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 Mathewson’s manifesto here.
Why do you want to be Association president?
One of the things I’m going to talk about a lot in the coming week is looking back on your time in St Andrews: what will you remember? So for you it will probably be The Saint. All the things kind of outside your classroom. For me it’s been being part of the ice hockey club, having the opportunity to serve as rector’s assessor, it’s been my academic family, and all those things have made my time here special. And what I really would like to do is I’d like to see every student here feeling fulfilled with their experience. And I think I have the experience and the skills to make that happen.
So what is your experience?
Well I’m the rector’s assessor for the University, which means that I sit on the University Court, in addition to the SRC and school presidents’ forum. The University Court is the supreme governing body of the University so we manage £180 million turnover in a given year, all of the major strategic decisions and long term planning. In addition to that I’m also president and founder of the Fellowship of St Andrews. Right now I think we have one of the largest volunteering bases of any student organisation in town; we really work hard for town gown relations continually. In addition to that I’m a founding member of the ice hockey club and I directed the 600th finale ball this past November.
So how do you think your experience as rector’s assessor is relevant to the role of president?
I think if you listen to the biggest complaints people have, or the biggest general apathy that stems from student politics, you get: why didn’t they get anything done? Or why hasn’t more happened in a year? I genuinely think that’s because of the learning curve most candidates face going into it. I don’t think I face the same learning curve, I think day one is an active day for me and I think I’ve the established relationships that take a long time. A lot of the deals that get made for the student experience are based on the deep seated relationships you have that need to be developed with administration like Louise Richardson or the proctor.
What have been your greatest achievements as rector’s assessor?
The one I’m probably most proud of is that we’ve vastly expanded the rector’s fund. We more than doubled the number of applications this year, we went on a huge campaign and it looks like we’re going to probably do about the same for the number of people actually awarded the scholarship. I additionally managed to re-establish the Scottish rectors’ forum which was set to be last Friday. Unfortunately the rector from Aberdeen’s wife died from cancer last week so it’s been rescheduled for a few weeks from now. But I’m very excited about that, as far as I know it’s the only national representation forum that’s happening to do with St Andrews right now.
What are your main policies?
I think the biggest one and probably the greatest existential crisis to student life next year is redevelopment, just purely because of society space. With phase three you’re going to lose the middle floor and top floor of the union, you’re going to have a lot of societies suffer for that. So I think the number one priority is to lobby the University for an increase in our block grant, a one off increase just to ensure we can purchase other space around town we can use. In addition to that, pursue reciprocal agreements with local space like the town hall and so forth – I think I’m in quite a good position to that with the relationships I have in the town that I’ve developed over the last few years.
A perennial issue, and a perennial crisis, is accommodation. I know Chloe Hill’s working on her student letting agency. I think that’s great. I think we need something simpler, definitely, just to make sure it gets done. By no means do we want to abandon the student letting agency; if that happens then great. But right now there’s kind of a swarm of private developers around town that want to build halls and I think we should very much pursue that option.
The one thing many candidates will say this week is that the University needs to build more accommodation. Unfortunately the University has absolutely no money to do so. So, if we bring in private developers we can bring them in on our terms because they require the Association’s political support to get through Fife Council. So we say adopt a wardennial team, make sure we have the pastoral care for students that we need, make sure they have hall committees so we have hall balls, all the things that make living in halls kind of special. And make sure we put caps on the price so they can’t gouge students retroactively, and make sure they ring-fence as many rooms as possible for students that need low cost housing. And I think that’s the most realistic way to do it.
As for the students in private accommodation, certainly that will help as demand is reduced. Price will go down and quality go up for them. I think we should bring in a very vocal name and shame policy for landlords that underperform. As much as it’s in the student collective knowledge which landlords, which letting agencies, perform poorly, I think we should really put the knife to their throat vocally as an organisation. Us students are great at being loud, I think we might as well use it to our advantage.
This is probably the one I’m most excited about. Building a Union-centric alumni network. The University does it. I’m from the States, and back in the states the alumni relations are so vastly different to the way we do it here. Here most students have no contact with alumni. Really it’s outsourced to two major bodies, the American foundation with its American bases, and the London alumni club. What I’d like to do is make it Union-centric. So say you were a Mermaid, or say you were a rugby player, make sure those clubs put on special events for their alumni through the week. And have annual class reunions. I think with that we have much closer ties for alumni, I think we benefit in terms of employability, professional and internship opportunities. I would hire a St Andrean, I suspect many other people would. Additionally on employability, I’d like to have every student paired form one day with an employability advisor. So you want to be a professional journalist. And they say oh right, sign up for The Saint, join a society, apply for these internships and in four years you’ll be much better off than if you’d just focused on your degree. And I think that’s what a lot of students aren’t getting.
So your name and shame landlord idea; how would that work?
I think we’d use the voice box of the Union website. We’d do a mass email to every single student when the lists are come out and we inform the landlords that this is happening so practices better be up to scratch. We give them some heads up. And perhaps we rate them and we have a strict criteria and we go through it and we take anecdotal stories as well. And we say this is what we’re going to send to all out students. These are your renters, these are your tenants. If you don’t want to be in our bad books you need to improve this because they’re all going to have this information coming straight from us. And if we pair up with the University too endorsing this I think we have a pretty powerful lever.
What do you think of how Chloe has done this year and what would you do differently?
I think Chloe’s greatest strength and probably the thing that will harm her in retrospect is that she aimed very high. I think the student letting agency was quite a clever solution and I don’t think she realised how long it would take. But she still stuck with that. And I hope that the next president, whether it’s myself or not, will continue to pursue that option. All in all she’s done her best for the students and I think she’ll look positively upon what she’s accomplished. From inside the University, inside the administration, they really admire her. I couldn’t possible tell you what the general student opinion is. I wish she’d have pushed harder on the Scottish sabbatical forum, I think that should have been a priority from day one.
So would you like to push harder on that and make it a bigger priority this year?
Yes. What Chloe will tell you is that the other sabbaticals don’t want to do it because NUS Scotland exists. But for years there was something called ‘CHESS’ – the Coalition of Higher Educated Students in Scotland – and they ran side by side with basically the same purpose as the Scottish sabbatical forum would serve. These things aren’t mutually exclusive. St Andrews can certainly leave the NUS and I think we need something that’s fit for us. We had a rough run and the NUS does not fit St Andrews but we need national representational. So we had the international bill and that was going to really harm a lot of the international students in St Andrews. And Glasgow ran a spate campaign and Aberdeen ran a separate campaign and we ran a separate campaign. And that makes absolutely no sense if we’re going to try and do anything effective. So on issues like that if we’re going to try and lobby an issue down in Westminster we need a voice.
So if the fees increase you’re going to increase the amount of bursaries?
Basically. So what I’d like to do is – you can promise a pie in the sky and that fees are never going to increase, but I don’t know what’s going to happen over the next 10 years at the University. But I would like the University to promise right now that any increase in fees would be accompanied by an increase in bursaries. We need to make sure that the University takes that step financial so that we don’t crowd out talent that might have the talent to go here. As long as we continue to move the goal post on both ends, that’s important.
Do you think the University will be willing to do this?
I think it’s the most realistic option. In fact I’m seeing Princpal Richardson this afternoon to talk to her about that. I don’t think it’s unreasonable by any measure to say if you want to increase fees you should take care of our disadvantaged students.
You say you want to explore the options of shuttle services to distant halls of residence. What are you thinking about here?
I’m thinking DRA, Albany, um, it’s partly a safety issue, especially for women of this university who get targeted – occasionally men too – but it’s a safety issue walking home alone at night. Years ago there was something affectionately known as the ‘chunder bus’ running out of the Union that would take students who had maybe had too much to drink or just wanted a ride home. I’m not sure whether it’s financially feasible yet, we have to look at the budget for next year, where redevelopment slots in. We have other priorities which would fall on top of this but it’s definitely something worth looking at.
You don’t think it would just get abused by everyone who wanted a lift home?
Well quite frankly I think if you had the scope to do it you should run them for everyone who lives out in those halls. But that again is a financial question and a question of priorities.
How are you going to oppose the attempts to stop Raisin Weekend?
One of the ways you need to target the University is that they can withdraw their support of Raisin Weekend, but I don’t think that’s going to stop it from happening; it’s run out of student flats. I think you need to emphasise the fact that it’s a safety issue. That by the University producing its support we have access to ambulance services, everything you need to make sure – Raisin is a lot of fun but you need to make sure it’s safe. If they withdraw their support they could see serious harm done to their student body. I think that’s the angle you have to go at it from. I think it’s a great tradition. They do certainly enjoy sending photos of the foam fight all around the national press. And it’s negotiating a fine line, trying to keep things acceptable and good practice, that’s really the angle you have to come at it from.