Coombs also has no experience within the SRC, but as President of the Swimming & Waterpolo Club and co-founder of the Food Co-Op he has a clear knowledge of how the SRC functions and is well-liked among students. His manifesto leans towards more involvement between the SRC and societies, helping Fresher’s through their first year and ensuring financial cutbacks at the University do not adversely affect the student experience. In three words, he describes his focus as: “reaching to students”.
Guardian: How would the Buddy system you propose work?
Coombs: I think the details of it need to be worked out, I’ve just put the idea out there in my manifesto. I don’t think it’d be one-to-one, I don’t know if that could work, but there should be a pool of older students which younger students could turn to. Obviously it’s got to be tailored within your course, within your department, so that you’re speaking to someone that’s done the same things as you. The details do need to be worked out but the intention is clear, so that there is more assistance from older students helping younger students, not just in Fresher’s week but throughout their university career. From my personal experience, doing my dissertation which I’ve just handed in, luckily I spoke to students who are older than me – and that was hugely helpful. I can get all the help I want from tutors and staff in my department but having a student that has gone through it recently to speak to is massively beneficial.
Guardian: How do you feel students would get ‘better value for money’?
Coombs: In terms of teaching, just ensuring you’re getting regular face-to-face classes and small tutor groups, so you’re not being lumped in with 30 or 40 other people in the seminar. Small lectures as well, being able to feel that you can approach your tutors when you want. Obviously as a fee paying student that affects me more than people coming from Scotland, but it’s still important. Going to university should be an experience and it should be something you get a lot out of. My whole idea is putting the student first and having learning at the forefront.
Guardian: You put a heavy emphasis on the importance of student clubs & societies, though this isn’t strictly the remit of VP Education. Why do you feel societies are so important?
Coombs: What I meant by that is in terms of the way the Psychology Society works and the Geography Society works, and they have really close links with their departments. Those sorts of societies can massively help in your learning experience, especially if they’re putting on weekly talks and the department get really involved. The philosophy society is a small but excellent example. Lots of lecturers come down to that and as a year you might go to reading parties.
So those are the sorts of societies that I felt that VP Education should foster and encourage close links with the department, as oppose to the Water Polo Club which is hugely valuable but I know that’s out of the remit of VP Education. It’s difficult to make that explicit in my manifesto, but that’s what I mean.
A society doesn’t have to cater to everyone who is interested in going to some parts of it and there’s parts of it that can be enormously beneficial to the education side of things which not everyone needs to get involved in. And just because I want societies to be able to do that doesn’t mean they should ignore the interesting talks and the interesting social functions that they also serve.
The History Society is lacking, it doesn’t organise these big talks, it doesn’t organise help for dissertations and what not, so the buddy system and the society thing can all work together and improve the university.
Guardian: How will you connect with Student Representatives and College Convenors?
Coombs: I think I just need to open access and open corridors of communication and make sure there’s introductions happening. If elected I would obviously be working for the SRC but I want to make sure that we’re all going towards to same goal of enhancing the learning experience of the university.
I think there are excellent procedures put in place, but I think they’re not used enough. I think that there needs to be a broadening of the SRC that appeals, so that people really realise what it’s about, people know who their class representatives are, people can really go to their class representatives as their first port of call, and then from there take it up to us on the SRC.
I also feel it’s got to start from the top as well. Executives need to be approachable and if a student has got something, anything wrong, they can come up to the executives office and they can talk to us about it and we’ll try and find a solution or pass them on to someone who’s an expert. So there are excellent mechanisms in place they just need to be used a lot better.
Guardian: How would you like to see the development of the Western Infirmary site go, as alluded to in your manifesto?
Coombs: That’s been rumoured about since I first came to university – it’s been a long time coming, and the last few weeks have just been confirmation of that. I think the wonderful buildings that we have around the university, like all the tenement houses, are excellent, but they’re probably getting too old. I want the university to make sure that it keeps the student at the forefront of it’s policies. And I think moving part of the university to the Western Infirmary is an excellent opportunity and something that the SRC must make sure they play a big role in.
I would also say that with the big projects recently, such as MyCampus and purchasing the Hive, there has been a serious lack of consultation on behalf of the university. With this next new big project I’d like consultation to be put first to make sure that the students know what’s going on, most importantly, and secondly if they disagree with it there’s adequate space for them to get their disagreements heard.