One of Freddie Fforde’s main campaign aims was to improve relationships between the Students’ Association and University staff after what he felt was a “severe breakdown in the relationship last year.” He told The Saint: “I don’t have the power to tell anybody at the University what to do. But I can influence certain decisions. Last year’s method of aggressive campaigning and confrontational negotiation was not working at all. By working together with the people who make decisions, you can achieve compromises which will bring greater benefits.”
The Union redevelopment is an example of Freddie’s efforts and need to improve Union-University relations. “It was described to me as being on a knife edge when I came into office,” he said. “Thanks to the hard work of myself and my team on forging trust and partnership with the University, it has now decided to take the plunge and spend a huge amount of money.”
Freddie’s first months in office were beset by issues surrounding elitism after startling figures revealed the number of SIMD students admitted to St Andrews. Compounded by the infamous ‘Champagning’ video, the University came under fire and widening access has since characterised much of Freddie’s time as President.
Freddie wanted to “represent all students no matter their background,” something he claims has been successful. “I have worked extremely hard on widening access. Part of the problem is that St Andrews’ image is all wrong. Prospective students from around the country think that St Andrews doesn’t want them, and that’s absolutely not the case,” he said.
“I have sat down time and time again with the Vice Principal of External Relations. The University could do more, but what does more look like? For me the most successful thing is our outreach work that we offer to kids in disadvantaged schools in Fife.”
It was cruelly ironic that the day the ‘Champagning’ video was picked up by the national press, the University agreed to pay for a visit to 15 schools outside of Fife over the next three years, a direct result, Freddie claimed, of his hard work and that of the SRC Member for Widening Access and ambassadors.
Freddie maintains that student accommodation is still a priority issue for him. “Rather than reflect my own views on what needs to be done, I decided to gather real evidence from student opinions. This issue is so important that I felt this was necessary,” he said.
“So we set up the accommodation survey, which will now be carried out every three years. We had just under 1,000 people respond, on an almost exact demographic split.
“The University is now modelling the new residences it plans to build on the survey. We’re also looking into sharing it with private investors as well so that they are encouraged to build here,” he said.
Freddie claims that as a result of the survey, the University is now moving towards a model of building high-quality, long-lasting residences and integrating students in Albany and Fife Park into these as well. “What you end up with is lower rents for people who otherwise couldn’t afford to study here, without having to segregate students because of their financial background,” he said.
Freddie stressed the important of clear-headedness and pragmatism for any future Association President. “I think this year has shown that it is important to have a reasonable, temperate and responsible person in my position. My successor must also be open-minded and not come into the job with a fixed, preconceived plan,” he said.
But Freddie’s job isn’t done. The future success of the Union redevelopment is still precarious. “Things are still on a knife edge. There are three separate points at which the University has to say “yes” to the next part of the redevelopment,” he said.
“This is why building trust with the University has been the single most important mark of this year for us, and it will be the single most important mark of the next two years for my successors. If that trust falls through, the redevelopment will be under serious threat.”
Freddie feels his main achievement is establishing the Students’ Association bursary fund. “I’m banging my head against a brick wall that more students aren’t supporting this — but a lot are,” he said.
“What we have is students raising money for students who otherwise can’t afford to come here. Your600th is two things: it’s an opportunity for us all to be involved and have fun, but whilst we’re having fun, we can actually tackle one of the big problems we face,” he said.
“At the end of this year, we’ll have £15,000, which I hope will grow in years to come, to pay for an accommodation bursary of about £700, every year, for one student who otherwise wouldn’t be able to come here. And it’s endowed: it will last forever.
“What could we do better? You can always do stuff better but I’m pretty happy with what we’ve achieved,” he said.
The Saint’s assessment
Freddie’s time has been as testing as it has rewarding. Securing funding for the Union redevelopment has been a major coup of which the President can be proud. However, as this interview has shown, it was never easy. Elitism and a shortage of housing remain a thorn in the University and Union’s sides and only time will tell how successful Freddie’s efforts have been. Indeed, the success of the Union redevelopment will rely on the continued canniness of next year’s team. Freddie has laid the foundation and sown the seeds for his successors. Will he be remembered as a great President? The jury is still out on that one.