Guardian: As VP Education, what have you achieved for students over the last year?
Davies: The first thing that I think I should say is that I have met all of my manifesto promises. I’ve worked hard at achieving all of them or coming to a resolution. Some are continuing, and others haven’t been finished, but I have worked hard on all of my election promises. That’s one thing that I’ve delivered to the student population. Engagement is probably another thing: I’ve actually got more people interested in education policy. During the Student Teaching Awards launch week, nominations were up five times on what they were last year. The Education and Technology Conference, the first time that’s been happening, I provided students with an opportunity to present their research, present their ideas to staff members, to the University community, and got them more engaged with education policy. I think the nice thing with that one was, it wasn’t just the ‘regular faces’. So that was covering both engaging education and engaging a wider population of the University community. I think that the biggest things I’ve achieved this year, along with the creation of the role of Interdisciplinary Studies Rep to represent the Dumfries Campus.
Guardian: As SRC President, what would you do to help alleviate the pressures of overcrowding on campus? Is there a long-term solution to this problem?
Davies: That’s another thing I’ve worked on this year and delivered alongside VP Student Activities, is the Pop-Up Study Spaces. They’ve proved really successful. Although we didn’t have the highest number of people using them, we did have emails of thanks from those who did. We have the library now buying into the idea, and that’s alleviating some of the pressure on the libraries. In terms of the gym, I think that’s going to be a difficult one, and I think we just need to encourage the expansion. I think we need to promote the services available from the other sports teams to those who are looking to get healthy. But of course, that falls into GUSA’s work. In terms of overcrowding from an educational point of view, the Pop-Up Study Spaces were the ‘big one’. I think, feeding into that, comes the expansion and we need to really make sure that in the long-term, and I know asked about the short-term but long-term is also important, the University is aware of the fact that we need more space, and is then investing in the ideas that we are coming up with as the short-term solutions.
Guardian: Are the University likely to invest money in finding a short-term solution to this problem when they are investing so much money in expanding the campus in the longer term?
Davies: Possibly not, but it depends on what the idea is, and that is where we need to be creative, and that is where the Pop-Up Study Spaces were a really good cost-free way of providing more space to students. That doesn’t mean that the University couldn’t be aiding us in other ways with ideas that we haven’t come up with yet. I don’t think we can ever say that the University is never going to put money into something, because it depends how much something costs. For example, the Education and Technology Conference went down incredibly well, and that came to a total cost of £51. So it depends on the idea, depends on the cost, and I think I am able to cover both the idea bases and the fact that a lot of the things don’t have to cost too much money.
Guardian: How do you intend to engage students in the Western Infirmary Development consultation process, particularly in relation to the Learning & Teaching Hub?
Davies: It was disappointing that we didn’t have a higher turnout at the recent events, but that was down to poor communication on the University’s part. I’ve thankfully been invited along to a new Communications working group, where I’ve already been submitting ideas to the committee. One thing that I did suggest was, when Frank Coton sent out an email to get students to come along to the events in late December, he should have made sure that the University would be feeding back to students. Although a small thing, it means we can challenge the university when they aren’t feeding back idea that students, staff or members of the public have come up with, which we hope will encourage more dialogue. I also think that we need to be looking at the ways that we communicate with people. Email is good; text was a try, and Twitter I think things get lost with. That’s something that I’ve been trying to do with my campaign. I’m on Chinese social media, I’m on things like Tinder and Snapchat, and although these things might not be the right solution for the consultation process, I do think that we need to be thinking about a wider range of ways that we can communicate with students, to try and draw in people that we wouldn’t otherwise capture, and which the University wouldn’t otherwise capture. The other thing is that it needs to be made interesting and relevant, so the ideas that were generated at the recent consultation will probably feed into the level two development of the library, which will probably be completed over this summer, and we need to really stress to everyone that the ideas we’re coming up with could have an immediate effect. Even if they’re not in place for the Learning and Teaching Hub, they could have a knock-on effect on other buildings and other areas. I think that we’ve all been quite poor at communicating this, and we really need to stress that everything we talk about, everything we say, could then be feeding into something greater.
Guardian: The ongoing dispute between the University and the UCU means that there is a constant threat of industrial action of various kinds. What do you intend to do to make sure that disruption to students is kept to a minimum?
Davies: One of the benefits of my last two years of Council experience is that I’ve sat through the industrial action, through the strike threats, and through communication about strike threats, and I think one of the big things we need to do is keep communicating. We need to put pressure on staff to come up with ways that are disruptive to the University, but less so to students. Of course, the point of a strike is to cause disruption, but I think students are becoming less and less sympathetic to the strike action. We just need to stress to staff how much we value them. And we do – we do value them a lot, I think. As I’ve said, nominations for Student Teaching Awards went up. We really do see the value they have on campus, and we need to make sure that staff are feeling valued so hopefully they will then come up with more efficient ways of striking, better ways to disrupt the University itself. I think that’s probably the main thing to do, because at the end of the day, we can’t stop staff from striking, and I would never want to stop somebody from striking or taking action. I just want to make sure that we can put in place temporary solutions for students if things do go wrong. For example, with the marking boycott, I can see why the University would want to bring in temporary markers, because that would minimise disruption to students. It would be nicer if the strike wasn’t going on at all, but I think we would have to support all kinds of action to try and minimise the effect it has.
Guardian: You and Liam King, who is also running for SRC President in this election, both have a considerable amount of experience on the SRC. What distinguishes you from Liam King? Why are you the better candidate?
Davies: I think that I’m the better candidate because I think a lot of this can come down to the person, and I have tried to be incredibly outgoing during my time here at the University. I’ve got involved in a huge number of things: I’ve set up societies; I’ve been members of societies. A nice range of societies – things like Welsh Society to LGBTQ+, but also I’ve tried to really integrate myself. I’ve got a real passion and love for this University. I’ve been a tour guide for the University; I’ve been a student ambassador. I really hope that my passion, that passion for fighting for student issues, and engaging and being a part of this really wonderful community, shines through during my election campaign. I’ve really tried to fight a positive, happy, campaign, but one that also highlights my strengths, my aims, and my experience, and I really hope that sets me apart. I’m very outgoing, very positive, and not to say that Liam King isn’t, but I’m hoping that shines through a bit more in me.
Guardian: Do you believe that the Counter Terrorism and Security Act, which recently passed into law, poses a threat to students’ right to express themselves on campus free from interference by the University?
Davies: Yes – I do have to say that I think it poses a threat. There are a lot of issues with the Security Act that’s just been passed, both towards its discrimination against certain groups of students on campus, the implications for certain groups on campus, and for the SRC. One thing I have to say is, because of the ambiguity within the Bill, I hope we can get away with a lot of the things it’s trying to impose upon us. I don’t support the Bill at all – it’s poorly written in parts, and very discriminatory in others. Although it will have an effect, I do believe we can negate some of the effects by the fact the Bill was very rushed, very poor, and I would hope, given that the General Election is coming up, we would be able to put a lot of pressure on political parties to either withdraw or soften the Bill.
Cal Davies is one of the two more experienced candidates in this election. He has three years of experience on the SRC Council and he claims to have spent the last year developing an intimate understanding of education policy and encouraging students to take an interest in it.
As VP Education, he has had a busy year. In his manifesto he talks about having played an ‘integral part’ in the campus redevelopment consultation. Given that both he and his main rival admit that the consultation held by the University in January was a total failure, one might question how effective Davies has been in that role.
It’s true to say that Davies pushed for the creation of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies Representative, to represent the Dumfries campus, but this was perhaps one of the least controversial matters ever to be discussed at an SRC Council meeting. There was very little, if any, opposition to the proposal so it is questionable whether this can really be described as an achievement for Davies personally. Davies also claims to have ‘pushed for’ the creation of a Mental Health Equality Officer. It is certainly true that he supported that amendment to the SRC Constitution, to allow for the creation of a new position on Council, but it is also worth noting that it was actually another member of Council who proposed the amendment at the meeting of Council on the 24th of April 2014.
Davies was indeed elected ‘to sit alongside staff across Scotland’ on the Scottish Enhancement Leadership group, but simply being elected to that group does not constitute and achievement. Surely, it could be argued, it is what you do once you are there that really matters?
His manifesto commitments have a little more to offer. He promises to ‘engage more with underrepresented groups’, but most importantly, he explains how he intends to do that: using social media to promote events designed to appeal to all students by ‘offering them the support they need.’ It is clear from this that Davies knows what he wants to achieve in this areas and how to go about achieving it.
He says that he wants to continue the work he started this year by organising another Education and Technology Conference to encourage ‘undergraduates to engage with research outside of their dissertation’ This event proved relatively successful during his tenure as VP (Education), so we have reason to believe that he will be able to do the same again next year. Surely, however, the success of this policy depends on how well the new VP (Education) does her job? Collaboration between Sabbs is fine, and to be encouraged, but if elected President, is there a risk that Davies will end up managing this project in place of the new VP (Education)?
Davies says that he will ‘fight for additional resources and expertise to help the SRC to represent Glasgow students wherever they may be’ in the city. Nobody would seriously contend that this is a bad policy, but its success depends on Davies ability to do just that: fight for the resources. What happens if he doesn’t win that fight?
With regard to mental health issues, Davies pledges to ‘reduce mental health stigma on campus’ and to ‘work with the Counselling & Psychological Service to aid with this goal, and also to help improve their service.’ This is very much following on from the success of his rival Liam King, who was relatively successful in working with CAPS to improve the service. For that reason, there is every reason to believe that the SRC Executive as a whole has the power to influence change within the Counselling Service.
Davies concludes with a vague promise to ‘consult with all student bodies throughout the year, to continue the successes we saw in (re)freshers’ week.’ Again, no reasonable person would disagree with this idea. Communication is an inherently good thing, so Davies could have done with explaining his means rather than simply describing his objective. It begs the question, what constitutes effective communication between student bodies? How will Davies actually go about making sure communication between student bodies is effective?
Davies himself insists that he is ‘the best candidate to ensure student voices are all heard nice and loud, and to lead the SRC during this important time.’ Improving communication between staff, student and the SRC seems to underpin his manifesto, and although that is to be welcomed, this feels more like a tactical than a strategic objective.