Ellen MacRae discusses her second year as the Students’ Association’s President, plans for the upcoming term, and what students can expect upon their return to campus.
As President, MacRae chairs the Students’ Association’s governing and managerial bodies and leads the overall representation of the student body to the University. Her role allows her to be part of the University’s decision-making process and work cross-sectionally within the University and the Association. She says that it was “the opportunity to work so diversely” which drew her to the role of President.
Having won a second term, she wants to provide continuity around discussions of Covid-19 at the University, and be a point of accountability when reflecting on lessons learned from the past year.
“We’re really hoping that the campus will feel more open and accessible to students. We’re excited about the opportunity to have some events in person during Welcome Week, because that’s something our students felt that they really missed last year. There was such little on-campus activity throughout the whole year, so it’s nice to have it feeling a bit more alive again.”
Despite Scotland moving to ‘below level zero’ on August 9th and government guidelines recommending the resumption of in-person teaching, the University chose to keep all classes with more than 50 people online.
MacRae explains: “Planning the timetabling takes a long time, it has to be done at least two months in advance because the University is so large. They chose the 50 people cap for ventilation reasons, social distancing reasons, and just general Covid safety.
“It’s obviously really exciting that the restrictions have now lifted beyond that, but the guidance came too late for universities to plan, and we were left to make our own decisions and to work with what the current Covid situation was.”
On the positive side of things, MacRae is happy that she could already tick off a few of her manifesto points, such as getting back the Kings Buildings shuttle bus and holding in-person graduations.
The evidence requirements for applying for special circumstances have also been maintained at a reduced level, something that sabbatical officers lobbied for last year.
“I want to make sure that the impact of coronavirus on studies isn’t forgotten for this academic year, and also that the University finds ways to make up for lost opportunities, both learning and social, particularly students who need access to laboratories or studio spaces or missed out on fieldwork.”
“We also want to make sure that mental health is an all-year-round focus this year. I think the University does have a lot on offer, and there’s more that we can do in advertising that. As part of the induction process this year, we will be sign-posting our wellbeing support, and then I want to work on making those resources accessible and relevant to all students who might need to be reintroduced to it.”
The Students’ Association sometimes gets accused of not doing enough for students, and not attracting student engagement.
“I think with Edinburgh being such a large university, getting that student engagement is always so tricky. There are some students who are really well engaged with the Students’ Association and then there are students who don’t care about it and don’t want to participate. And to me, that is completely fine.”
In the last Students’ Association elections, the race for President saw the highest voter turnout of all the positions, with 3456 votes, which is still less than 10 per cent of the student body.
“I’m very conscious of the number of people who do vote in elections,” MacRae says. “And I’m very, very happy to do this job with people not really understanding what it is, or what I do or who I am. I really don’t need people to know who I am. But I want people to know that the Students’ Association is there for them and to create change for them. And we do genuinely listen to anyone who gets in contact with us and wants to create change or wants to tell us about an issue that they have.
“I really hope that if anyone sees me on campus, they’ll be more than happy to come up and just talk about anything.”
Image: Ellen MacRae