Pim Ungphakorn: In a recent poll conducted by The Saint, fewer than half of students surveyed could identify you and only a quarter could identify the rest of the sabbatical team. One of your main campaign pledges was improving transparency. Did these figures worry you?
Freddie Fforde: Not at all. I was actually really pleased — I thought they were incredibly high numbers. I was, for example, delighted to hear that 15% of people read my blog — a blog that never previously existed. The proportion of students who recognise me is never going to be 100%, and I wouldn’t want it to be because not all students care—nor should they have to care.
My issue with it was not that we have no idea how well sabbaticals are known at other universities across the country. For all we know that could be the highest statistic ever at any university.
I think communication has been one of the success stories for us so far. We’re hoping to cement it towards the end of the year. We’re tweeting constantly; we’re using our Facebook page in a way that’s never been used before. We have 1,500 more “likes” this year.
PU: Campaigning has started for the NUS referendum. Why are you staying impartial?
FF: Firstly because of the difficulties we experienced last semester. My priority is to safeguard the stability and future of the Students’ Association. The events of last spring made it clear to me that by taking sides I ran the risk of compromising that priority.
More importantly, I don’t think it would be fair of me to impose my own political views. My priority is a free and fair debate and I can’t see that taking place if I was to muddy the water.
PU: What have you done to ensure a “free and fair debate”?
FF: All the rules were agreed and voted on by SSC and SRC. Apart from at two events, we haven’t allowed external speakers because we wouldn’t want either team to start on an unfair platform. This has to be a decision argued for and taken by students. The arguments should stand for themselves without relying on external resources. The NUS affiliation fact sheet was specifically designed to minimise false claims in campaigning. It will be up to the campaigners to argue the value of the figures.
PU: In your campaign, you said accommodation was one of the biggest barriers preventing students from enjoying St Andrews. What are you doing to tackle this?
FF: We set up an accommodation survey. My campaign focused ensuring that our decisions we take are student-led. This survey does just that: it is representative data that allows student opinion to guide university policy. The majority said accommodation was “hard” or “very hard” to find — information that the university might not have known.
My position is that the university and the students usually have the same aim. People expect student politicians to be overly political. Constructive relationships achieve more and cause less damage. However, if the university does act unfairly, I will be the first to fight it.
Moving Fife Park residents to DRA and Agnes Blackadder Hall next semester shows the university sees the opportunity to minimise disruption so that Fife Park can be renovated by 2014 as legally required. However, at the moment students have to prove they need to live in Albany and Fife Park, or financial reasons. This is segmenting people just because they can’t afford to live in certain areas. Instead of low-cost accommodation I believe we should invest in developing high-quality residences for all students and with the university subsiding students who cannot afford it.
PU: How have you found working with the other sabbatical officers?
FF: The single biggest reward of this job is working with them. We’ve all been very supportive of each other and, as a direct result of having such a tight team, we’re having a lot more influence across university decisions. We do disagree from time to time but the fact that we are able to handle differences of opinion in a constructive way shows how strong we are as a unit.