The new Students’ Association President, Owen Wilton, sits down with The Saint to talk about the job so far and the year ahead.
Owen Wilton: The first one is to make sure that the redevelopment of the union itself doesn’t get lost in the long list of priorities that the university has. Before I leave, I want to make sure that we have a set of plans that we could share with the student body. That’s a very practical thing that matters to a lot of people.
More broadly, I’d like to do more to communicate with the student body through different means and to raise general awareness of us. Between each election, there’s a lot more we could do to engage with students. It shouldn’t ever be the case that you only ever express your views on polling day. I want to have open new lines of communication with students throughout the year.
The last thing I want to do, which is really difficult, is to work with other student unions to achieve a level of national cooperation. St Andrews is not a part of the National Union of Students, but there are all kinds of different ways you can work with other unions on sharing ideas and on collaborating on campaigns that are of mutual interest.
TS: What issues are most important to St Andrews students?
OW: One of the areas that students flagged most this year is the career service. People are concerned about how they move from university into the world of work. I think the St Andrews Award will help with that. The St Andrews Award is a joint initiative by the Careers Centre and the Director of Student Development and Activities, Ally Holmes. It’s about transferring all the cool, extracurricular stuff we do, like volunteering and society initiatives, and ensuring that students get credit for that on their transcripts.
TS: How have the first few months in office been?
OW: It’s been quite busy, but it’s been a lot of fun. It’s so interesting when you get into this job to be able to see all the hidden parts of the university, like the head of IT services, the head of registry. There are some really amazing members of staff. You get to see the full range of stuff that goes on behind the scenes that students don’t normally see.
TS: The redevelopment plan for the library made news over the summer. What happened?
OW: The university announced that it was going to downgrade the original £46 million redevelopment of the library to an interim measure of £7 million pound investment in the main library building itself. That was extremely controversial because it was felt that the ambitious vision for the library had been abandoned. I think the University failed to communicate properly with students over the library.
The library staff themselves are absolutely heroic. They’re going to be introducing zoning so that in part of the library you’ll be able to talk a little bit, bring in coffee and food. We’re working with them to get the most out of the interim redevelopment. In the long term, we’ll be working with university on its long-term vision for redevelopment.
TS: Has the change in the library redevelopment plan affected the university’s policy toward redevelopment of the union?
OW: The message we’ve been getting from the university on the union funding has been pretty consistent. It’s always been very positive, in the region of ten and a half million pounds.
The strength of St Andrews, especially in such difficult economic times, relies upon student satisfaction. I see both the redevelopment of the union and the redevelopment of the library as integral parts of the university’s own plans to maintain its reputation for providing the very best for its students.
TS: What do students have to look forward to in the year ahead?
OW: Students can look forward to a reinvigoration of our events and services. The bar manager has brought in new machines that can make things like smoothies and cocktails.
Students are also going to have more opportunity to get involved with their school. A new system of school presidents will bring a new credibility and focus to the class representative system. That should be quite exciting for people to feel there’s more of a community within their school, and that they have more opportunity to affect what happens.
TS: If somebody wants to see something change with the university, what should they do?
OW: They should contact Siena Parker, the Director of Representation, and myself as president. They can email us or they can drop into our offices. We plan to have office hours in the evenings. It doesn’t matter how big or small a change to the university, we can help. We are involved in representation services at all levels.
TS: Do you have any advice for freshers?
OW: My advice to freshers is to be quite bold. You can challenge yourself academically, or you can do something you’ve never done before, whether it’s debating, or acting, or windsurfing. Try something new because it’s such a rare opportunity to have so many things on offer at once.