What motivated you to run for President specifically?
I’ve been paying attention to student politics ever since I started university. I’m doing a masters so I’ve been here for five years, and since the first time I ever heard about student politics, I started getting engaged. I’ve been reading the manifestos of people over the past years, and I’ve been seeing problems from within EUSA and in the student experience and university in general. I’ve always thought that the solutions to many of these problems are a little bit more straightforward and common sense than how they are appearing in manifestos. Usually, manifestos obviously cover some very important issues, but rarely do they address the wider student population and speak to everyone as well.
What are the sort of things you think haven’t been paid that much attention to in previous years that you now want to focus on?
I think the general student population’s student experience has been neglected. I’ve been here for quite a while and I think that there isn’t much sense of a community. I remember the first time I felt really great about being an Edinburgh university student was when I went to the rugby varsity game against St. Andrews, which happens every year and we usually win against St. Andrews. And it is so much fun, so much pride, watching our sports teams, both girls and boys, compete and win against other universities.
It’s this university spirit that I really want to foster, and so one of my big things is to promote sports at university. I imagine for example live-streaming our sports teams games in Teviot and promoting these games. Because I think there’s a lot of demand to see this stuff, but because currently EUSA doesn’t really do much advertisement, no one really knows about it apart from within the sports circles.
What about people who don’t care about sports?
Sure, that’s fine. One thing that’s always hurt me is that Teviot Row House should be a much more important student club. It is the student union building, but a lot of people don’t go there. And the most important reason, I think, is because the drinks offering (both soft drinks and alcoholic drinks) are too expensive. There are many other pubs across Edinburgh which have cheaper drinks and it makes Teviot inaccesible to many students. I think that the student union should try to open up more of the venues, say serve drinks in the New Amphion at night, particularly the weekend, and they should open up for example the Debate Hall at the top, put up screens and screen sports and stuff like that. For the student population, having a nice central student hub would make life so much more connected.
And another thing is, most universities across the country have an annual university ball, and Edinburgh doesn’t have that. We have society balls, which are great fun, but I think it’d be really cool if the university used the venues it currently has and utilize them to put on a large, affordable, accessible university ball.
I’m also very keen on the fact that we have a very multicultural student body, and there are lots of opportunities throughout the year to put on cultural events, like Octoberfest, Chinese New Year, Diwali, Thanksgiving, you name it. For example with Octoberfest, it would be really cool if Bristo square could be transformed into a bavarian market town square with stalls selling beer and everyone could turn up in German dress, that sort of thing. It would also be a great opportunity for cultural societies to showcase and share their culture with the wider student population. And all it requires is the university to facilitate it by giving it the resources and the venues. So that’s something I’d like to do and I think it’s something the university would go for as well.
If there was one thing you could change about how student democracy at the university works, what would it be?
Obviously the turnout is pretty bad. I think that suggests the advertisement is bad and also I think that EUSA has become a bit of a bubble. I think they focus on very important issues, but on an average day or an average semester, most students don’t interact with EUSA, so therefore people don’t engage because they have no reason to, it’s not relevant to them.
If EUSA became an institution that works and does events for students, it would improve engagement because people would care about it. And again, I must reiterate that the things it does care about currently are very important and it absolutely must continue doing them and I would improve on them. But I think EUSA should attempt to try and engage with the wide student population and that would increase democratic turnout, which would make the institution more representative.
How do you plan to represent such a huge and diverse student population?
When it comes to representation, one of the most important things is transparency and making sure that the President and the other Sabbatical officers are actually going out and talking to people. I mentioned EUSA being in a bit of a bubble. I fear that there is a sort of culture of sitting in Potterrow and the offices and expecting students to come to you and engage actively.
I think that it should be the other way round. I think the Sabbatical officers should go out and sit outside the library, in Kings, in Easter Bush, and talk to students, ask what their issues are, what matters to them. And by going out to all these places, because we have such a diverse student community, you will inevitably engage with all sorts of people. And that way you can raise issues which are relevant to everyone.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I’ve mentioned making drinks affordable, organising the ball, having sports matches live-streamed, hosting cultural events… What I haven’t mentioned is the fact that all of this stuff will increase the revenues of EUSA, and EUSA desperately needs money so that it can fund important things like mental health counsellors and all the other services that they already provide. That’s the key thing. Mental health, particularly after the pandemic, is rock bottom, and there needs to be more access to these counsellors.
There are also the other campuses like Kings and Easter Bush. Kings students obviously need the shuttle bus, that’s absolutely non-negotiable, but I would like to expand that to medics and vet students too. Cause why should students be penalised financially or otherwise just because of a certain degree that they do? Similarly with food options, in Kings the food is overpriced, poor offering and there’s not much variety. If the university wants people to go to these campuses and stay there, the food offering has to improve. And of course there’s other issues which are very important, like tackling gender-based violence. The spiking epidemic is outrageous, I have heard too many stories from spiking, and women on campus need to be made to feel safe. It has to be a safe community, the culture has to change.
You can read Hugh’s full manifesto here.
Voting in the Student Elections is open 7th – 10th March and closes at 5pm.
Image courtesy of Hugh Beaumont