SRC 2014 interviews Education: Alan McManus


Alastair Thomas Swatland


McManus prides himself on having been Kelvin Holdsworth’s campaign manager in the recent Rectoral elections. Even though he has no experience within the SRC, McManus believes his experience as a Life Coach and in a number of management positions give him the right credentials for the job. He describes his manifesto in three words as ‘intellectual wellbeing’ and ‘collegiality’.

Guardian: You refer a lot in your manifesto to promoting integration and diversity; do you see a problem on campus regarding these issues?

McManus: It’s not acceptable for the University to take on more students when it doesn’t have the facilities for them, and it’s not acceptable to say to them that “it’ll be alright next year”, because a lot of international students are only here for one year doing a Masters course. Chinese students doing these one year courses brings in a lot of revenue for the University, so their experience should be a good one. Many Chinese students find it difficult making Scottish friends if there are mostly Chinese students in their lectures. That’s why they tend to stay in groups and not branch out. Programmes like the Confucius Institute are really good in helping integration. I’m not saying we should reinvent the wheel but more that we should value the institutions that we have and try to facilitate the situations we’re in.

Guardian: How would you go about creating more study and social spaces for mature students, as you say in your manifesto?

McManus: This is something that the University needs to prioritise. We need to stop thinking of mature students as separate, where the University has the old strategy of divide and conquer. Most students don’t know where the mature student spaces actually are. 45% of students here are mature, that’s a huge proportion, but they are not getting the provisions from the University. I would be asking the Senate to do something about that. My priority is intellectual wellbeing, and it is important that all students have a sense of community and don’t feel different or change, which they shouldn’t do if they’re nearly half the student population.

Guardian: You’ve also talked about how students’ ‘intellectual endeavours’ may be inspired by a possible quest for ‘spiritual’ meaning. Can you tell us what that means in terms of your campaign?

McManus: I’m not standing on a religious ticket, but I am aware that people have different philosophies, some of which are religious: that is one of the strands of diversity. It is very important not just to realise that students are interested in instrumental gain, for instance doing a degree to get qualifications to get a job. I think having a sense of value for the here and now in studying is important, and one of the ways that value is expressed can be spiritual, but that’s not the only way.

Guardian: You’ve said that you want Wednesday afternoons to be freed up from compulsory classes. What is the benefit from doing so? Do you see this causing potential timetabling problems?

McManus: Timetabling is a mathematical issue. If we do not have the means to timetable classes properly then we should make provision for that. Many clubs have trouble booking rooms before 5 o’clock and I think that’s unacceptable. Also I know that many tutors leave Monday mornings and Friday afternoons free because they want a lie in or to get away early, and I understand that, but Wednesday afternoons are traditionally meant for competitive sport, volunteering and clubs and societies. Learning is not just about academia; there is a lot of value in these other activities, but there is a certain amount of intellectual snobbery over activities like sport. The old Latin adage, ‘a sound mind in a sound body’, is just as true today as it ever was.

Guardian: One of your manifesto buzzwords is ‘empowerment’. How will you look to empower students?

McManus: I know the role of class representative can be very uncomfortable because you’re being asked to voice concerns to someone who is your tutor or course convener, which can be quite intimidating. I want assertiveness training for class reps, where they can learn not to be aggressive, but to talk adult to adult about issues within classes or concerning marking, etc. I want to build confidence in students voicing the issues of their peers. But it’s also important to make sure that students know that they will have support from VP Education, because if they have troubles that they can’t take anywhere else, then that can come to me because, as well as sticking to my role, I also want to work collegially.