Guardian: You have a lot less experience of the SRC council than the two candidates you are running against. What do you think makes you the best person for the job?
Charalambous: Basically I consider it an advantage because it gives me the opportunity to have a fresh perspective of the things I see. Also I have been a student for four years, which means I have lived a lot of what is going on in the SRC, so I have my own opinions about issues, I have heard a lot of things from other students, and I have also been part of many things that go on around the University, which makes me feel that I’m really able to undertake the position of President.
Guardian: Do you think students will relate to you more because you’re not as involved with the SRC?
Charalambous: Yes, I think so. I think that students will relate to me more.
Guardian: In your manifesto you say you want to ensure the workings of the SRC are more transparent. How will you do this?
Charalambous: So, there are many ways to do this. First of all, my campaign; it is a campaign that aims to anonymise applications across the whole University campus, not just the SRC. We started the campaign from scratch, we did our own research and everything, and we want to enhance the awareness of what the implications of the name on the job application are, and how we can balance any disadvantages that may arise from the name on the application. So basically we have done a presentation to the SRC and all of the student council – that was on the 23 January so it’s been a month now – and yeah, we’ve been working hard on this since the beginning of first semester
Guardian: So that’s something you’ve been involved with for quite some time. What new ideas would you bring to the SRC if you were to become President?
Charalambous: The most basic idea I have is to do with student engagement. I believe that, in terms of student engagement we could do a lot more than what is on offer at the moment, and I think that the number of people running for positions [on the SRC] at the moment shows that we could do better, because there are positions right now that are vacant, so nobody’s going for them, and there are other positions where there is only one student running uncontested. I think the most popular position is the one that I’m running for and that only has three students running, and I think that the SRC could do a lot better than that.
Guardian: Where do you think the SRC is going wrong at the moment, when it comes to engaging with students?
Charalambous: I think there should be more opportunities for students to express their ideas, and my own ideas are to organise conferences where students can present what they think could be done better on campus, and give their own suggestions towards it. Again this links to what I am doing myself [in the campaign]- I made some observations, I thought of something, I researched it, I presented it afterwards, and now I am waiting for a response, so this is a much more engaging way to do things. Conferences that would give the opportunity for people to give their own views and own solutions would be really constructive, and do a lot of jobs for the SRC, but would also make students want to engage with the SRC and feel more involved. I don’t know if you heard about ‘Let’s Talk About [X]’? It was a conference that was made a few weeks ago by the Learning Service, it was quite successful I would say.
Another way to improve engagement would be through alternative ways of communication, so apart from the conferences, as not all students would like to present, I thought that anonymised suggestions and complaints in a forum or in a physical box in the SRC building would allow students to express their ideas without feeling that they might face opposition because of their ideas.
Guardian: In the case of staff industrial action – lecturer strikes, marking boycotts and so on – what would you do to keep disruption to students to a minimum?
Charalambous: I would definitely have to liaise with the proper organisation, and talk that through, obviously, with University governance and with the staff as well so we could come to, not a solution but something in between and try to make things better.
Guardian: How do you intend to involve students in the Western Infirmary Redevelopment consultation process, particularly with reference to the Learning and Teaching Hub?
Charalambous: I haven’t thought a lot about the new building but I know that they wanted to engage the students in the sense of how they will develop the building, and I totally agree with them on that. It should be up to the students what they want in the building, so I guess here the way to do it is to listen to the students and put the students at the centre of the conversation, and I think they’re doing well at the moment for asking students their opinions about the design, because even the design matters.
Guardian: You say in your manifesto that you want to raise the profiles of the other sabbatical officers: how would you do this and why is it important?
Charalambous: I would like to delegate responsibilities better because I think that many students don’t know about the Vice Presidents – they know more about the President – which means it might not be very efficient because if people have an issue they could go straight to the VP who is concerned, instead of going to the President, because I feel the role of the President is more a leading role, about making decisions, and you have the Vice Presidents who specialise in particular areas, so it could be a lot more effective to raise their profiles. Personally, I didn’t know about them until my third year, so again my personal experiences influence the way I think and the way I want to make things better.
Guardian: Do you have an opinion on the Scottish government’s proposals in the Higher Education Governance bill?
Charalambous: No, I haven’t looked into that. But thanks for asking.
Guardian: What is your opinion then on the Counter-Terrorism Act?
Charalambous: That they really need to say what they mean when they say ‘extremist opinions’ because an extremist opinion could be different to me or to you, and then they need to look at how they word things because I’ve seen lots of articles online that talk about checking more than just Muslim students, but that’s not correct as it implies that all terrorists are Muslim, but they’re not, so there are many political implications in that. They need to be really careful how they phrase everything.
Guardian: Do you think the measures laid out in the act out the rights of students to freely express themselves on campus at risk, without the interference of the University?
Charalambous: I think that this can be debated, so we need to look at it carefully, as it can be interpreted in so many ways that there’s no definitive answer to that, so looking at the act and talking about it would be the best way to go.
Charalambous believes as the founder of the Don’t Let Your Name Decide for You! campaign that ‘anonymisation’ is the most effective way of eliminating ‘placement bias.’ If elected SRC President, she promises to implement that policy when it comes to paid and volunteer opportunities offered to students by the SRC itself. Which is quite a good idea. However, Charalambous implies she thinks as SRC President she can make the three other bodies bring this in, which seems either to be a misunderstanding of the interrelations of the bodies or at least a little naive.
Charalambous promises to raise the profile of the SRC by organising workshops to promote the activities of the SRC and the ‘existence’ of the SRC Executive. Although this policy is proactive, it is not clear what will happen if students simply do not attend the workshops Charalambous proposes. This policy would benefit those students who are interested in but uninformed about the work of the SRC. It fails to reach out to those students who are uninformed and uninterested.
Charalambous proposes an anonymised complaints/suggestions procedure, taking the form of a ‘forum or a box at the SRC.’ Suggestion boxes have been a fallback manifesto favourite for years. If the SRC does not know who it is making the complaint, or the suggestion, how can the complainer or suggester expect confirmation that their complaint or suggestion has been heard.. The practical difficulties aside, in an era in which social media rules the roost, an antiquated ‘Suggestions Box’ is unlikely to improve communication between the SRC and the student body. It is simply not an imaginative way of catching people’s interest.
In order to make the SRC more transparent, Charalambous would publicly disclose the incomes and expenditures of the SRC. Although some of this information is already freely available in the ‘Finance’ section of the SRC’s Annual Report. For the rest a student could simply look up the Glasgow University Students Representative Council on OSCR the charity regulators, which has very useful graphical representations of GUSRC income and expenditure.
In comparison to her rivals, Charalambous has very little in the way of SRC experience. She has been a class representative for three years, participated in the Global Leadership Experience Programme, and been a Senior Resident. There is little to Charalambous manifesto that couldn’t have been suitable for a General Representatives manifesto and it’s not like President gets any extra votes on council, only extra time (and of course cash) which isn’t necessary for many of Charalambous proposals.