Interview: David Patterson, candidate for Association president

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Photo: Raphaël Benros

The Association president, along with the director of representation, is responsible for representing student interests to the University and external organisations, including the government. They are helped by the Students’ Representative Council in their activities, and they in turn control the SRC’s discretionary fund.

Read our analysis of Mr Patterson’s manifesto here.

You are applying for the position of Association president. Why do you want to do it?

I want the chance to give back to St Andrews. I think that’s the bottom line. St Andrews has given me so much in terms of experience, in terms of life skills and I’ve really benefited and blossomed from being a student here. But of course, after four years you realise there’s things you want to improve, there’s things you could change; you recognise what parts are important, what parts need to be protected and what could be improved on. I think it’s a really good chance to actually return something to the student body of St Andrews but also I think it’s a real chance to use the skills I’ve got and experience I’ve had to make a – not a difference, that sounds sort of altruistic – but make concrete changes to make things slightly better.

How do you think that your experience will help you in your potential role as Association president?

Across the four years that I’ve been here I’ve done a variety of different things that have actually lent themselves to all different aspect of the job itself. So obviously to begin, with I’m on the Students’ Association Executive Committee so I’ve seen how the Union works from the inside at the top level. I sat on the Community Council for a year so I’ve seen how students’ voices are represented to the wider community, so obviously locals, and the issues facing us like the HMO caps and other issues which affect students to do with Fife Council.

What have you been able to do about that?

Be basically a strong advocate for students’ voices. And when student opinion is sometimes glossed over, they say oh well the students think this, it’s a case of well actually if you think about the logistics of it – for example, on Bell Street where there’s a lot of refuse you’re only allowed two bags a week. I’d say actually that’s impractical, student houses generally have five or six people living in them; the house that I’m in is five boys, we produce a lot of refuse in a week. Two bags a week is not enough. So there’s practical aspects of the student experience you can actually voice.

I was the SSC performing arts officer as well, which means that from the inside of the Students’ Association I’ve seen how events are planned and obviously I’ve seen the actual practical implications of the redevelopment, and also had a year of dealing with them so I understand how to navigate them and how to understand the final stages of the redevelopment and make our way through those successfully.

I was a class rep as well so being in IR and the school of history, doing a joint degree, you get to see how different academic disciplines work and the chance to take student voices forward and make a slight change.

How do you feel your experience compares to that of other candidates? You said in your manifesto: “for a president with experience trust Dave”. Do you believe that you’re the candidate with the most fitting experience?

Yes. The Students’ Association president is first and foremost the representative of the Students’ Association and the students’ voice to the University. So you have to have two key points. You have to have the actual ability to represent coherently and visibly and strongly – so obviously my personal characteristics and my personal attributes fit that – and secondly you need to have experience of how the Association works, what the problems are the Union faces, what students want from the Association, and the experiences I’ve had within the Association in the roles I’ve just detailed to you fit that bill exactly. And that’s something where I feel I have the edge on the other candidates.

Practical experience on the ground within the Association is absolutely vital, without it you don’t understand how the Union works, and it takes hands on experience to actually learn that.

On the other side of things you have representation to the University. So you have the logistics of the Scott Lang dinner which I co-chaired last year, which actually involved key participation from the Principal’s Office and the proctor, not only financially but in terms of logistics and trying to find a speaker that was going to bring something unique to the University and give the students a chance to engage with something that they could actually feel passionate about.

Turning to your manifesto, can I ask what your three main priorities are?

Essentially it’s all under the umbrella, we make our own fun here, and to be able to do that we have to have a decent place to live. So we need to make sure that we are all equipped to have collective action from the ground up to deal with letting agents, to make sure letting agents understand that they’re actually providing us with a service as well as their tenants. Particularly for first years, but also other students who haven’t quite learned how to do it, because first time renting is hard. So first priority is making sure that we’re equipped with the skills to improve the situation in accommodation collectively for students.

The second thing is making sure that access to the student experience is there. So access can mean a number of things. It’s not only about making sure that Wednesday afternoons are free for sporting activities – as they should be – and for music scholars as well, to do things that keep us passionate and keep us sane. But also making sure that we have access to that for prospective students. And also looking at ways to try and minimise the financial impact of living in St Andrews which is obviously key. Although the decisions are obviously held by the university, it’s important to be a strong voice on that issue.

The final thing is obviously navigating the redevelopment and making sure that our societies which form a huge part of the student experience are kept running smoothly. So those are the three main areas that we want to tackle.

The manifesto itself is quite extensive, it’s six pages long, and it could be said that some of the things you talk about are perhaps outside your remit. For example, you talk a lot about sport and introducing a sports scholarship. What would you say to that?

Introducing a sports scholarship is something we’d look at working with the AU because at the end of the day the Association president is a huge voice within the University and for student representation. You can’t forget that the AU, the more you work with them, you’re taking a huge part of the student body with you. I disagree [with you], I don’t think it is outwith the remit. I think the students of St Andrews, their interests are varied and their interests are extensive and that all comes under the representational role of the Students’ Association president.

One of the big things is trying to improve sport, to try and bring better sportsmen here. So that’s something we can look into, not as actual policy but certainly an attitude – in what ways can the University help the AU and the Students’ Association improve sport for a vast amount of people here. But in particular Wednesday afternoons are something I want to focus on because that’s directly under the remit of making sure that academic time is kept back behind 1 pm.

Moving onto accessibility. One of your interesting policies is to have a direct fund for reimbursing the travel expense of prospective students who attend open days from schools in deprived areas in Scotland. Why would you not extend this policy throughout the UK, especially when it’s more expensive to travel up from places such as Exeter than it is from Glasgow?

One of the key places that St Andrews doesn’t recruit is the west coast of Scotland. But if you look at the number of students who actually apply to St Andrews they get offered places proportionately higher than other areas. You have to take it in small steps; there isn’t an unlimited amount of money. As a Scottish university situated in Scotland we want to make sure that we’re trying to tackle domestic areas on a small scale to say look, let’s try and get as many as we can up here. And obviously the number of Scottish students we can have at the University are capped at a third anyway because obviously the government has to limit the amount of free fees that they give out.

So we have to make sure that we’re starting out in small, deprived areas, especially on the west coast, and trying to make sure that they have the chance to come up and encourage them to go. The Beyond Fife programme already goes there, not necessarily to recruit, but certainly to encourage young students to think about further education. I want to capitalise on that programme and make sure there is a bit of recruitment coming in there saying look, St Andrews is a great chance to blossom as a person. It’s not a university for an exclusive set or for the privileged few, it’s for everyone. It is a Scottish university, it’s the oldest university in Scotland. We want to go to the west coast – and obviously there’s parts of Fife as well that are deprived – and say look, plenty of students come from these areas and go and make a success of it. Got to start somewhere.

Do you know how many students from disadvantaged backgrounds apply?

Off of the top of my head no I don’t… I actually don’t know the answer to that. I do know that it’s low, I don’t know the exact figure.

Another thing you talk about is introducing an audit service to help treasurers from halls of residence make the most out of their budget. Taylor Carey, the senior student for University Hall, has said that in previous meetings of the Senior Students’ Forum it has decided against giving the Students’ Association or the University greater control and regulation over committee spending. How would you make the audit service happen in light of this?

We need to make sure that the books are all well looked after and well recorded. It’s not about taking financial control away from them, it’s about saying look, let’s introduce some standardised financial practice here, which has been introduced to a certain extent this year with the standardised spreadsheet and some treasurer training. You want to build on that. They are only in the job for a year and are handling a huge amount of money. You want to make sure that you’re thinking what’s the best strategy. Offering advice in terms of drinks deals – obviously the Union has extensive experience in terms of events and deals and packages – so trying to offer that.

It’s not a case of wading in and saying ‘No, you can’t do that’, it’s more about saying ‘What do you want to do, let’s facilitate that’. It’s more a facilitation rather than a control mechanism. In terms of transparency, it’s their accounts, it’s their responsibility to make it transparent to their student body, and they have a responsibility to do that, but obviously we’ll be there to encourage them to do that, but by no means stipulating how they go about that. It’s within the hall committees themselves to control how much visibility there is and how transparent they want their finances to be, particularly to the students in their own halls.

You said that you will work on building on existing relationships with residents to make sure you can work on issues such as planning and HMOs. What do you think of the current HMO situation in St Andrews?

It’s not unreasonable to ask for a cap on HMOs, particularly if you live above your own business. We have to remember that we are part of a large community which predates us. But we also have to remember that we are a vital part of the St Andrews economy and of St Andrews’ population so we have to have a strong voice and say look, we actually have to work together here. The absolute key thing is making sure that there’s utter clarity on both sides of the argument; making sure you’re clear what the residents and making sure the students know what they need and what they actually deserve.

We have to remember that affordable housing for all is ultimately the goal here. Obviously I have no influence in terms of affordable housing for the wider St Andrews community but it’s making sure we strike the right balance. A cap in the town centre is not necessarily an evil thing. It’s not a case of residents trying to drive students out of town, it’s a case of making sure that residents are able to live above businesses that they own and operate, not just for themselves but for the benefit of all St Andrews. That is there to be explored. We need to hold our own and say look, here’s what we deserve, here’s what we need. You can’t walk over that.

What do you think your relative strengths and weaknesses are compared to the other candidates?

I’m strong and articulate, I’ve got a backbone, I’m not frightened to put the students’ view across and I can hold my own as I have done and will do again. I think that’s a relative strength. I’m also intensely proud and devoted to St Andrews and it’s fired me up. I’ve got passion to do it and I’m keen to get to work.

In terms of weakness, electorally I think people will see me as ‘theatre guy’ – obviously I have a lot of background in drama – but I think they underestimate the role of the job. Personal weakness I think, um, it’s tricky because obviously I haven’t done the job and I don’t know the ins and outs of it. But I think the experience have will take me through it.

What’s your opinion of the current sabb administration, led by Chloe Hill? Do you think that they have done a good job and what would you do differently?

I think that the sabbs are doing the best they can given the redevelopment. They are doing an admirable job in taking on a big task; it’s not an easy task to become the general manager and the Association president. I think the sabbs in the Union have done a fantastic job this year and I think Teddy’s work on the international student front has been exemplary, which I’d like to work on.

I want to improve upon the accommodation situation… I personally think a different approach is required, it’s got to be from the ground up, it’s got to be about empowering collective action, empowering students to take charge of themselves. And the only way you can give them the confidence to do that is to actually teach them.

And finally, you and Pat. Everyone loves the David and Ed Miliband thing. How do you think the campaign in going to affect your relationship? Did you know he was going to run?

To be honest, at the end of the day, divisions fall where they may and so you’ve got to respect each other’s right to run. I look forwards to a good, clean campaign.

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