This time last year, Pat Mathewson was re-elected Students’ Association President. A year later, we look back at his 2015 election manifesto and see how the second term incumbent President has performed.
Accommodation and Bursaries
Starting with Mr Mathewson’s stated re-election campaign goal of “1500 new beds in 15 months,” securing access to student accommodation, or private for that matter, in St Andrews continues to be a difficult task for most students. Although this academic year saw the opening of the new Fife Park apartments, new residents did not find themselves in the midst of a smooth transition. From broken toilets, exposed pipes, and broken tiles, students were disappointed over the “unfinished feel” of the new hall of residence.
However, just in the past month Mr Mathewson announced in a joint statement with the Director of Residential and Business Services that he had successfully advocated for and secured a £70 million investment in the University housing system over the next three years that will result in the addition of 900 new beds for students, the single largest expansion in over a decade. From an additional 196 rooms at Fife Park to the renovation and expansions of several other existing undergraduate and postgraduate halls around the town.
“There have been countless programs, schemes and publicity campaigns over the years to target unruly landlord practices, substandard accommodation, and high prices over recent years,” said Mr Mathewson, “It’s basic economics that these are fuelled by supply and demand issues. A small amount of slack in the market does not give students the various options necessary to turn their backs on high prices, mouldy flats, and unscrupulous landlords.”
“This new build program will serve as an essential first step in improving the housing experience for all students,” said Mr Mathewson.
As for accommodation bursaries made available to students, a point focused in on by Mr Mathewson’s 2015 re-election manifesto, he followed a £450,000 expansion in his first term with an adjustment of the timing of the bursaries being awarded in order to work with the allocation of accommodation.
Union and Student Funding
Over the course of his terms as Association President, Mr Mathewson lobbied for, and was granted, an increase to the Students’ Association’s block grand of £40,000, resulting in a 2-year total increase of £110,000 which will recur each year. Additionally, the largest “student spend” funds available to societies, subcommittees, and other projects during Mr Mathewson’s term, over £100,000, was the largest such fund established in Association history.
Mr Mathewson describes the creation of a £250,000 International Hardship Fund as one of his most important accomplishments for “our community and student support.” The fund provides aid to international student who faced challenges while completing their studies due to circumstances ranging from family illness to political instability in a student’s home country. This was one of the key pledges of his 2015 manifesto: making the Hardship Fund available to international students.
The Student Project Fund, created by Mathewson to “extend Union resources to all students, not just those traditionally involved or affiliated,” provided aid to projects like the TEDx St Andrews, Winning Women Conference, and a Shakespeare Festival.
In what prove to be the greatest impact he has had on the future of the University, Mr Mathewson served as the only student on the Principal’s Selection Committee. The committee selected Professor Sally Mapstone, currently the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at the University of Oxford, to replace Professor Louise Richardson who left St Andrews at the end of 2015 after seven years as Principal to take up the place of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, the first woman ever to do so. Professor Mapstone is set to take up the post of the 11th Principal of the University of St Andrews this September.
The “Save our Rector” campaign, launched by the Students’ Association in response to the HE Governance (Scotland) Bill, garnered over 4,000 signatures in support of the position of University Rector. According to Mr Mathewson, “the bill now reflects this outpouring of support, protecting the role of rector and its historic election process.”
When asked what he was most proud of from his second and final term as Students’ Association President, Mr Mathewson looked back on the challenges he faced during his tenure. Mr Mathewson and the Sabbatical team had to manage the absence of the Union’s General Manager, Dave Whitton, who is on a phased return as he recovers from a stroke and the Union were faced with the death Bar Manager of 20-years, Sandy Mackenzie, last semester.
“In a team as small as ours, with such a wide range of activities, the people are everything,” said Mr Mathewson, “They are what makes the opportunity to be a part of this organization so special.”
Reflecting on his two years as Students’ Association President, Mr Mathewson summed it up by saying that he felt “incredibly blessed to have had this opportunity, to have been a part of this sabbatical and union team. They have been incredible colleagues and even better friends.”
“I can’t wait to see what the next group will accomplish,” he added.
As Students’ Association President, Mr Mathewson faced and addressed many challenges facing St Andrews students and worked to increase the Union’s activities where he could.
The ever-present issue of student accommodation, a major aspect to his 2015 re-election manifesto, still remains a point of frustration for many students but the recent announcement of a three year, £70 million accommodation expansion plans will certainly work to improve the accommodation situation for students in the coming academic years and prove to be an important accomplishment of Mr Mathewson’s term.
From aiding the selection process of a new Principal to the recent announcement regarding new accommodation development and refurbishment, Mr Mathewson’s two years as Association President will have undoubtedly left a mark on the Students’ Association and the University itself for years to come.