VPAS candidate Jack Hutchcroft spoke to The Student on his dedication to sustainability, an Ethical Careers Fair, and the Big Cheese.
Can you briefly introduce yourself to us?
I’m Jack, a fourth year philosophy student from Glastonbury. To capture my whole campaign in a catch phrase, I’m running for inclusivity and sustainability.
Why did you decide to run for this position?
I feel like the VPAS position is the one that I’m best suited for, and would provide opportunity for my current foundation of experience. I have been quite a big part of societies; I was assistant manager for FreshAir, the university’s radio show. I have been talking to a few people and realised it is very easy to have a lot of hatred for the Students’ Association when you’re at the top of societies – a lot of people do, so I decided I would do what I can to make it better.
Can you give us a brief overview of your manifesto’s key points?
I’ll start with something a lot of VPAS candidates are discussing, and it’s reducing plastic usage. I think it’s ridiculous that you need to have a university branded cup to be able to receive a discount on drinks, rather than getting a discount anytime you bring a reusable cup to the counter. Not being able to recycle so many plastic cups is a chaotic mess.
Another issue, that is more personal to me, is I want to set up a local and ethical careers day. Within this, I want to charge large corporations more money to attend our fairs and use this to subside smaller, more local startups and enterprises. I feel like at university you’re taught all this information, and you build this strong moral and ethic system, and then at the end of your degree you don’t know what to do with your life. After that you kind of feel like you have to sign your life off to these huge brands like JP Morgan or Amazon, but I want to advertise the fact that you really don’t have to do that.
Big corporations obviously have more money — it makes much less of a difference to them, but subsiding a train ticket for a smaller startup could do a lot. I hope to achieve this through the careers support service, and use the policy examples of other universities who have done this, such as Cambridge.
Your manifesto also mentions encouraging a sense of community within the university through student media. What do you think the correlation is between the two things? Why is a sense of community important?
This might sound abstract, but I feel like I’m in a good place to discuss the importance of student media. There’s The Student, FreshAir, and EUTV — yet we rarely see them being actively advertised. If there’s all this available content about our peers, and whats going on at our university, students will be able to relate and engage with content specifically relevant to them. A lot of my friends really don’t associate with the university, or feel like they’re a part of something — but as VPAS I want to do what I can to push a community for everyone.
You also mentioned the importance of re-entering non-students in societies. Tell us more about this.
So this is in reference to a specific policy change that has angered a lot of people. It’s a difficult issue, but recently EUSA has made it explicit that non-students cannot be on committees or vote for committee members. The Students’ Association has said this was always a policy but never made it explicit. Irregardless, its made a lot of people very upset — and rightfully so. Societies are made up of so many different, important members – not of them are students. The Swing Dance Society, that I’m a part of, has a lot of prominent non-student members. This will ruin the whole system, and make people who do a lot of work for these organisations have restrictions in how involved they can be. I’ve spoken to the current VPAS about this, and found it was a legal issue regarding EUSA as a charitable body, but I definitely see leeway in changing this policy. If EUSA is really a charitable body, than they’d do what is best for the students, and allowing non-student involvement would be beneficial.
What are your opinions on the growing student population? Do you feel that this is a problem? If so, what do you think needs to be done about it?
Obviously you need to spend money on expanding services, and it is something that is difficult to do but entirely necessary. The more our population grows but facilities don’t, the poorer quality of life students at this university will have. I want to make a specific commitment to lobbying the university to change this, and push the university to care about accessible facilities and teaching quality for all students. This is probably why it is so important to vote — it will show the university we care.
What kind of facilities do you have in mind?
I’d be looking at welfare services and counselling — though this isn’t what my specific job-description includes. Also lecture spaces, and study spaces.
In 2017, the University of Edinburgh’s budget surplus was £132,635,000 – larger than that of all other Scottish universities combined. Do you feel this money is being invested wisely, and if not, how would you lobby the university to change this?
Honestly, where is it going? In terms of where I think it should go, I think that’s a really big question. It’s difficult because something I’ve tried to do with my manifesto is make it as specific and achievable as possible, explicitly looking at policies that won’t be difficult to achieve. So many past-winners promise the world and don’t achieve it, so I haven’t been thinking about these big ideas. However, ideally, the money should be going to counselling services, and pensions.
On that note, what are your opinions on the UCU industrial action and the Student’s Association’s decision to support it?
I voted in the student council to support the strikes. I recognise that this has a negative impact on students, including myself. Specifically, masters students and abroad students, who are on a limited time period, lose so much of their studies. It is not the fault of the lecturers though, but rather the university in their current refusal to push for change in the pension scheme. What they’re doing is really bad, and needs to change.
What will be the most difficult thing to achieve within your manifesto?
I think it will be in the policies that have to do with the university more than EUSA. Obviously it is not difficult to lobby, but more so push the university to change things. I think there will be difficulty in making more facilities for the growing population, and encouraging student reps for each individual campus.
Also, I think there will be resistance in introducing a Working Class Liberation Officer. I don’t know how popular a policy it is, so it’ll be difficult to persuade people.
What sets you apart from other candidates?
I am putting forward policies that no one else has, that will be achievable for the Students’ Association and genuinely better the student experience. Within this, I have a huge focus on sustainability, which everyone should care about, but also on helping students work towards their future, such as through the ethical careers fair. A Working Class Liberation Officer is also something I am strongly for, and it will be something I will do my best to achieve.
Speaking of sustainability, the university has recently announced its full divestment from fossil fuels. Do you welcome this decision? Do you believe there is more work to be done in making the university more sustainable?
Yeah, this is so great. It is great to show that lobbying the university from the student body can be successful, and it is such a positive thing to hear when campaigning is successful.
As an active member and leader within a society, what do you personally think are the conflicts between societies and the Students’ Association, or the student body and the Students’ Association?
I do think there is a disconnect between the student body and the Students’ Association. In terms of improving communication, I do want to hold regular drop-in sessions where officers can speak to students, and students can ask questions. More so, the heads of societies should be able to communicate with EUSA more. Obviously, everyone would want this to be better, so I don’t know why it isn’t yet. EUSA needs to do a better job of selling itself because it does provide all these opportunities for societies, yet so many people are unaware. We need a much more open dialogue. The more help, the more investment, the more people working in the activities department, the better.
Give us your thoughts on the inclusivity and merging of international communities and UK students on campus, with regards to the clear divide that many students feel that could be brought together.
I definitely think there is a divide, and I’ve experienced it myself. What I can do as VPAS is limited, but societies are where people meet and find their friends. People who are so different can get together with similarities and hobbies. So the most we can do is encourage society involvement and urge people to identify with their largest similarity — of all attending this university.
What do you think is the primary concern currently facing our students?
Well right now it may be what the hell is going on with the strikes. However, I do think EUSA is doing a good job handling this. There needs to be available information, better information, and better communication to help this.
Finally, you mentioned in your manifesto a change to the Big Cheese called the ‘Big Choose’. Tell me more about this.
I mean, sometimes, I feel like this is such a trivial policy to discuss because people have such deep passions about the Big Cheese. I know it’s always the same music, but more so it would be fun for people to have rival ideas for themes and playlists. People can also get comfortable with a voting system and be more involved with such a big event.
Image: Jack Hutchcroft