Presidential candidate Bharat Singh Chaturvedi on consent training, the UCU strikes, and his experience with Enactus.
Can you give a brief overview of your manifesto’s main points?
I’m running on three main points: inclusivity, representation and accessibility
For inclusivity, we want to include international students and mature students in everything that’s going on in university. During Fresher’s Week, mature students feel left out as there are no events for them. It appals me that there is no financial assessment for students coming here. Thus, I am proposing expanding the participation grant to everyone, including international students. It will help international students become more engaged beyond academia. Another point is the rent guarantor scheme – it is only available to 100 people. We really need to expand this to be more representative.
In terms of accessibility, the university needs to reinvest in welfare. The university is planning on spending £86 million on a new student centre without much assessment of what is needed. Coming from India, I was struck to see that student politics is not very engaging here. What I’m proposing is a much more cohesive approach to engaging societies in politics. Another thing in terms of accessibility would be better EUSA banking facilities; I’m proposing an online platform where they can assess how much money there is, and transfer and receive money on their account. There is a real need right now to reassess the university’s sexual harassment policy. I’m proposing that the education and HR policies of the uni come up with something more concrete, and emphasise the importance of consent training.
For education, I want to expand SLICC to be open to all students, not just honours students. This means that part-time employment and internships are worth credits. Getting additional credits for this would really increase one’s employability. One thing that used to exist is ConnectEd, which brings students and alumni on the same platform – they are restarting this. It means students can receive real advice from alumni. The university is very low in terms of student satisfaction, and for a brighter future we must focus on feedback – this should be standardised across schools. Pushing for faster feedback also involves improving conditions and pay for postgraduate staff.
For connectivity, it is essential to make the university safer. We need better lighting on the meadows and safe travel back from far out campuses. There are many areas in which we can improve international students’ lives, creating better language accessibility and dealing with the language barrier. This would help students feel more at home and comfortable at the university.
The three main points – inclusivity, representation and accessibility, really reflect on my own experience at university, and how the university can affect students long term and short term in a very positive way.
You want to start an anonymised digital platform for feedback. How would you make sure that this wouldn’t become abusive or irresponsibly used?
To clarify, an anonymised platform is different from feedback. What I’m proposing is a platform where students can address their grievances to the university and the union. They are divided into three broader categories; it has to be addressed by the university, the student council and the university’s administration. There’s lack of communication and problems come up through the platform, and possibly the university can direct the student if there is a need that is already catered for.
Often the people who would be resistant to consent training are the are the ones who would need it most. How would you ensure attendance and engagement?
Consent isn’t only about yes or no. A better understanding of consent through consent training is important. Having read more about how consent training is done at other university’s, in Edinburgh University the idea of matriculation is quite loose, so if every student was getting consent training when they first arrive here as part of matriculation, I believe this would be is the best approach. A lot of universities address consent training, but either way, you can do it through matriculation or like a fire training thing in accommodation.
What have your specific roles in societies been? How has this prepared you?
I have been involved with the Buchanan Institute since first year in terms of treasurer, so I know how important banking facilities are. Along with the Buchanan Institute, I am involved with Enactus and am leading a project called Sanitree. I was in my hometown, and I was talking to someone who said they think women bleed because God is punishing them for being female. I really thought I should do something about this stigma. I then approached Enactus and did some research about why the stigma exists, and found it was in part because of the affordability of sanitary products. We came up with the idea of reusable sanitary products, which can be washed and reused up to 150 times. We set up a cooperative which now gives employment to 27 women. Sanitree has helped me get real life experience and enhanced my skills. It has given me experience of how to implement an idea both inside and outside of the university. Sanitree has been shortlisted for social enterprise of the year.
We are aware that you and one other candidate started your campaigns early on Facebook. Was this the case?
Enactus do this thing called Humans of Enactus and it just happened that this week I was supposed to be featured on it. I was about to be interviewed for Humans of Enactus and people knew I was running for president. Instead of giving me direct endorsement, they said that my experiences would support me in a strong candidacy. It wasn’t a direct endorsement, but that happened and I received an email from EUSA saying it needs to be taken down at the same moment that I messaged Enactus and asked them to take it down because it doesn’t align with the policies. It was a lack of clarity and there wasn’t direct endorsement. As soon as I was made aware of this I took it down.
What are your opinions on the current UCU strikes? How do you feel about the Students’ Association’s decision to support it?
I certainly feel that is a great decision by the Students Association. One thing I wasn’t very happy about was that it took a while to mobilise students around this. Had the university been a bit more prepared about this, more students would have been mobilised. One thing I feel is that there has been a lot of debate about getting refunds for tuition fees, and this has been taken in a very negative sense. I don’t support it outright, but had there been a bit more planning around it, we could have used tuition fees to pressure the university.
It is time our principal comes out in support and talks to UUK about negotiating with UCU. I am not happy that I am missing classes because the university is not taking a stance, and neither are staff. The staff are willing to do everything to uphold education and the ideas behind education – we celebrate a very rich tradition, and if the university comes out in support, it would send out a very positive message
The university’s budget surplus was £132,635,000 in 2017. Do you think the way the university is spending its money is appropriate, given that Peter Mathieson is being paid upwards of £400,000 or is this something you would want to change should you become Students’ Association President?
I also recently heard that they have paid £26,000 for Mathieson to fly his pets here, and I really don’t know how they can justify that when there are staff and students standing on picket lines. I have been involved with the university’s alumni office and one of the questions I asked was about the university’s surplus. One thing I was, because of the way auditing happens, they have to state all the savings they have made as well as the investments. That has made the university up to £140,000. It is a great amount in itself, and with so many problems happening, the university can in no way explain how much they are paying the principal. To give a brighter future for the university, it is prime time we realise what our priorities are and address them in the best possible way.
The university has recently announced full divestment from fossil fuels. Do you welcome this decision? Is sustainability something you would prioritise?
I really welcome this decision, and I think we certainly need to acknowledge the efforts put in by People and Planet, Ollie, and the other sabbatical officers. If I do get a chance I will be making sustainability a priority. For my campaign, instead of creating paper posters, I have used t-shirts around campus, and after the campaign these t-shirts can be recycled, and turned into the reusable pads as part of the Sanitree project.
What is the most important part of your manifesto, and what will be the most difficult to achieve?
I believe that inclusivity is the most important part of my manifesto. I would you push forward consent training and free sanitary products across all campus. That would be the most important part of my manifesto, along with the injustices done by landlords and letting agents. Along with Edinburgh Students’ Association, we can sit down with the council and stand up to the injustice of the landlords and letting agents, and look into more options around Edinburgh. Something which will take longer to achieve will be assessment of student needs in terms of a new student centre or the 200 million pounds that the university has decided on investing in student facilities. This is supposed to be an 8 year-long investment so it is important that right now we set what we aim to achieve and work along with liberation groups and the Sports Union to make this more of a long-term policy.
A growing concern for many students is the ongoing expansion of the university. Do you think this is a problem in relation to the resources we have? Do you think stopping expansion could decrease accessibility to the university?
I think that stopping expansion isn’t the best solution, but the university should analyse what it can do and set targets for itself. There was an event happening in McEwan hall and I asked the question: ‘When will international students be allowed in Edinburgh based on how much we deserve a position rather than our ability to pay for the fees?’ Their answer was basically an apology – there is a limit to the home students the university can take in, but not the international students. I would never say that we should stop the expansion because if someone is willing to come to the university they should be given the platform. At the same time, the university should realise, assess and analyse whether it can allow more students to come in or not. There is not enough space; stopping expansion is not an answer, but redirecting resources certainly is. The more students we let in, the stronger our alumni and the university, and I’m all in for that – the university shouldn’t stop anyone coming to the university.
Do you feel that there is a disconnect between international students and English / Scottish students in the university? Is this something you want to fix?
In my experience as an international student, I feel there’s no divide between international and home students, but there is a gap between international students and the university. One of my manifesto points is that students shouldn’t feel that the university is welcoming them up until the admissions process is over. There should be support available for language barriers and financial situations. The University of Edinburgh needs to assess, analyse and understand what it needs to do to prioritise and help international students.
What do you think sets you apart from other candidates?
I think a lot of manifesto points I have suggested are things I have experienced myself through involvement in the university. Being an international student myself, I am somebody who has first-hand experience of what it feels like to transition from home to the university and get used to things around the university. I believe that experience and my positionality, the zeal to get ideas into action, is what sets me apart.
Image: Bharat Singh Chaturvedi