The Student contacted Presidential candidate Etienne regarding his campaign and manifesto. To read Etienne’s manifesto, click here.
What inspired you to run for this position?
Until having had to deal with a mental health case this year I had no idea first hand how inadequate our Advice Place is at dealing with mental health issues and providing coherent advice for those seeking help with these issues. I believe on the surface our university does a lot for mental health and there are a few great projects out there which will really help to improve things, but we need to improve more at the personal level. It is one of the main points in my manifesto and something I am really passionate to help with as the Edinburgh University Students’ Association President.
What do you think would be the most difficult point in your manifesto to achieve? How would you go about achieving it?
The most difficult point to achieve will be the reduction in Student Union prices. This is because the university is aiming to maximise profits so there is no incentive to make things more affordable for students. Inflation of prices is occurring at an unnecessary rate, which I aim to tackle. To achieve my goals, I want there to be more deals at the Student Union bars and to have them at better prices. For instance, a £2 pint of the day. Further, in the Students’ Association’s shops, I want to reduce the price of meal deals to £3. This is beneficial to students as well as the university, as more students will purchase from here instead of Tesco, increasing university profit by working on narrower margins.
In your manifesto, you mention that you want to release the exam diet earlier and get results back to the student body more quickly? How will you go about this, especially considering this is an issue that many former Presidents have made promises on and never succeeded in achieving?
Late release of exam diet and results is something that significantly impacts me and my peers due to it reducing exam preparation time and interfering with the planning of other aspects of life. To enforce earlier release of exam diet, I will liaise with the staff of the university involved in organising this and inform them of student opinions, backed up with evidence of this being successful in other universities. As for faster turnaround of results, I want to provide an incentive for staff to mark exams faster, such as a rewards system. I am passionate about this point in my manifesto and will strive to overcome any obstacles in my way of achieving this goal.
How would you go about increasing personal tutor training? How would you fund this?
I believe sufficient training of personal tutors (PTs) is less about quantity and more about quality. PTs need to understand how to take care of their students on a personal level. It is crucial that everyone at university is able to voice their issues to a person they trust and know can provide sufficient advice; this should be a key role of PTs. Therefore, I propose more specific mental health training and more compulsory PT meetings so relationships can develop with students. Further training will also ensure that all PTs are of similar quality so that it isn’t about the luck of the draw as to whether you are assigned a PT who cares about you or not. I am not an expert on the university’s money situation, but having seen the number of grants we give away each year to projects and other causes I believe we have the money to put into the development of personal tutor-student relations. There is a strong incentive for the university to comply with this proposal, as I believe it will massively enhance student satisfaction, which is an area that is currently hindering Edinburgh’s reputation.
Finally, is there anything in particular about your manifesto/campaign that you want to draw students’ attention to? What is your favourite policy?
As my manifesto is strongly focused on mental health improvements. I’d like to further enforce my point against the amendments to the Support for Study policy. This policy proposes mandatory interruption of study for students who are struggling, which I believe will cause much larger problems. We must create an environment where students are able to voice how they feel and ask for help, instead of discouraging them to confess their struggles due to the fear of being discarded. As your Students’ Association President, I will do all in my power to remove this policy, for the wellbeing of my peers.
The following is a transcription of Etienne’s responses during the Sabbatical Candidate’s Question Time which took place on Thursday 28 February 2019.
Some answers may have been edited for clarity.
My name’s Etienne Sadeghpoor. This is my fifth year at Edinburgh. I’m currently doing my Masters in Astrophysics and I’m the Fencing President. During my time in Edinburgh, I’ve had many roles in the Fencing club and in various societies, and these make me a perfect candidate to be your President next year. I’ve had a great time at Edinburgh and I’ve made the most of the experiences and opportunities given to me, and that’s what I want for everyone: to get the most out of their university experience.
For me, the main problems I’ve seen from speaking to people about what’s stopping them from having a great experience are 1) personal tutors are not personal enough. 2) The Advice Place does not have enough counsellors. And there is not enough done in terms of mental health and students who suffer more personal issues.
I’m also against the changes for the Support for Study policy. I think this will only make this worse. So the improvements I want to see are: provide personal tutors with more training — we can give more money to this. Provide more counsellors. Reduce the waiting time for students who need help. I want to provide more mental health courses and make mandatory interruption of study not compulsory. It will only discourage students to open up and explain their experiences and views.
I will further aim to give earlier release of exam diets, quicker turnaround of exam results for all courses, better stock of sanitary products at the Advice Place, and Wednesday afternoons off for sports. That’s for competitors and fellow students so everyone can come together as a community and support. Give King’s and Easter Bush better transport and food options, especially at peak times. And let’s make the Student Union cheaper — the Student Union should be cheaper than the local pubs.
What do you plan to do to make the Students’ Association even more representative of its members?
I think as students we love to complain. That’s a good thing because how else is anything going to get any better? I feel we need a platform where people can complain and make changes in the right way. For me, a big thing is the Student Council. We should have a Student Council meeting once a semester, maybe even more, down at King’s, Easter Bush and all these other places. Because if we don’t have that how can students complain about their environment, in their place. If we have that, we have places where people can make suggestions, and changes can be made all over the university.
What would you want the university to be doing differently to improve student satisfaction?
For me, there’s no reason that student satisfaction at Edinburgh shouldn’t be high. There’s a lot out there, there’s a lot of opportunities for everyone and I think one of the reasons why it’s not high and one of the reasons that I’ve found from speaking to people is personal tutors. It’s a very mixed bag. Some people get a great personal tutor, and that can lead to opening up loads of doors and having a great time at university and later on in life. Other personal tutors just aren’t personal enough, they don’t care enough, they don’t have the right training. It’s put on them. I think we can get it at the source. You meet your personal tutor from day one. Have more meetings with your personal tutor, have a personal tutor who’s more there for you, that comes to you so it’s not always you having to go to them. That responds to you straight away. Also, things like Maths Pals, the Pals system that’s great. Let’s bring those into all courses so that everyone’s got buddies that they’ve got from day one to help them out on their course, and make them a better person going forward.
If elected what will you want to have embedded within the Students’ Association by the time you finished.
I agree with the other candidates – I would like to achieve everything in my manifesto as well. For me, I understand that things do take time and that sometimes they cannot be achieved in one term and that you have to get the ball rolling and then they’ll be achieved later on. For me personally, one thing I’d like to see done by the end of my term is the Advice Place and stuff with mental health, because that’s been a big personal thing for me over the last couple of years. For me, I want to see more councillors, I want to see better free products – better free tampons, better free sanitary kits. Let’s provide. For me, I think the Advice Place could do a lot of things better and more efficiently.
Image: Etienne Sadeghpoor