Charlotte Andrew’s period as Association President has been one of tumultuous change both within the University and outside of it. While aiming to fulfil her manifesto promises, she also had to contend with Brexit’s challenge to British higher education. As the main link between the Students’ Association and the University, Ms Andrew also took on the role of welcoming and aiding new principal Professor Sally Mapstone during her first year in office.
Despite these challenges, Ms Andrew has made reasonable progress on a number of her manifesto commitments.
On the issue of accommodation, the most high-profile part of the Association President’s remit, Ms Andrew promised to pressure the University to expand its portfolio of university-managed accommodation outside of halls. Ms Andrew said that at the beginning of her term, she thought this would be the commitment it would take longest to fulfil. Ultimately the issue rests in the hands of the University itself, and most of the work on this promise will be completed in the last four months of Ms Andrew’s term.
Ms Andrew said she intends to promote Residential Business Services (RBS) –– the department that manages accommodation for the University –– around town so that more landlords consider leasing their properties through them.
“It’s proven that under University managed accommodation, it’s proven that students get treated better, or at least more consistently,” she said.
Ms Andrew added that she and RBS were “working out how best we can persuade students to speak to their landlords, which is obviously quite a sensitive thing, and we don’t want to be too pushy. […] At the moment, we’re working at getting the messaging right and pushing that out after spring break, when people aren’t worried about keeping their tenancy and potentially annoying their landlords.”
Regarding her promise to lobby for the option of hall fees being paid monthly, Ms Andrew has not been as successful. She said that the size of the president’s workload had meant that she “had not tackled” the issue. Instead, Ms Andrews said her efforts to keep hall prices lower resulted in a price increase of just two per cent, the smallest increase in several years. Ms Andrew said that she felt she had achieved more than she had expected, “but in a different way.”
Ms Andrew also cited the “Rate Your Landlord” survey and “flatmate matchmaking” event that she and the accommodation subcommittee had organised as further initiatives that, while not present in her manifesto, proved there had been positive development in the area of accommodation.
Ms Andrew has sought to bring out major change in how the Association helps the University widen access to students from deprived and diverse backgrounds.
Her most significant campaign proposal, an outreach programme where students would return to their schools and encourage high schoolers to apply for St Andrews, is in the works. Ms Andrew has said that she intends to use the existing training from the admissions office and University ambassadors team. Eventually, a trial programme of 10 to 20 students will launch before rolling the initiative out to larger numbers.
Ms Andrew also said, “My concern about this, by no means the concept or the idea behind it, was that someone would come in after me who isn’t invested in the same thing, and it would fall by the wayside, because obviously widening access is not something that you can just do for a year and then leave.”
In order to embed widening access efforts more fully into the Association, Ms Andrew has sought to work with the ambassadors scheme and restart the Widening Access and Participation group, which is in the Association laws but has not been convened for several years.
On the subject of international students, Ms Andrews said that she kept to her promise to lobby the University to ensure low fees. While fees did rise for international students, they will now be tied to a student’s year of entry and remain fixed from year to year.
Ms Andrew said, “The University was considering having your fees being the same for every year that you’re here, and that required an increase in fees in what international students currently pay, but it does provide a certainty to them that they won’t end up paying a larger amount than what they expected or forecast.
“What’s happened is that we’ve increased certainty for students and ensured that the University is now making provisions for the fact that circumstances have changed.”
This would be a significant and positive change for international students. Ms Andrew did concede in her manifesto that her efforts to lobby the University against major increases in international student fees would likely fail, and this new consistency in the cost of higher education is a more than welcome trade-off.
Ms Andrew added, “In terms of international students, one of the biggest things that came up this year, which obviously isn’t in my manifesto, was Brexit.
“A large proportion of my year has been spent working with the University on how to approach that topic and how to cope with ensuring that international students still feel welcome.”
Ms Andrew has emphasised the challenges of Brexit but shown determination in working with the University to advocate a student view, and for this she deserves credit and recognition.
Ms Andrew has presided over several major changes in environmental issues within St Andrews. The Association passed its first updated sustainability policy since 2009, and the University confirmed its intention to completely divest its endowment from fossil fuels, a move that had been supported by Ms Andrew and was praised in a motion by the Association. While perhaps not as attention grabbing, these efforts will go a long way towards making St Andrews a more environmentally-conscious university.
One of Ms Andew’s more radical proposals was her plan to increase St Andrews’ representation in national political debate. She proposed to lead the Students’ Association in speaking out on issues that would affect students.
“This isn’t a time when a group of talented and intelligent students, who are all privileged in the fact that we are receiving a very high quality of education can sit back and not be engaged and not comment,” Ms Andrew said.
Ms Andrew has led notable change in the way in which St Andrews deals with national political issues.
For instance, she led the Student Representative Council (SRC) in attacking the UK government’s plans for immigration policy, arguing that they went against St Andrews’ internationalist leanings and would damage the prospects of many St Andrews graduates.
The SRC’s statement on the matter was referenced by Stephen Gethins, MP for North East Fife and SNP spokesperson on the European Union (EU), during a major House of Commons debate on the matter.
“I firmly believe that we have to take stands on things that are indirectly affecting students. I would always be careful about commenting and debating on issues that are in no way related to students, even if there are deep rooted concerns about it,” Ms Andrew said.
Ms Andrew went on to say, “As a Students’ Association, [I wouldn’t] want to comment on Israel-Palestine for example, But I do think things like immigration, and if it had been my year, the changes to the maintenance grants, there’s a lot of things that we can make comments on and that as students I think frankly we have a duty to.”
On the topic of relations between University management and the Students’ Association this year, Ms Andrew said, “I can’t imagine it going much better.”
Going on she added, “Most of the things that we’re proud of aren’t necessarily things that we’re ticking off of our manifesto. It’s how you deal with crises and how you deal with stuff that comes up, but we’ve got a principal that really genuinely cares what students think and is very, very interested in it.”
Ms Andrew also pledged to increase the amount of communication between sabbatical officers and students, on this front there has been less progress.
While Ms Andrew notes that many new graphics and videos were developed to promote the work of the Association and emails from the officers are now sent more regularly, Ms Andrew’s promise of a question time event twice a semester did not materialise because, in her words, of poor feedback from students for the idea.
However, Ms Andrew also said that regular data-driven reviews of sabbatical officers’ work now takes place and is presented to the Association Board, which was the other central plank of her plan for greater accountability of such officers.
Ms Andrew’s eight months so far as Association President have been filled with challenges, but this has not stopped her from fulfilling and pursuing many of the promises made in her manifesto. The Association President’s role is often one of responding to crises and presenting the public face of the Association. It is easy, therefore, for commitments made in a student campaign to get lost amongst the chaos of an ordinary academic year, let alone a year in which St Andrews welcomed a new principal and the UK decided to leave the EU. Despite this, Ms Andrew has made determined progress in several areas, stretching across accommodation, widening access, and most significantly, making St Andrews’ voice heard on the national political stage.