Due to the closure of the top two floors of the union for most of his term, Mr Mathewson promised to lobby for a “one time” increase in the block grant given to the Students’ Association in order to pay for extra space around town for society meetings and events. Mr Mathewson told The Saint that he let the University know that the disruption to events and societies was “unacceptable.” After successful negotiations, the block grant was enhanced by £70,000 and the money was spent mostly on using University space a night (for which paid night porters were required).
As part of attempts to solve ongoing accommodation problems at the University, Mr Mathewson promised to encourage private companies to build more student housing in St Andrews and run them in a similar way to university halls. Arguably, this has been a huge success, with Ayton House near East Sands – run by the Student Housing Company – due to open its doors to up to 241 students in the next academic year. A further development by the company Alumno is to open on East Sands as well.
However, Mr Mathewson said last year that since private companies “require the Association’s political support to get through Fife Council,” he would be able to “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”. In this aspect, he has failed dramatically, as Ayton House will cost between £8,415 and £10,710 per person per year, making it more expensive than even the most costly of student halls. Mr Mathewson pointed out that he was continuing to put pressure on the company about the costs, saying “it’s something we continually hammer home in every conversation.”
He was successful in ensuring that the private halls will have wardenial teams and hall committees, in order to protect hall communities.
Speaking to The Saint, Mr Mathewson said that he saw these private halls as a “band aid” on the problem and hopes next year’s president will continue to put pressure on the University to build their own accommodation, as he has tried to do. The University court recently commissioned plans to be made for new halls of residence.
Mr Mathewson also proposed a plan to “name and shame” private landlords and letting agencies who underperformed or failed to live up to expectations, saying that “I think we should really put the knife to their throat vocally as an organisation.” No campaign was ever set up however, so this too, is a promise that was simply not delivered.
As a replacement, Mr Mathewson said that the Association had used the Landlord-Tennant Charter to “set examples of good practice,” listing the letting agents which “we believe show the best practice” in St Andrews, while removing those with bad practices.
Speaking about accommodation bursaries, Mr Mathewson said: “We approached the University and said that the bursary system was broken and we need more investment.” Indeed, an extra £450,000 will be introduced to fund bursaries over the next two years. He cites this as one of his proudest achievements.
However, while the amount given to someone receiving an accommodation bursary has increased, the number of them has been cut for returning students and changes to the system and accommodation timetable mean some will still be unable to afford halls that they are placed in. This has not been a complete success for Mr Mathewson.
Due to concerns over student safety while walking home from the centre of town at night, Mr Mathewson approached the University about establishing transport for them. After successful negotiations, the Night Bus service was introduced for students on a trial basis in April 2014, and then a permanent one in October 2014. This can be seen as a success for Mr Mathewson.
As part of plans to increase the future job prospects of St Andrews students, Mr Mathewson said he wanted to pair up every student with a careers advisor, and indeed, the University will be launching an employability advisor program for students on a trial basis this spring. If it is successful, this could prove to be an accomplishment that will have a lasting impact on students. “Just as one of the first people you meet after coming to University is your academic adviser, another person you should meet should be a employability advisor,” he said.
A key proposal of Mr Mathewson’s campaign was the creation of an alumni network to bring past and present students more closely together as they are in many universities in the US. This would, he argued, help students establish connections, bonds and opportunities that would help in the outside world after university. In his time as President, Mr Mathewson has taken steps to begin establishing such a network, with the creation of a special officer on the Students Representation council to handle Alumni issues and the creation a new ‘Alumni Festival’ due to take place in April. Therefore this project has, while not yet complete, certainly begun to take shape. He said he “wants to continue the sense of community” for students who have now left.
During his term, Mr Mathewson has had limited success to increase connections with other universities out with the NUS (National Union of Students). Although he has worked to establish relationships with organisations like Glasgow University’s SRC, there is still not much of a forum for communication with other Scottish Sabbaticals.
The Saint’s Assessment
There is certainly a case to be made for the argument that Mr Mathewson has had much success as President. He begun work to fulfill many of his pledges which will take long-term work to complete; his employability program and Alumni network are both major proposals which will take continued effort and work beyond Mr Mathewson’s term to finish, but he has taken the key steps needed to begin the process.
His negotiation of an increase in the association’s block grant was a pledge that was delivered entirely. This is an achievement that will undoubtedly help the University’s societies and events and is one he can be proud.
On the other hand, on the ever present and relevant issue of accommodation, Mr Mathewson has fallen short. While the President cannot be expected to fix everything, he has failed to introduce a policy he was passionate about during campaigning: the policy of ‘naming and shaming’ landlords. While private student halls are now in the process of being built, they will simply cost far too much; less well off students, who struggle to afford anything more expensive than Albany Park, will see no change in their situation as a result of his efforts in office.
Overall, Mr Mathewson has had mixed success as president. Though he has made efforts to establish programs that will help students for years to come, he has also failed to deliver when it comes to the most pressing issues facing students such as accommodation.