Louise Graham is the current Games convenor at the Glasgow University Union and has a background in mental health outreach. Oliver Milne spoke to the candidate for Vice President Student Support who is standing unopposed.
Guardian: In your manifesto you spoke about your experiences on the GUU Board of Management, what skills acquired as part of a Union board, or more specifically as Games Convenor, do you feel carry over to the role of VPSS?
Graham: The most prominent skill I have developed as part of the board is time management. Every day is different in the role of VPSS so I believe being organised is key. This means I will always have time for unexpected work, which is common in the role. Further, I now have two years of experience in organising large scale events which I can apply to the organisation of RAG week and Welfare week. Finally, working in a team to achieve goals on board will transfer to the close work I would like to do with the Welfare and Equal Opportunities Officers, engaging them to a higher level than in previous years.
Guardian: As Games Convenor what’s been your relationship with student support and welfare issues?
Graham: My role as Games Convener doesn’t touch upon support and welfare issues directly but gives me an opportunity to interact with a wide range of students frequently. The position on board however, has been an opportunity for me to become involved in areas of student support and welfare at the university such as GUSA Sport and Wellbeing Week and the Mental Health Agreements Working Group which has given me an opportunity to contribute to improvement in this area.
Guardian: You’ve talked about your experiences working around mental health. What are biggest problems with the University’s mental health support and what – in an era of declining student support budgets – can be done to improve this vital support service?
Graham: It seems to be the same problem over the years – we always need more resources for mental health services in order to reduce waiting times and provide a larger variety of help. Being a student is a stressful time and it’s a real shame when people can’t get support they need.
In this time where money is tight, I am however, very positive about the Mental Health Agreements Working Group. Rather than spending more money on resources, the initiative aims to promote a university wide focus on streamlining the university services through all student services and bodies working together. Every service and body has something to contribute to improving student welfare and this group will ensure every penny we have is spent wisely. This will guarantee there is no overlap in services provided and we will encourage every student body to contribute to improving mental health in the university in any way they can. An example of this is the crossover between GUSA Sport and Wellbeing week and Welfare week. Good communication with the Welfare Convener of GUSA will mean that both Welfare Week and Sport and Wellbeing week can offer a variety of different services to students and guarantee we are not spending twice. Promoting self-help strategies through these campaigns will hopefully give students the resources they need to improve well being, or at least enough help to keep them going until they can receive the professional help they need.
Guardian: You’ve talked about Strathclyde Police. Currently Strathclyde Police and Glasgow City Council are discussing plans to put a uniformed support officer on every campus within Glasgow. Would you support this proposal?
Graham: What would you say to students uncomfortable with the idea of active police presence on campus? I think this proposal is a fantastic way to deter criminals from campus and may reduce the amount of crime however, I can sympathise with those uncomfortable with the idea. The recent attacks on campus are concerning and I think it is important for all students to feel safe walking around campus; the uniformed support officer would be one way to achieve this. However, at Glasgow we are lucky to have campus security on duty 24 hours a day. However, I believe that another way to reduce crime on campus effectively would be to reduce the opportunity for crime. To do this, I would like to emphasize ways for students to keep themselves and their belongings safe through campaigns in emails and social media from the SRC and the unions, building upon the campaigns this year. Further, I would like the police safety training of Freshers Helpers to be more detailed so that these representatives can pass better, more useful information on to new students to Glasgow.
Guardian: What would be your aims to ensure higher levels of support and campus involvement amongst international students?
Graham: I plan to work closely with International Student Support Services and the International Students Officer to build upon and support the work they already do. The support provided for international students such as support with VISA applications, immigration and support with settling into Scotland are important for international student retention. As well as university support, I would like to work with the unions in increasing events for international students. Language cafés, international fairs and international-theme club nights are well attended and provide good social opportunities for international students. Through events such as these, there should hopefully be increased involvement from international students. Changes in UKBA monitoring procedures have caused problems within the University, what would you do to ensure that these monitoring procedures don’t disrupt the learning or welfare of international students? Working with the university closely on the new regulations will be the most effective way to prevent disturbance. Smoothing out the system for monitoring international students should keep disruption to a minimum as well as working closely with schools with a high number of international students such as the business school. Using the student card scanners already used in classes which are used to monitor all students is a way to achieve this, preventing international students being singled out.
Guardian: What is the biggest challenge facing students in the coming year?
Graham: Students put themselves under a tremendous amount of pressure at university. With the state of the economy – the number of graduate jobs decreasing and university fees increasing, there is more pressure than ever before.
Students are trying to achieve a degree whilst undertaking the lengthy process of graduate job applications – all to pay off the debt they have built up to come to university. Extracurricular activities are more important than ever in setting themselves apart from the crowd but this is also a time consuming activity. The SRC can help in this instance through the services it provides such as the Advice Centre and the Volunteering Service.
Guardian: The role of VPSS is a large, some would say unwieldy, one. What will be your priorities?
Graham: I believe the new sabbatical structure this year means that there is a new focus on welfare for VPSS. With VPSA taking over clubs and societies, VPSS now has more time to focus on vulnerable students. My priorities are: improvements in mental health policy, strong representation from Welfare and Equal Opportunities Officers and campus safety.
Guardian: Finally, are you disappointed with the number of candidates running in this election and do you think running unopposed is detrimental to student involvement with student politics and the SRC?
Graham: I am disappointed in the number of candidates standing for election over the whole campus. Running unopposed for a sabbatical position is almost unheard of but I believe that students are more likely to stand when there has been controversy in the previous year. This year has been relatively quiet compared to the recent history of the SRC however, I am disappointed that with so many exciting changes happening over campus such as the campus master plan and the GUU/Stevenson extension, that students aren’t jumping at the chance to be part of the decision making in shaping the future of Glasgow University.
I would hope that the number of unopposed positions will not be detrimental to involvement in future years. The SRC council this coming year will have their work cut out in promoting involvement and what good it can do for you regarding experience and setting yourself apart from other graduates. On the other hand, I am encouraged to see the variety of students from different experiences and student bodies we have running for council this year and hope that this will encourage involvement from more students over the whole campus in years to come.