Twelve months on from her election, The Saint caught up with Chloe Hill, president of the Students’ Association, to gauge the progress made on her key manifesto commitments and to reflect upon a time in office that has coincided with the conclusion of the University’s 600th anniversary celebrations.
Union-run letting agency
Last year, Chloe pledged to establish a Union-run letting agency in order to help alleviate the seemingly eternal problems facing students who are trying to find private accommodation in St Andrews. Ms Hill concedes that such a proposal inevitably requires much planning, but is confident that progress can be made: “It’s in the pipeline. It was always going to be a project that took more than one year, but it’s going well so far. I believe that if the University and Students’ Association work together we can have an influence on the private rental market – we make up half the town after all!”
Creating a Scottish sabbaticals forum
With St Andrews sitting outside of the NUS, successive sabbatical officers have historically faced difficulties in co-ordinating campaigns on issues of shared interest. Ms Hill stated that she would try to remedy this issue by setting up a Scottish sabbaticals forum encompassing many Scottish universities, not just non-NUS members.
No such forum has yet been created, but that may change in her final months in office. She explains: “Myself and Teddy (the director of representation) have been looking into the possibility of re-setting up CHESS (the Coalition of Higher Education Students in Scotland), as it turns out we manage the website for this group.”
However, she does have regular contact with nearby sabbs and says this is extremely beneficial: “I have worked more closely with Scottish sabbaticals than has happened in the recent past in St Andrews. I am in regular contact with Dundee and Abertay sabbs, and have got advice and support from the sabbs in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, which has been invaluable as it can feel isolated in St Andrews sometimes.
“We ran our campaign against the Immigration Bill 2014 in parallel to the campaign being run by other universities so that it would have a greater combined impact. It’s been great that I can just call any of the sabbs – often to find out if they already have a policy on something, or to ask what they are planning on doing on an issue.”
Lobbying the University to offer RUK students four years for the price of three
In order to attract the best RUK students, regardless of their financial position, Ms Hill pledged to lobby the University to offer four years for the price of three, thereby bringing St Andrews in line with comparable RUK universities in terms of degree cost.
In this area, she openly admits that more realistic pledges have taken precedence: “I haven’t even attempted to tackle this policy. I still think it’s a sensible idea, especially if we are serious about getting the best students here, and not just those that can afford the extra year of fees and debt – but as I said, I wanted to first tackle policies that I was more confident about getting support for. There is only so much time in the day, especially when so much of my time has gone into the redevelopment and governance review process, so I’m really pleased with what I have achieved.”
Fixing international student fees
The notably higher tuition fees are a common cause for complaint for many international students, something which Ms Hill planned to tackle by lobbying the University to fix the international student fees level. While a zero per cent increase settlement has not yet been achieved, there has been significant progress, as she makes clear: “We finally came to an agreement with the University in November (actually on Raisin Monday – I arrived in that meeting in my high-vis jacket and rubber gloves, having just helped clean up the quad!).
“I was lobbying for a fairer policy on international fees, and have secured an agreement that ensures that fees for the entire four-year degree are advertised from the start, and capped at no more than a five per cent increase, so that students can budget for their degree without getting caught out by unexpected increases. This isn’t perfect, but it is a step on the way to making international fees fairer.”
Although Ms Hill hasn’t achieved all of her election promises, she has also developed some new ideas. She said that her proudest achievement was the new subsidy system for University accommodation: “I worked on [it] for six months with Residence and Business Services. A paper has been agreed outlining a plan for subsidised accommodation to be mobile – that is, for students entitled to subsidised accommodation to be able to choose their hall in the same way as everyone else, but get their room subsidised, rather than having to live in the allocated subsidised accommodation as has been the case. It makes the whole system much fairer.”
Priorities for next Association president
“Accommodation has got to continue to be a priority for the president. It is clearly the biggest issue for students, and there is no easy solution. We have to keep chipping away at the issue.
“Next year’s president’s biggest priority (even if they don’t want it to be) is going to be the redevelopment. They will be overseeing phases 3A and 3B (the middle and top floors), and Venue 1’s redevelopment. The redevelopment is a massive project which will unavoidably take up a lot of their time, but it’s also a brilliant opportunity, and I have learned so much by being involved with it this year.”
The Saint’s assessment
Ms Hill has presided over an undoubtably historic year for the Students’ Association. She has overseen the first steps of the redevelopment, and alongside her team has successfully managed and minimised the inevitable disruption of such wide ranging works.
With regard to her manifesto pledges, progress has been mixed. The plan to set up a Union-run letting agency was always going to be a slow burner, so perhaps it is not fair to evaluate the success of that pledge just yet. She is to be commended however for increasing communication with fellow Scottish sabbs, despite this not occurring within the framework of a Scottish sabbaticals forum.
The RUK “4 for 3” fees policy was unlikely to be fulfilled from the outset – given the extent to which RUK demand for places at St Andrews outstrips supply, basic economics would suggest that university finance chiefs would be unlikely to sanction such a move. A similar argument can be made for the international fees pledge, so the five per cent cap achieved by Ms Hill should be seen as a successful compromise.
Overall, her endeavours do seem to have yielded some notable successes, and with her term of office not expiring until the end of June, there is still time for further progress to be made.