Q: How does student engagement with EUSA at this point in the year compare to this point last year?
TASHA: I think one of the reasons we’ve had an increase in nominations might be due to the switch to the online nominations system.
BRIANA: One of our collective goals this year, too, has been sabbatical officer engagement, and just finding ways to engage with students.
DASH: So we had three first year positions – First Year Welfare, First Year Academic, First Year External – which have been very well contested, and I think a large part of that is because, hopefully, first years have a better idea of what EUSA is than maybe last year’s first years.
Q: What do you believe you have personally achieved for students over the course of the summer?
DASH: I deal with the academic side, obviously, so my role is very university-facing. A lot of the changes I’m putting into place are a lot more long-term. So I’ve prepared a resource that encourages co-creation of curriculum, as in students and staff creating courses, creating assessments, creating feedback structures together. I’ve put together a resource of about 20, 25 examples from all over the world that has now gone out to directors of teaching at every school. Class rep contacts will now be available on LEARN, which feels like a small tweak but it’s something that the University has never thought of. Also, we’re having class rep induction events in all the schools… We feel that the class rep kind of role – probably our fault and the schools’ fault – hasn’t had enough of the definition or support that it requires, so that’s been kind of an objective that hopefully we’ll see out more as the year goes on.
BRIANA: I’d say a big group win this year was securing guaranteed grant payments for Erasmus students, so we’ve basically been working with the university to make sure that they’ve agreed on dates that students will receive their funding each term, and if the funding doesn’t come through from the Scottish Funding Council or the EU, the University will pay students their grants, so that’s a really big success for us. Something else we’ve been working on as well is the transport policy, so we’ve been working with the medical school and vet students as well to bring a petition to the principle, and they’ve now agreed to start looking at the medic transport provisions, improving the NHS shuttle bus, and then we’re going to be rolling out a wider transport campaign to get feedback from students on how they think public transport provision should be improved for them. I’ve been doing a lot of work on cycling, looking into a pilot cycle scheme, and right now that’s all very positive, I can’t say much more, and we’ll see what happens over the next couple of months.
TASHA: A lot of my objectives are kind of long term objectives. One thing that I have had positive feedback from, though, is the process I’ve made to the University regarding the UK guarantor scheme, it was received really positively and it looks as though there’s arguments for both sides, whatever they try and argue, and they’ve just asked us to go away and do some more research to show them the scale of demand for this scheme, and hopefully, soon enough, that will be a scheme that will be implemented in the University, but obviously we’ve still got some more work to do in the meantime. Also, you may be aware of the ethical investment campaign which has been ongoing for a very long time. I’ve been working on that a lot recently, and we have those plans for the ethical investment policies and stands to be taken to the next CMG [Central Management Group] meeting, and unfortunately that isn’t going to be taking the areas of divestment as part of the initial policy.
EVE: There’s a couple tangible things in terms of, I’ve managed to get agreement that in all course handbooks across the university, there’d be a section like the plagiarism section that’s universal across the university, but about equality and diversity and using inclusive language, and how that translates into learning and teaching settings. But actually, I think the most important stuff in my role is about culture change, and that involves relationships, so, for instance, that win there about the handbooks doesn’t mean anything unless you’re kind of getting the buy-in in terms of the culture, people having those sorts of conversations.
Q: Could you clarify the thought process behind signing the joint statement in support of Palestine, your (Briana’s) subsequent absence from the pro-Palestine march, and the proceeding explanation that this statement didn’t necessarily represent the entirety of your (Briana’s) views?
BRIANA: I stand by our statement. All four of us agreed that that was the position that we were going to take, and we took it. As for my absence at the march, it was a Saturday, and I basically made the decision that I wasn’t going to spend my time doing that. We had representation.
EVE: I think as well, there was a policy behind it; there was a petition that showed us the strength of student feeling behind it. We are elected to be political leadership of this organisation. We had long conversations about what should go into it and how we’d respond to that petition. There were 300 people at that petition, which is more than we often get on student council.
Q: Can you think of any other political issues that you really want to push going forward?
TASHA: General elections. We’re going to do a lot of work on the general election, to get as much student feedback as possible to find out what kind of campaigns, what kind of priorities to have for the student association.
BRIANA: I think a local political issue that is going to affect students from now on revolves around housing issues. Basically in October, the Edinburgh City Council will be reviewing policies on student accommodation, student housing, and I think it’s really important that students will recognise how this policy will affect them and we’re currently commenting on an Edinburgh housing development plan that will be put forward to be approved by either private accommodation or the university of Edinburgh. What we really want to do is pursue this comment and create input. Students are residents in the community, whether or not they are contributing to volunteering or just being residents in the city – it’s so crucial that we all come together.
Q: What’s your most ambitious project for the next few months?
EVE: Well, that’s one for Dash – you want to set up a whole new department!
DASH: We’re nearly there. I’ve put together a framework and it should happen, we will have a centre for gender studies in the future. We have a group of incredibly engaged academics around the university who are setting this up now.
BRIANA: I have two big ones. One of us is getting this pilot cycle scheme off the ground this year. And the second is also something we are working on organising – a student arts festival that would be across all the institutions in Edinburgh, further education and higher education, and we’ve received some funding for it, and I’ll just stop there, but it’s a big massive project. So we’ll see if it will happen this year – I know it will.
EVE: For me personally it’s mental health, cause I had a couple of points in my manifesto around counseling, which kind of comes up in manifestos all the time. And general mental health being a priority for me. But I think when you meet with people from the counseling service, and you get a better understanding of what they’re doing and actually the issues the issues are more complicated than I might have picked up on when writing the manifesto, and it’s kind of big challenge because it requires at lots of different things, and different people’s track through uni, and different places that they might come into contact with, and that’s a huge project. Luckily, people in the university are on board with it as well. We’re also working on setting up a tenants union in the city, and that’s obviously a big challenge, because setting up a union of any kind is a big project.
Q: Our last question has to do with tax avoidance. The Journal put up this article, which I’m sure you’ve read – would you class what EUSA does as tax avoidance?
TASHA: It’s acting within charity law, it’s not tax avoidance in the same way that they explained it.
EVE: And it’s purposely written into the law for what we are using it for.
BRIANA: It also comes from the whole point that we are a student union. EUSACO ltd is a company, and they transfer these funds to a charity. It’s a gift, it’s gift aid, and that’s a legal process. Ultimately all our revenue goes directly back into students. So that is there for the purpose of fulfilling our whole place.
Q: Do you have anything else to add?
BRIANA: We’re here to represent students, and to support students, so I hope more people will get involved and realise there are lots of ways to get involved, through volunteering and societies, running for a position, or working with us on campaigns and projects. So just come talk to us.