROXHAM

What are the priorities for the DSU in 2012/13?

For the DSU as a whole, to engage with students to start looking at the plan for the next five years, so that there’s a long-term strategy. For the past year it’s been trying to keep its head above the water and see where leaks have been sprung but now it needs to move forward and build up.

As students paying £9000 fees come in, what would you as president do to help them see value for money?

It’s a new situation for undergraduates, so it’s hard to tell what they want. It’s easy for us to say what we think we want for £9000, but these students have never paid higher education fees before and we don’t know what they’ll want. It’ll take a term or two for them to settle in and know what they want. Students on existing rates are unhappy with contact hours, that’s only going to get worse. We need to talk to the students and find out where they feel they’re being failed. If things need to go to the highest levels of the university then they should. It’s difficult for people who’ve never been to university to judge what they want, and it’s hard to judge until after you’ve passed your first year what’s worked and what’s failed, and how much is down to you and how much is down to the university.

How would you approach the DSU’s relationship with the University (and how would you characterise it now)?

As it stands it’s a bit of a mess. The university make agreements without consulting students, or do as little talking to students as possible and claim it as a consultation (e.g. 38 week lets). There’s a lack of real, proper communication and lack of impetus from the current DSU representatives. Council pushed for a motion for a demonstration against 38 week lets but it never happened. We’ve had the fees demonstration but nothing on that scale for a university-specific issue. The university is very valuable for the student union and vice versa; the union can point out flaws to the university, and the university can provide money for things the union can’t possibly afford. They need to understand we will take action if they’re making poor decisions affecting students without consulting students, and totally disregarding their wishes.

How should the DSU relate to CRs?

It needs to be more inclusive of postgraduates. MCR representatives are now properly sitting on Council and Joint Comm. Postgraduates do lots of things very well, such as intercollegiate events. Postgraduates are sometimes softer targets, for example already having longer-term lets. The union needs to be a go-between to understand how postgraduates respond to things like 38-week lets and then see how this can be applied to JCRs.

How would you seek to improve relations and communication with Queen’s Campus?

Lots of people make promises that they’ll go and sit there and have a regular timeslot there, but then discover they have meetings and other commitments that prevent this. Getting more involved needs to begin with going to QC JCR meetings, talking to people and working out what their issues actually are, and how they relate to Durham campus problems. There’s a perception that you have to be in QC to help QC, but actually many of the problems are dealt with with the university on Durham campus. I want to start a dialogue between the campuses.

How would you seek to improve services for a) postgraduates and b) international students?

We need to make sure there are always people available when there are postgraduates in Durham – don’t switch off when undergraduate term ends, the university doesn’t switch off when undergraduates go home. There’s a lot of hassle getting visas and police registration sorted for international students, and high costs. This is their first introduction to the UK for many – we need to ease the stress. We need a way to bridge the gap between when international students arrive and home students arrive, to ensure more integration and thus more integration with the DSU and awareness of services available to them.

Considering the scale of the commitment, what made you decide to run?

In my very first JCR meeting, the position of junior DSU rep came up, and I wanted to represent students so volunteered. I’ve spent a lot of time observing what goes on in the DSU and at the university, and what goes wrong – and I should stop complaining and do something about it.

What has been the DSU’s biggest mistake during your time here?

Not fully utilising students – posts such as Campaigns Officer and Publicity Officer are left vacant. Durham students are very able, and we need these roles filled. Because the DSU hasn’t really engaged it can go terms without anyone filling these positions. It becomes difficult to run small or large campaigns. The union isn’t fully utilising students for campaigning and protesting – very few students get involved, so it’s hard to pressurise the university.

ARCHIE DALLAS

What are the priorities for the DSU in 2012/13?

As a union we need to work out how to communicate with our students. The DSU needs to know what students want from us. We’re conducting market research in the next two months to find out what students want. I’m running again as it needs someone who knows where we’re going and where we’ve been.

As students paying £9000 fees come in, what would you as president do to help them see value for money?

It’s important for people to realise that the university doesn’t get £6000 more per person. There’s no reason the university shouldn’t be improving services however. Some areas in the National Student Survey are dire, such as academic assessment and feedback. We need to make sure the university knows where they’re falling down. They need to know we’re not becoming consumers – we’re not buying a degree. We must make sure we’re all driving towards the same thing.

How would you approach the DSU’s relationship with the University (and how would you characterise it now)?

At the moment the university doesn’t listen to us as much as they should. They try, but really need to understand what students want. The president needs to stand up with confidence and say ‘this is what students want’. A stronger union allows us to go to the university and say we deserve this. Communication again is key.

How should the DSU relate to CRs?

The DSU is not the seventeenth college. The college system should be our biggest strength, but it’s often turned into our biggest weakness. The DSU should complement the colleges, work with colleges and find out what they want and need. It’s easy for the university to divide and conquer with sixteen disparate colleges – a unified voice is important.

How would you seek to improve relations and communication with Queen’s Campus?

It’s important to be more proactive. QC probably feel a bit stranded at the moment and not supported by the union. We need to find out their real big issues – don’t ghettoise them. The university is doubling the number of students there in five years – this is a good opportunity to look ahead and make sure the DSU is there every step of the way to ensure students feel represented. We need to prove that the DSU has something to offer them.

How would you seek to improve services for a) postgraduates and b) international students?

Communication is the worst with postgraduates and international students. We need to increase engagement with the DSU in terms of having officer positions to support postgraduates. There’s a lot of presumption that the DSU knows what postgraduates want but this isn’t the case. International students have very specific requirements – talking through how things work in the UK, discussing cultural differences (such as plagiarism, which is some cultures is seen as a compliment). We need to make sure they know services are there for them.

Considering the scale of the commitment, what made you decide to run?

This time last year I really hated the DSU, and only now realise how important it is – it’s not optional, it’s too important. I know what to do, I just need an opportunity to do it. I hopefully don’t need to prove my commitment having been DUCK Officer this year.

What has been the DSU’s biggest mistake during your time here?

Lack of direction and lack of communication – one informs the other. It’s good at small things, but no big vision, nothing for people to get excited about. We need to work out what we want to be and how we can help students.

IAN WILLIAMSON

What are the priorities for the DSU in 2012/13?

Bringing back events, as the only way to engage with the student body. Trying to engage more with JCRs, as students interact more with their JCRs, so it’s a better link with the student body.

As students paying £9000 fees come in, what would you as president do to help them see value for money?

The university doesn’t have much more money to spend, so we can’t expect that much – the key is to ensure the university actually listens to students. We can’t make a long wish list. A university more willing to take action against poor quality lecturers is one issue. The CIS needs improvement.

How would you approach the DSU’s relationship with the University (and how would you characterise it now)?

As things stand, I’d use the words of one of the JCR presidents – the sabbatical team are becoming more and more like student consultants employed by the university rather than student representatives. That does yield many good results, but the most contentious issues the university doesn’t consult on. Sabbs need to be more proactive in challenging the university and approaching them on issues without being asked.

How should the DSU relate to CRs?

If you ask any student who represents them, nine times out of ten they’ll say their CR president. CR presidents need the ability to take issues forward quickly and effectively. Through that the actions of DSU sabbs can have increased accountability.

How would you seek to improve relations and communication with Queen’s Campus?

One of my manifesto pledges is to have a permanent DSU presence there. One in eight of our students is based there; expecting them to engage with the DSU when it’s twenty miles away isn’t fair.

How would you seek to improve services for a) postgraduates and b) international students?

There’s great scope in the development of Dunelm House to develop a student hub with good quality learning facilities and a good café, to give people who don’t interact with colleges the opportunity to interact with student institutions more like they’re used to at home or at previous institutions. We need really good signposting and a really good website. A lot of postgraduates don’t want to engage, but we need to make it as easy as possible for them to find services when they do need to, such as being able to find the accommodation office and advice centre.

Considering the scale of the commitment, what made you decide to run?

Having been Postgraduate Officer, and having worked with the DSU a lot, and I can see relatively simple solutions to a number of problems with the union, and want to fix them. I want to leave the Union in a much better state, much more functioning for the student body.

What has been the DSU’s biggest mistake during your time here?

Within the student memory, closing down events without trying to improve upon them, or looking to find ways to reduce overheads and reinvigorate events. The lack of realisation of the extent to which events were some people’s main contact with the union, and the reputational damage that’s caused.

MATT WOODHAMS

What are the priorities for the DSU in 2012/13?

The priority for the DSU is to make sure that it represents students and plans ahead. It must listen to students and be in a stronger position to listen to them and make their voices heard. It’s important that we don’t just have a kneejerk reaction to something students say – plan the action the DSU takes to make it effective.

As students paying £9000 fees come in, what would you as president do to help them see value for money?

It’s important that we use resources and feedback such as the NSS and other market research to make sure that we target action at areas that students currently feel is below average. We need to make sure that we enhance the student experience and make the university take action to improve students’ time at university, in colleges and departments.

How would you approach the DSU’s relationship with the University (and how would you characterise it now)?

The university has been described by staff at times as a tanker that can’t easily be turned. At times the university treats us as a barnacle on that tanker – an annoyance but nothing more. It’s important that the DSU makes sure that student voices are heard, and that it’s in a strong position to make the university sit up and take notice, and to make real change.

How should the DSU relate to CRs?

The DSU needs to support the CRs to provide more advice and training for their officers, so that they can represent their students better and stand on their own two feet. The DSU should recognise and support the independence of the CRs and work with them to represent all students.

How would you seek to improve relations and communication with Queen’s Campus?

It’s mportant that the DSU has more of a presence at QC, and that the DSU sabbs go out of their way to make sure they are listening to QC students. I’ll go to QC regularly and engage with students and make them feel included and listened to, not just hide away in my office.

How would you seek to improve services for a) postgraduates and b) international students?

By listening and working with postgraduate and international representatives and making sure that the DSU plays an active role in welcoming them to Durham and engaging them with all that happens in the DSU.

Considering the scale of the commitment, what made you decide to run?

As Hild Bede’s college president this year I have significant experience of the commitment that such a role requires but also of the rewards that it can bring. I’m passionate about the DSU and what it can be in the future. I want to work to the benefit of all Durham University students as DSU president to make the DSU a better world-class students’ union.

What has been the DSU’s biggest mistake during your time here?

The DSU’s biggest mistake has been to stumble from one sabbatical team to the next without planning ahead. This has resulted in the DSU having to react at the last minute as issues have arisen and at times after the DSU can have any effect. With proper planning many of the issues that have arisen over the past year might have been avoided.

Interviews by Thom Addinall-Biddulph. More information on candidates, including their manifestos, is available at http://www.dsu.org.uk/content/803843/democracy/elections_and_referenda/sabbatical_elections_2012/.

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