Rector Srdja Popovic hosted his first Facebook Live livestream with University students on Wednesday 14 February, discussing topics ranging from housing, student engagement with University issues, and bicycle lanes and parking.
The livestream, broadcasted on the St Andrews Students’ Association Facebook page, lasted 33 minutes and included Mr. Popovic informing students of his background and experience as Rector so far and then answering questions asked in real-time by students.
“This is something we came up [with] because we really wanted to make sure we have a regular communication with students,” Mr Popovic said during the livestream. “I live in Belgrade, I don’t live in St Andrews, but I will try to be as present as possible, and having regular Facebook Lives is one way to do it.”
Mr Popovic talked at length before answering questions about affordable accommodation and private housing, particularly on the lack of affordable housing or building of new properties and how there is “almost no student control over this [housing] market.”
When asked by student George Davies about the University “building more housing that is in the higher cost range rather than more affordable housing,” Mr Popovic responded that he was aware of the problems, noting that facilities being rebuilt and refurbished are good for students but come with a hard price.
Mr Popovic added, “I want to make this process more effective, more student-friendly, and less painful.”
He later added that he was willing to visit halls of residence if the halls would allow it and said that he lived in students’ apartments throughout the campaign.
He said, “I wanted to see how students were living in private accommodation.”
Separate from University-managed accommodation, student Dylan Springer asked Mr Popovic his thoughts on the housing shortage in town.
Mr Popovic noted the University’s new strategy to add 700 more beds, but asked what the University can do to build more housing, specifically more affordable housing, and what students can do in terms of quality control on the housing market.
He said that students have “no quality control” on the homes in St Andrews, but that this was not something the University can solve itself.
Mr Popovic added, “We as the consumers have some rights and we can exercise those rights.”
He also noted that while he was working at Colorado College, students launched a campaign and website on the housing options in town, including prices and quality of housing. According to Mr Popovic, this showed the town why it was important to build what and where, and it also helped increase quality and decrease prices.
Mr Springer, who worked on Mr Popovic’s rectorial campaign and has applied for Rector’s Committee, was pleased with the response on housing.
“I was definitely satisfied with response and think it’s pretty great that he’s making an effort to engage with students here.”
Another key issue to his rectorship, Mr Popovic spoke at length about a more eco-friendly St Andrews in terms of cycling when asked about his plans for more bicycle parking by student Andrew Kennedy.
Mr Popovic responded, “A lot can be done for making St Andrews a more cyclable place,” adding that such efforts would make parts of St Andrews more accessible and increase the quality of housing.
“We need a strong initiative from University students, and then they can have a platform to speak with the council,” he said. “It is the council who brings the final decisions about where we can put parkings.”
He noted that key issues include where to put new parking spaces, how to protect them, and where to build bike trails.
Mr Popovic also informed students of his idea to give an official proposal to Fife Council about another car-free day in St Andrews, possibly on 25 April or 5 June, saying that if people are not coming by car, they will spend more time in the town centre and spend more money.
On the council’s response so far, he added, “The city council seems to be a little reluctant on any change, which is normal … but I’m sure we can try to find a common ground on which to build.”
Towards the end of the livestream, Mr Popovic responded to first year Polina Sevastyanova on his thoughts of the strikes.
“As somebody coming from an organisation that works with labour unions, of course labour unions have rights and expectancies and great power in holding their employers accountable,” he said. “When it comes to university institutions, it is the role of the managements to find a common ground so the students are not harmed with it.”
He added, “[We must] figure out what is happening with the strike, figure out what may be the impact on you guys, and figure out what we can do with the University administration to make the impact as small as possible so you don’t have to deal with the price that someone else was managing badly.”
“The best thing we can do is have a constant contact between the students and the administration and put the pressure on whoever we have to put the pressure on to make sure this impact doesn’t hurt you guys.”
Ms Sevastyanova enjoyed his response and livestream but wished he would have spoke on the Facebook page St Feuddrews, as she asked what his favourite St Andrews anonymous posting page was.
“It was interesting to hear what he thought about it considering his political background, although I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t answer the question about the anonymous posting pages because Feuddrews is like a battleground for student politics,” Ms Sevastyanova said. “Maybe I should have phrased the question better.”
Mr Popovic remarked that he is excited to learn in this new position and help students mobilise around the issues that matter to them.
“This will be a very important seven months for St Andrews,” he said, referring to the strategic planning taking place on the administrative level, which is working on “important developments for students.”
He added that some other topics of focus include new subjects being taught at St Andrews, renewable energy buses, a train station in St Andrews, and set exam dates at the start of the semester or year.
Rector’s Assessor Camilla Duke spoke to The Saint on her thoughts of the livestream.
“I was really pleased with how our first livestream went. I think it’s essential for students to be able to get to know Srdja, especially because he doesn’t live in St Andrews,” she said. “The relationship between the Rector and the student body is and should be a two-way street: the Rector listens and responds to students’ concerns, and the students can expect clear communication, transparency, and advocacy from the Rector.
She added, “This time around we had a decent turnout, and we’ve seen further engagement with the video after the actual livestream ended. Next time we’ll do more publicity, and hopefully even more students will tune in.”
Mr Popovic will return to St Andrews on the 11 or 12 of April for a week of events with students and administration.