The Student
The Student
The Student Interviews Alec Edgecliffe- Johnson, EUSA Presidential Candidate
by Rosie Barrett, 8/03/16

Why are you running for EUSA President?

To bring Edinburgh into one community. I want to be able to hang out with a physics student, a design student, a med student, and sit down and work on a project together and create this sort of community. Equally I think a lot of these satellite campuses don’t feel like they’re part of the greater Edinburgh. There’s central and that’s what we sort of think of as Edinburgh. What about Kings? What about the medic school and vet school? We don’t show them the support that they deserve. It’s a big problem.

What are you going to do to bring them into the central campus?

I think one of the major things on the manifesto is the transportation. I think that’s actually one of the things I’m most excited about. Not only because it will allow us to get from place to place but because it’s feasible.

This is something that we can easily find the funds to do. The university is on board, they recognise this issue. It’s something that can be done. And if we can go back and forth between the two different campuses. Let’s say I want to pop over to Kings for a lecture, come back here for lunch, go to the vet school, and take a walk in the Pentlands. Awesome. You know, we can do this.

Have you spoken to the university about how viable this could be?

Personally, no. But there has been a tonne of chats about transportation. This is an ongoing thing. Steve the Rector is really involved with this. The current sabbatical team has been looking into this. This is something that can be done. Furthermore, communication. I want to have one application for everything. I think that that’s another major manifesto point to stress.

I think that it’s a little absurd that in 2016 my high school has an application and my university doesn’t. I want one place where we can access everything- sports times, lectures times, events, talks. How often do we talk about these great talks that went on a week after they happened? What a shame.

You want to bring in one app to rule them all. Andy Peele also promised this, but it fell through. How can you ensure that it does?

It hasn’t happened but you know, there are conversations that are happening right now. They’re bringing students in. There was just a – this is something that sort of angers me because only four people showed up for the consultation to this application.

This thing is under construction. The university is already consulting so they’ve asked four – only four of us at central, which is horrible. They’ve gone out to kings and the med school as well and they’re doing interviews about what should be on this one portal. Now it’s not explicitly a mobile app. It’s a single portal for everything. Putting that on a mobile application, not difficult.

While Andy didn’t get it done in his [term], he’s actually really started the dialogue and it might be worth speaking to him about that.

So what would your actual input be, given this is already in the works?

It’s in the works but it has no picture. It has no idea – this is a very nebulous idea. What’s going to be on this portal? What do students want? I’m trying to provide a bit more clarity about what could be on this thing. And make sure that this doesn’t fizzle out. Because I think you put it well when you say it didn’t work out, well it’s working out. But if it takes another year or two, come on. Twenty seventeen? Twenty eighteen? Twenty sixteen we need this app now.

So a problem we have every year is that the candidates will make these promises in the campaign season, and they sound great, but a year later when we do the retrospective interviews, they tell us that actually it wasn’t viable. Can you say with confidence these promises are achievable?

I would say yes. For a few things.  We can go through these, let’s go through.

Let’s start with the transportation. Yes. I can say that with credibility that we can increase the transportation links at peak times. The university’ looking at it. The total cost? I mean I’m not sure of the exact figure. But it’s well within the budget.

The one app to rule them all? Again, the university is putting this into effect. IT’s just about steering it in the direction and making sure students have a say. Four students in the entire university? That’s horrible, that’s not nearly enough.

Why do you think students haven’t been more involved in these discussions? Have they just not been asked, or has it not been advertised widely enough?

I think the ask has been there. But it gets buried in the emails. We get so many emails, right? I just don’t think they’ve found out about it.

So how can you engage more of the student population in discussion?

I think first of all, we send out a EUSA survey. EUSA did this with the democracy review. [They had] a surprising amount of responses considered.

With the part time paid liberation officers, how much will they be paid, and how much will this cost?

It is subject to whether we want part time 10 hours or part time 20 hours. It is paid at the EUSA rate for this, the EUSA hourly rate. This is something that is already in motion. The referendum is going to allow us information to this much faster. So this is already being talked about. It’s just a question of saying yes to it.

That’s not your personal policy then. That’s something they’re bringing in from the last year.
This year’s EUSA sabbaticals are the ones that will bring this in.

If it goes through. But something that we are not sure that this will go through.

So if it doesn’t go through, you will then bring it in?

Exactly. And even if it does go through we don’t know where the money is going to be put. Just because they say more support. WE don’t know if this is going to be 10 or 20 hours

You’ve said you will bring in a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment, but EUSA venues already have this.

So I probably should have been a little more clear, my video clears this up a bit. This manifesto unfortunately, they gave us a very short amount of words. What this should say is work with the university to develop a more comprehensive zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment in the entirety of the university. So there’s actually 3 codes. EUSA – very clear. The university – not. They have three codes with different parts of regulation of zero tolerance for sexual harassment. I’m not saying they don’t take it seriously, I’m not in a position to say that, but if there’s no clarity, how credible is it? This is what I’m worried about.

And again, it’s not just zero tolerance policy. The issue is that they don’t know who to contact. They don’t know the portals. If I could go further, I’d like to have every 1st year take an online course. This isn’t hard to do. They should be able to know, if we can write out who to contact and where to go if it’s an issue. They should know that.

And this also ties in with the digital space for anon constructive conversation. IF we’re going to have these things – if we’re going to have a zero tolerance policy, we need a space where people can talk about this. What else do we need? The reason why this is here is I’m a little worried that students who don’t feel represented are afraid or unsure of their liberation group and what channels they speak through.

The university’s counselling service is hugely oversubscribed, it’s seen a 15% increase from last tear and 100 referrals a week. How can you reduce waiting times, given this demand?

The university is really passionate about this, and they’ve recognised this. What we need to do is work with them to provide more money so we can have more counsellors. I don’t think there’s a whole lot more to say about that further than we need to work with them to put more funding into the service. People need this, this is a serious thing. This is a time when mental health is very prevalent. And the university is starting to recognise that and the sabbs have done a lot of work but more money has to be allocated.

Do you think that this year’s EUSA sabbaticals have been successful? What have they done well, or what could they improve on?

Do I think they’ve done a good job this year? Yes. The EUSA wins campaign, I mean if we look at that, if we drill into that, it’s got some really good stuff. I’m very excited about the 500k to KB house. Wee Red Bar, huge. Free sanitary products, awesome.  That’s a huge step in the right direction.

I think they have done a lot. I’ve only been here for the first three years. And maybe I was kind of out of it first and second year but it seems that they’re doing a lot more this year.

So how could you build on their legacy?

I think what they’d done is build a really good relationship with the university. And what they done is fostered a relationship wherein they are an equal partner or a close to equal partner and they can have a dialogue. And I think that’s something that hasn’t been done before and I think that this is EUSA coming into its own in that they can have a dialogue with the university. I think we see evidence of that with Wee Red Bar, KB house, this is huge sums of money. I would like to build on that dialogue.

Could you explain what you mean by creating a co-working space?

A co-working space is just a place where people can sit down and work together. So let’s say I’m at fs, and I have a project that is working on consulting a group that is looking at – working with people that has mental health issues. Buchanan is also doing a research project on mental health issues. Enactis is working for a socially responsible business that’s looking at mental health issues. Why not combine them together? Buchanan doesn’t speak to Fresh Sight, doesn’t speak to Enactis. [They should] come together.

Another really good point – Formula Student. They’ve won a bunch of awards, both for their design and their workplace. It’s a student formula one team. It’s huge at Kings, but it’s only huge at Kings. They need marketing people, they need executives, and this is a huge undertaking. And it’s not just going to be engineers, but they can’t get anyone because there’s no communication.

I can list, five to ten people off the top of my head that would be interested in running a marketing campaign for a formula one team but they don’t know it. So if you create a digital space and say “listen, this is what we’re doing. Let’s have some knowledge share.” A post grad might be able to look at this page and say, “I’m doing my PhD on this – let’s have a chat about this, let’s have a conversation.”

So where would this co-working space be?

This is something that we need to work with the university about, I’ve not picked a venue. Certainly not. But we see really successful co-working spaces in Edinburgh – Summerhall, St Andrews Square. So many best practices that have been established. This is sort of a no brainier to me. Especially when the uni has a tonne of space around the city. This is about valuing our undergrad communities a bit more and our societies a bit more.

Could only certain societies work here? Would this be a case of certain societies taking precedence?

Absolutely not. I’m only giving those examples because they’re fresh in my mind. Anyone can apply and go for the physical – we’re obviously limited by space, and I think there would be an application process and if there’s a tonne of people that are saying “listen, I want a space as well.” Then they bump up more space. But at digital – and this is why this is on there – space is unlimited. And you connect it with tags like Social business or mental wellbeing.

What are your priorities?

One, increasing transportation links. Two, the app. And then I’d go for the equality inclusion, setting up the link, getting the liberation officers part time salaries and the zero tolerance policy. Those would really hot, top of the list. And then probably counselling services.

A lot of members of Edinburgh University Feminist Society have complained that there are only two candidates for President this year, both white men. Why do you think is?

This is a huge problem. And I think this really gets at the heart of the importance of the liberation officers. To go back to the democracy review, according to the democracy review, females are much less likely to stand for election. Why is that? I think that has something to do with underrepresentation. I think if we can bring this back to a stronger liberation core, paying our officers. I think it’s a huge shame that we’re both males running. It’s a huge problem.

And in general, there are a lot less candidates running, nine down from last year’s seventeen. Why do you think this is?

We should highlight that whilst two candidates for president running, both male there are quite a few female candidates running which I’m sure really happy about, glad about. In terms of the # of people standing, honestly, I think it might have something to do with the general knowledge about what EUSA is. I’m finding it more and more difficult to explain to people that we have a student union and that’s why the current sabbaticals are doing such a great job with the EUSA wins campaign and saying your association does do support you and we do want to see more space.

You want to bring exam tables out earlier. Last year’s sabbaticals tried to bring this in and only managed to bring them forward a week. The university say the reason they are so late is because the disability office needs more time. So how can you balance the needs of students, particularly international students booking flights home, and the disability office?

We should also say that this is very much course specific so different courses have different things, and I’ve chatted to many people about this and I was really angry in second year about this. And it’s a school by school thing. Some schools finish it a lot earlier, other schools take more time. But it’s worth exploring whether schools can release them when they have them when they’re ready. Because if all schools are waiting a lot of students are missing out. I understand it can be a bit unfair if one school gets a bit more. Perhaps this is establishes a best practice in that you work a bit harder. Each year’s gets pushed a bit more.

What’s your campaign plan for the next week?

You’re going to blast me for this but we’re just trying to have a good time. Obviously this is a campaign and it would be really nice to win. But this is a system goal.
Everyone on this team is learning public speaking, design managing people, talking, you’re selling an idea – community.  This is why we’re at university, learning, and this is what this is – Rapid fire learning. So I think in terms of what the next week’s going to look lie.

Finally, why should we vote for Alec?

I think because there’s a compelling reason to have a closer community at Edinburgh and there’s a compelling reason to bring everything together. We come to university to learn and get different perspectives. If we’re stuck in our silos, where I can only speak to an economics student all day long.

Not that I don’t love economics students, but I want to hear from a design student, I want to hear from a mathematics student, because they bring a whole different mindsight to the table. So I’m not just surrounded by North Americans who study economics. I would have stayed in my home town if that had been the case.

I want to create an international community here at Edinburgh where everyone can knowledge share and work together.

 Illustration credit: Vivian Uhlir