The Student sat down with Ellen Macrae, the current Students Association President to talk about why she thinks she deserves another year in the job.
Why are you running again?
In such extraordinary times, we need a president in office who has the experiences of a year already, who has seen how coronavirus has impacted a wide range of students, and understands the dynamics between the university and the government and how to navigate those.
What’s your proudest achievement this year?
Just recently we’ve had confirmed the two million pounds for covid discretionary funding, which was really brought about by collaborating with NUS Scotland but also our own letters to government and conversations with government officials. This particular set of discretionary funding is to support students who aren’t able to be in their accommodation but haven’t been able to break their lease, but also for international students if they’re trying to come back to Edinburgh for their studies. I’m really concerned at the moment about the government not having a plan to relieve the pressure of the £1750 to quarantine in a hotel.
The year that it has been has meant that we haven’t been able to see students on campus and work directly with students in real life, and I know that is obviously outwith my control but I do feel a really great sense of loss from this year, doing it entirely from my bedroom is not what I imagined it would be and it’s not what I wanted.
One of the other candidates, Jason Gallagher, has pledged they will lobby to double the number of counsellors. What are you doing concretely about mental health?
This year we’ve already been able to secure 5 additional counsellors, 2 of those being Black and Minority Ethnic, because we appreciate that there is a deficit in supporting our students of colour. But I really want to ensure the university is doing everything it can to prevent students from experiencing hardship which can impact mental health, so tackling things like digital poverty and also standing up for students as private tenants because I think we all know that where you live is such an important part of how you feel.
Right now, the support is there if students reach out for it, but this year has been so challenging and I want to see the university reaching out to students instead.
You talk about getting students lab and studio time back in your manifesto. Would that mean gaining back the time already lost?
So I want to make sure that the university is facilitating students being able to make up for these lost experiences over the summer and the new academic year. But I also want to make sure that students graduating this year have access to that as well, I want to embed it as part of the careers service, which you get access to for two years after you graduate.
In student council meetings you’ve talked about the Black Lives Matter movement and protecting minorities on campus, what have you done this year about that and what do you plan to do about that?
I think this year has really highlighted how some of our students in minority backgrounds do still experience harassment and prejudice, which just has no place on our campus. Back at the beginning, there was supporting de-naming David Hume Tower but that was merely a fragment of all the work that needed to be done. So talking to senior leadership about their RaceEd plan and their work around equality, inclusivity and diversity as well, and their action plan to address colonialism within our institution. We’ve been able to secure spaces for BlackEd directors on some of our inclusivity programme boards as well.
In both your manifesto last year and this year you have said you will support European students through the Brexit transition, but is there anything the Students’ Association can actually do about that?
I’m pushing for the university to make sure that the Turing scheme is a viable alternative to Erasmus, currently it supports students going not just to Europe but internationally, but there’s less money and it doesn’t encourage European students to come here. If the university is priding itself on its international identity then it needs to make sure that it is maintaining that.
Voting in the Edinburgh University Students Association Election is open March 8-11.
Image: Ellen Macrae