Interview: Students’ Association presidential candidate Eleri Connick

Presidential candidate Eleri Connick on being Sports Union Vice President, her plans to cut 50p of hot drinks, and sustainability.

Of your manifesto points, what would say is the most important?

I think the most important is naming and shaming the bad landlords and flat companies. As students, we are constantly being exploited. I think the average flat price is £550 – it is shocking. If the Student’s Association said ‘don’t go to flat company x’, that flat company would change their ways to avoid losing out on customers. Students need a place to live and flat companies want to let to students.

I think there is an issue of communication. The Association has a lot in place, but you have to actively search for tips. It should be much easier to access. When it’s coming to January/ February and there are lots of flat viewings, we would advertise that we have a list of who to avoid. The Students’ Association page currently has 24,000 likes, and the uni has 40,000 students, so the first thing of the year needs to be getting everyone to like the page. Flat hunting is the worst, and all the anxiety that comes with it. People might argue that this will ruin flat companies’ businesses, but it should improve their businesses as they will become of better reputation.

This is a manifesto for everyone and you can’t tackle mental health or participation with just one policy, which is why we’ve gone for the tagline: ‘My policies are like onions, they have many layers.’ Because to combat these problems we need policies which work together.

You’ve talked about democracy within the Students’ Association. Do you think that the Students Association is currently transparent enough? Do you feel there is currently a good enough connection between the students and their Association?

I don’t think there’s enough connection at all. If you asked most students they wouldn’t even know who the sabbatical officers are or what student council is. Every Thursday that it’s on, across all computer screens, it should be advertised. I’d also like student council to be recorded and put on Facebook. Because we’re across so many campuses it can be quite hard to get that united feeling, and that’s why I think improving the democracy is so important. Having a President voted for by 2000 votes among 40,000 students is not good enough.

You’re planning on cutting 50p off all drinks across campuses. How do you plan to make this financially sustainable for the Students’ Association?

Hopefully, with it being cheaper, people will buy more coffees on campus. It’s not just about saving the money – it’s also environmental causes. There was recently a motion in student council about banning single-use plastics in Students’ Association shops and I really think this is so important to encourage people to use keep cups. 20p is here or there but this is really about encouraging people to use the keep cups, taking off that 50p shows that the Association wants to give back more to its students.

You also want to build another wrap bar and more heat and eat stations. Do you think it’s worth building these new resources when people are concerned that our current ones are not good enough? For example, water fountains in the library are often broken.

The reason why the water fountains are not in the manifesto is because the uni has just said that they are spending £400,000 on water fountains in the university. As Sports Union Vice President, I’ve just got money to buy water bottles for sports union members, made of recyclable, ethical plastics. What’s the point in having more water fountains if nobody has a water bottle?  It would cost the uni less than 5 per cent of what they are spending on infrastructure for water fountains. The university is not just improving water fountains but building more, and adding them into Moray House and Peffermill. In terms of the heat and eat stations and the wrap bar, there was a survey two years ago for King’s students to fill out what they want, and the answer was a second wrap bar. In all communal spaces, there needs to be a hot water tap and a microwave. If you’re allowing the library to be open 24/7, there have to be facilities for students to access hot water and hot food. The uni has the money to implement this, so its just lobbying for this to happen more quickly.

You’re Sports Union Vice President. How do you think this has prepared you or set you apart from other candidates?

I think it’s helped because I know how I will implement policies, who to talk to, and who to get sat at the table to talk about these things. For adding Peffermill onto the shuttle bus route on Wednesday, I’m currently working with the open day and widening participation scheme, so that’s going to happen as a trial on the taster day. That is something I really want to do, not only to save money and for safety, but also because it means you can go up and watch the home teams play

Last summer I was a constituency assistant for my MP, and my whole summer was just writing letters to the council about the constituency issues. Improving cycle routes is going to be something that requires councillors as well, and I know how to reach out to them. Improving the cycle routes to Easter Bush will require another council, but I think you have to go in not totally knowing how to do things, but being able to get in there as soon as possible and make a change. I think what sets me apart – I’ll really be able to jump in and get stuff going. Also, just being able to meet so many students through the Sports Union has really helped shape this manifesto. It isn’t my manifesto – it’s a manifesto for all students.

What are your opinions on the UCU strike, and how do you feel about the Students’ Associations decision to support it?

I am backing the UCU strikes because anyone should be able to go into academia with a good pension. We are all paying a lot of money to be at this university, the teachers aren’t getting any money – so where is that money going? Edinburgh loves to buy property, but it’s not property that teaches us, its teachers. Even though this 14-day strike is having a huge impact on students, it’s about the bigger impact. Education shouldn’t be run as a business; this is a time for us to really question things rather than just putting them into exams. It was great to see so many people at the rally on Monday. Students have really been helping out lecturers – none of our lecturers want to go on strike, but they can’t work for nothing – so I think it’s really important.

It passed with flying colours at the student council, so they have a duty to follow through on that. But then, it comes back to whether people knew it was going on and that democracy. It’s frustrating for students, but because it got voted at the student council, because we are saying that that is student’s voice, we must say that that’s the right decision.

In 2017, the University of Edinburgh’s budget surplus was £132,635,000. Do you think that money is being spent wisely by the university? 

I just am baffled by what the uni spends money on. I really think it is spending too much money on buying new property, then not doing anything with that property. The Peter Mathieson thing is frustrating because he has had a huge pay increase. It’s so much money to be here – and what do we see out of it? Obviously, the uni wants to have money left over in case something goes wrong, but this is too much. We need to spend money on students who are here right now. I’m proposing £100 gym membership for every student on a bursary – that’s a drop in the ocean of what this university has. That is going the extra mile and doing something for the students. I don’t think the money is being well spent, and I really do think we have a really good time as Peter Mathieson is new and wants to make his mark. This is why, if elected to office in summer, I would really get things going. He wants people to like him and he’s had so much bad press – he needs to get behind a lot of things to show students that the university cares.

The university has recently announced full divestment from fossil fuels – is this a decision you welcome and do you think the uni has further to go?

I think it’s so important, and I really wanted to run a paperless campaign. The one reason I didn’t was because I need to get voted in first before I can make a change. We need to do more for sustainability. That is why the reusable water bottles are so important. Sustainability is so fun, and I want to do so much more, improving cycle routes so more people will cycle. Some people might say that adding Peffermill to the bus route is not sustainable, but that’s better than everyone individually driving a car up there. I am so excited – people want to be more sustainable and it’s just about helping people to do that.

A growing concern at the moment is expansion at the university, and the growing number of students. Do you think this is a problem and is it something you would want to change?

This is a huge issue because the university is increasing in numbers but the resources aren’t increasing. I think a motion got passed at the student council in January that they’re going to lobby the university to stop expanding until we have new facilities. If I win I want to carry on fighting that battle. If elected, I would have the chance to sit down with top heads and look at this expansion. Edinburgh wants to be an amazing global institution but it’s not going to get that if the resources aren’t there – so we need to look at it and stop it until facilities are improved. This is partly why I want to have a King’s Welcome Week. Over 10,000 students study at King’s but it doesn’t have the same kind of identity and is really forgotten about. I think it’s important to implement this at King’s, as it needs to be more of a hub and a home for people who study there.

Do you think there is a disconnect at the uni between international students and UK students? 

I think there is such a disconnect, and even because it doesn’t help that students are paying different amounts for fees. It is so confusing and especially for international students, with Brexit going on, there are so many polarising views, and I can imagine it can be hostile community to put your feet into because – what is Edinburgh at the moment? So that is why the participation grant, what I would like to do is see it be open to all students regardless of nationality. I don’t know the statistics for the societies, but for the SU, only 10 per cent of members are international when 14 per cent of the university is international students. That’s why the participation grant should be much bigger so every student can get help, and the other thing is I’d like to do office hours with the local MSP for any international students who are having a hard time understanding visas. We need to improve that community feeling for all students.

What do you think will be the most difficult part of your manifesto to achieve?

I think the most difficult will be lobbying the council for improved cycle routes just because that can involve so many different bodies, but apparently the council wants to do an Edinburgh version of Boris Bikes, so if they want more bikes than they’ll have to improve cycle routes. But nothing on my manifesto is going to be easy, we’re such a big community. Even though I think cycle routes will be hardest to achieve because there are so many different bodies, it is possible.

Image: Eleri Connick

https://www.facebook.com/Vote-Eleri-1-for-EUSA-President-190969924993889/

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