SRC 2014 interviews President: Donald Mackay

Published

Euan McTear

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Donald, from Dunblane, has already served three terms with the SRC Council, having previously been Undergraduate College Convenor for the College of Social Sciences, a General Representative and a Representative for the School of Law. He has also been a Court Assessor for the SRC and summed up his campaign as “fresh ideas” and “experience.”

Guardian: You’re no stranger to the workings of the SRC, having been a council member for three years already. How would that experience help you as President?

Mackay: I think the main thing is that I’m going to be able to hit the ground running as President. I know the SRC inside-out and I also know the University management system inside-out and how it works and which person to deal with for each issue. Because I’ve been the SRC member on Court for the last couple of years, I know how to deal with that and the strange dynamics you get there.

Guardian: You mention in your manifesto contributing to some national campaigns. Can you give us some examples?

Mackay: When I was School of Law rep on my first term on Council, I did quite a lot of work with the campaign for fair access to the legal profession. Basically, as a law student, you have to do a fifth year diploma if you want to qualify for the profession and unlike in other professional degrees you’ve got to pay for that. There’s very little student support. With a number of colleague around the country, we lobbied the Scottish Government quite hard and we eventually secured a members’ debate on the Scottish Parliament and some concessions have been made. It kind of fell off the agenda until Mike Russell changed some matters in the postgraduate funding structure so we have had some successes in that regard. It’s now coming back on the agenda and I’m really keen to try to push some more.

Guardian: You talk about student accommodation in your manifesto. What specifically are you looking to do to help students feel comfortable with where they stay?

Mackay: The big problem we’ve had this year has been overcrowding. It’s been a huge issue both in residential and teaching space. In accommodation, I had a great time when I lived in Halls, but I know that’s not the experience for everyone and I just don’t feel that there’s the right set of support structures in place. The University’s outsourcing to Sanctuary Management Services has been an unmitigated disaster. There’s no accountability, the director of accommodation service cannot actually order the wardens to do certain things. It’s an absurd situation. So what I want to do is introduce the class rep system that we’ve now got fairly well established for academic representation into the Halls to get a support network in there and get the wardens more responsive to student issues. I know there have been serious problems this year with them completely failing to actually engage with students and get stuff sorted so I hope that that would make them more responsive and create a better support structure. It would also give the first year reps a really key role in that and a more structured approach in the same way that School reps currently line-manage class reps.

In terms of private accommodation, the big problem is a potential reduction in the number of HMOs. They’re dropping and there are serious problems with the Council not enforcing the conditions. A lot of flats that students live in at the moment don’t have adequate security and we’ve seen break-ins going up this year. I want to work closely with the City Council to try to do things there. Also, if there are more HMOs in the West End, then that actually keeps the rent down. There’s a serious problem if those start dropping that the price of student rent will go up, which given the economic situation students face at the moment is not a good thing at all.

Guardian: The number of students seeking counselling at Glasgow has more than doubled over four years. What would you do to ease student stress?

Mackay: The thing that really struck me when this was discussed at the December meeting at Senate was that the number of students taking up counselling services was not spread across the board. There’s a huge number of first years, which surprised me because my initial assumption would be that it would be mostly later years students as the stress builds up. I think that was partly because of the problems with overcrowding and I think that links back to what I intend to do to support students in Halls and getting that framework will help with mental health.

I think obviously I’m going to push to improve the number of resources that the Counselling Service gets, but that’s not the only thing. There has to be a genuine decentralisation. I’m going to push for all Chief Advisors and all wardens to get some basic mental health training to develop a support network for mental health across the University campus.

Guardian: With regards to the recent rector election, we’ve already seen a campaign to call for a vote of no confidence in Edward Snowden. What would your stance as President be on further call for such a vote over the course of the year?

Mackay: This is an issue I’ve wrestled with. I’ve been the SRC assessor on Court for two years. It’s a very strange environment in Court – it’s 25 odd people or members and senior management are all in attendance, while the academic reps are all some of the most vocal and confident staff there are. The external members are all chief executives or managing partners. It can be a very intimidating environment and I know that in my early days, having Charles Kennedy there as a student-elected chair of court was very valuable for me and it improved my ability to represent students on Court. Now that there is no working rector I think that’s one of the reasons I’m the best candidate to be SRC President as I have the Court experience and I know the dynamics there and I know how to effectively represent students at the very top level of University.

In terms of the campaign to push for a vote of no confidence, I don’t think it’s right to overturn what is ultimately a democratic decision. I think we’re going to be able to adapt and be able to deal with it. But I think that’s why we need someone who has that Court experience as the SRC President in the coming year.

Guardian: How would you make the most of the new Council of Senate which has 12 student representatives, something that no SRC President has experienced before?

Mackay: The Council of Senate is an important change and is one we pushed for quite strongly because it means that students now have voting rights on the Senate. I think what it will do is hopefully it will improve the effectiveness of Senate because Senate has become a very unwieldy body in its current form and I think the Council of Senate will focus it a bit more and the academics that we have in place will have more of a commitment to actually contribute to it. In terms of effectiveness, it will hopefully allow us to have more academics engaged with our proposals to change academic policy with things like lecture recording, exam feedback. It’s been very difficult to get stuff through Senate and possible because of this very ineffective body and I hope that that will improve and we’ll be able to put forward our case more effectively because of that new structure.