Liam is a Psychology and Philosophy student with previous SRC experience having been the Sexual Orientation Equality Officer for the past year. He has also been a student representative on the University’s Disability Equality Group and summed up his campaign as “experience”, “passion” and “engagement.”
Guardian: Having been Sexual Orientation Equality Officer last year, what skills did you learn from that which make you right for this role?
King: Out of what I’ve done this year, a lot of it has been working with the University, the University community and cross-campus engagement. So what I’ve learned is how to build relationships with those people in the University who actually do things and who can actually effect change. I’ve learned about the committees and which are the right ones to approach and which structures are the best to engage with to actually get your ideas into the University.
VP Student Support really has to interact with the University, which then enables the other Welfare officers to do the projects they want to do. Having had that experience and having developed those skills and knowing what is actually involved puts me apart from the other candidates.
Guardian: On disabled access, what would you be looking to do to make Freshers’ Week more accessible and what could you do to make the campus as a whole more accessible?
King: This year there were a couple of Freshers who had quite complex support needs and wanted to get involved in Freshers’ Week. If you have complex support needs, your first port of call in the University is the Disability Service – but the Disability Service aren’t involved in organising Freshers’ Week. So when they were trying to purchase passes, the Disability Service didn’t really know what the procedure was and didn’t have the answers to their questions, which led to these students feeling uninformed and uninvolved. One of the really simple things that can be done is giving complimentary passes to carers for these students. University is more than just going to classes and if you have complex support needs you’re going to need your carer to empower you to get a part of that social life.
On Estates and Buildings, with the Western Infirmary development coming along, it’s about trying to make them think about accessibility for wheelchair users and people who can’t negotiate stairs easily. By and large they are quite good and will be replacing the lifts in the library in the summer, but they’re under pressure and I fear that this might let important principles slip.
Guardian: What would you do to support mature students?
King: A quarter of undergrads are technically mature students and the facilities they have are really quite poor. Something as simple as raising their profile in the University, because they are actually their own student body, and then empower them and give them the access to the kinds of people in the University who can get them what they want. I don’t think we necessarily need to see the SRC doing stuff on behalf of mature students, but what I would do and what I want to see is them being empowered and given access with the support of the SRC.
Guardian: You support the campaign against zero-hour contracts at the University. Do you think there is any place for them or are you for a blanket ban?
King: I am convinced of the case that there are too many of them and that, regarding graduate teaching assistants specifically, many of whom are postgraduate research students, it’s having a negative impact on their student welfare and experience. What I’d like to see is them being given the choice of whether they want to be on these contracts. I don’t think there’s absolutely no place at all, as I have spoken to people who say it works for them. But I’m not convinced of the idea that it’s right for the 3000 or so people who are on them. I’m sure there are other types of contracts that these people could be on.
In terms of how it would work in practice, I’d like to say that these people that are on them should be given the choice to say if they think it’s appropriate for them. However, at the same time, I would feel uneasy about whether or not there would be some pressure to say that it is appropriate. I think we need sustained SRC pressure and sustained pressure from students. If in a year’s time there’s still this number and you’re still getting people saying these are inappropriate, then what the University has done up to that point hasn’t worked and we’d need to look at that again and say “Did they do it properly?”
Guardian: How would you go about improving the counselling services offered?
King: The statistics I’ve seen are fairly closed about the kinds of things that people are going to the Counselling and Psychological Services for – which I can understand because they don’t want to be disclosing that information – but I’m not convinced of the argument that there’s no way we can find this information out. I think we really need to know why people are going there.
There’s a lot of crossover between people who attend the Disability Service and people who attend the Counselling and Psychological Services. I’m not convinced that just shipping them over to counselling is the most appropriate thing. I do think there are things that the Disability Service can be doing with these students to engage with them in a peer-to-peer environment. This links back to my manifesto point on having a social forum for disabled students. If you’re feeling isolated, if your University experience is inherently more difficult and if, on top of that, you feel like you’ve done badly in an exam, it’s probably going to be a lot harder for you. I’d like to see us getting the social forum and have these students represented so that we can actually know what they want to happen and then review the way that the Disability Service and Counselling and Psychological Services work together.
When students actually get to Counselling and Psychological Services, there’s a six week waiting list which is shocking. They have got more money and resources since last year, but I don’t think we should be immediately giving them more money when it needs to be seen whether they are actually using the money that they have right now effectively. There should be pressure for more transparency, to know what they are actually doing with the money they have at the moment, because it’s quite a lot. If in the end it turns out that they need more money and they’re stretched, then of course we should help them. But I’d like to see what they’re doing first, because just throwing money at the problem isn’t going to make those waiting times come down.