This interview forms part of a series of interviews that The Student will conduct with presidential nominees in the run up to the Edinburgh University Students’ Association elections that will begin on Monday 8 March. Rakshit Dalal is currently a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh studying for an MSC in International Relations. He combines this with a role as a representative for his course.
Rakshit Dalal and I opened our conversation by discussing his campaign so far. He described having primarily used social media to promote his campaign and explained that he had been “on campus once to put up some posters.”
He explained that he plans to ramp up campaigning with some live online Q&A sessions and videos engaging directly with the student electorate.
We moved onto discussing what he felt made his campaign distinctive.
He described having had the chance to meet with students in his role as a course representative and that he has been living in university-owned accommodation since arriving in Edinburgh.
These experiences have provided “insight” into the student experience and he wishes to amplify these voices if elected president.
Dalal pointed out that “there is a major lack of representation of international students and postgraduate students in the Students’ Association President or Vice President roles.”
He explained that this realisation was “when I started looking for an opportunity to stand up” and that he would represent these groups – as well as the student body as a whole – from the position if elected.
A common thread through the discussion was the dissatisfaction students have felt this academic year, some of which is financial.
He explained that there were issues with both “tuition fees” and “student accommodation”.
Dalal “really [appreciates]” the move to support those in private accommodation but wished to stress the fact that “another issue has come regarding the support in the student accommodation.”
“We sent an email combining more than 50 students from our accommodation, to the higher authorities and the reply was very unsatisfactory.
”There has been a major issue with delivering the facilities that were promised… They gave us a genuine reason why the facilities [such as the gym] cannot be provided to us because of the pandemic, but the question arises should students pay?”
On tuition fees, Dalal believes that he “understands it is a tough situation for the university as well” and that “students have been raising their voice”.
He disagreed with some students’ approach of withholding fees stating “I think that this is not a decent way forward.”
He explained that students “believe that they are paying a lot for what they were getting.
“But it is understandable that it’s a tough situation for the university as well.”
He suggested “some mediation should be there.”
He felt that, though the course of the pandemic ultimately dictated the lack of in person teaching, that “it was a little bit unfair to the students as well because they were led in a very optimistic way, but again the university couldn’t do anything about it.”
He outlined a commitment to lobby for tuition fee rebates – not only on a university level but in association with students nationwide via petitions.
From his perspective, the major impact of not being on campus is the reduction in academic support.
Dalal reiterated two parts of his manifesto which he felt would be important to implement – particularly if the hybrid model of teaching continues into next academic year.
Firstly, he would like the university to fund the home delivery of library books.
He explained that, whilst individual tutors were helpful with “suggesting online websites or freely available alternative texts”, he himself had been unable to find some books required for essays on his course.
From his conversations as a course representative, he felt that many students were in a similar position.
Secondly, he believes that office hours should be extended.
He gave the hypothetical example of a student who ran into difficulty with a concept on a Monday. He stated that especially if they are not in Edinburgh, this student would be less likely to know a peer who might help. If the tutor’s office hour is in the latter half of the week, it would mean a long time of uncertainty. By adding an hour earlier on in the week, that student could access support closer to when the problem arose.
He said “it’s not as if we are demanding a lot, but just a one hour increase in office hours… if the office hour is just for one day a week, it can be increased to two days a week, and the second day could be just one hour”.
Dalal believes that the Students’ Association could be more involved in supporting student societies with the impacts of the pandemic.
He believes that they should be supported with issues such as efficient communication with their members and help to run online events.
He expressed disappointment at the fact that some societies he has wanted to engage with have had few, if any, online meetings during the academic year.
Dalal ended the interview by making pledges to Edinburgh students. He reaffirmed that he wants “free and fair elections” and welcomed the “warm” atmosphere between candidates.
He promised to listen to students’ voices and that as president, he and his team would listen carefully and answer questions both via social networks and one-to-one.
Voting in the Edinburgh University Students’ Association Election is open March 8-11.
Image: Rakshit Dalal