After six years in St Andrews, and four months before my successor takes over in July, I hope you will forgive me if I save the rose-tinted edges for a later date. Just as choosing St Andrews was the best decision I ever made, leaving will be the hardest.
As I sit down to write this letter from my desk in the middle floor of the Union, it sometimes feels like very little has changed along these six years. A now well-seasoned procrastinator, it is once again 1am and I’m over-caffeinated with a deadline looming. Pablos and Top 40 abound downstairs in the same chaotic bliss they always have. And despite its recent £12 million pound facelift, this environment, and the Association at its core is very much the same.
But amidst the familiar sights and sounds has arisen something distinctly different. And it is to this difference that I would like to devote these few column inches.
When I first became involved in student politics here in St Andrews, it was abundantly clear that the Association’s relationship with the University was complex. In certain areas it could be described as adversarial at best and antagonistic at worse. This was perhaps a gentler shade of the prevailing relationship we see across the UK between student unions and their mother institutions.
This letter is not about the brand of politics our Students’ Association should practice, nor the particular issues we should engage with. Rather, and particularly during an election week, prone to emotive and divisive rhetoric, it is about how to best pursue the aims that St Andrews students see fit in the future.
Our University has changed, higher education has changed, and the arguments we deploy in the service of students must change with them. More than ever before, the University and the Students’ Association are inextricably linked, a symbiotic relationship. Do not mistake this for a hapless argument for falling into line with University management or any given policy that comes from College Gate. Rather it is call to recognize the true relationship between Union and the University, the value we add as a Students’ Association, and the levers that affords us to shape our community as a whole and student life for the better.
We are fortunate to be here during a time where modern views towards governance, internal and external pressure, and, like it or not, the student-as-a-consumer model has given students a historically unparalleled say in how our University is run. But this is not the extent of our contribution to the shared mission of St Andrews. The Students’ Association is often the first point of contact most students have with the social side of university life, its spaces spawning countless activities and events, from balls to bops. Its 180 societies equip students with learning and leadership opportunities that extend intellectual development far beyond the classroom and prove essential in securing future employment. Its welfare efforts have supported students through some of the darkest and most challenging periods of their lives. All of these factors contribute to the outstanding student experience that is a hallmark of the St Andrews brand, an experience that is then leveraged to recruit future students and climb league tables.
Our University recognises our distinct advantage in delivering on these fronts, they are indispensable efforts for students by students. But our value and our ability to contribute goes further. It extends into the University’s core business. Academically, our class rep and school president system affords a quality assurance network of nearly 400 individuals, ensuring that we remain at the forefront of learning and teaching. Within the Admissions Office, students now play an essential role in recruitment, conversion, outreach and access initiatives, recognizing that often the best salespeople for the University are students themselves. And further, in the Development Office we now see students working to enhance our alumni community and build a prosperous future through efforts such as Class Gift and the Alumni Festival Weekend.
Over the last two years, our greatest progress has come when we have appealed to this shared sense of purpose, our mutual mission. From expanded accommodation bursaries, an international hardship fund, a night bus, or new university accommodation, each of these achievements has come from enlisting the University as an ally rather than an enemy, in tackling some of our community’s biggest challenges.
I cannot help but think who will be sitting at this desk in a year’s time, penning the next incarnation of this letter. But as they craft their arguments to tackle challenges ahead, I hope their first thoughts are not of conflict but rather contribution. Asking, “What can we give? How can we advance, assist, support and strengthen this community for the next generation of St Andreans?”
You have the great fortune of the choice between two outstanding women to fill this seat. I am sure they will do a much better job than I, and I wish them the very best of luck. Thank you for two of the finest years and some fondest memories I will ever have.