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Interviews with New AUSA Sabbatical Officers

Newly Elected VPs for Education, Welfare and Communities Tell Us About Their Plans For Upcoming Semester


By Clive Davies


VP for Education Rhiannon Ledwell

Both other new sabbatical officers are fourth years whereas you are a second year, is there any particular reason you decided to run so early?

Well I’m an older student, I’ll probably be the oldest student officer, I’ve always been the person to take a break and do something when it feels like the right time. I just got the idea to run, I felt like I could do positive things. It didn’t seem odd to me to do it in the middle [of my degree].


You very narrowly edged out the second place candidate, by only 5 votes, with this in mind is there anything from the other candidates’ platforms you were thinking of adopting?

There were common themes of helping students through the economic crisis, that was something that resonated across all the candidates. I think the only thing that didn't speak to me in [Kirsten’s] platform was wanting to implement more hybrid classes, because my focus is really about getting students more hands-on experience and being in person. At the same it is really nice to have a hybrid option as long as it’s not replacing in person.


What do you think AUSA could be doing better?

It’s not my area really, but the thing that I noticed the most as a member of a committee was that our trainings were always being cancelled, there were room booking clashes, the communication was just not great with fixtures, it could be that there were internal changes, I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. But I know we weren’t the only club to suffer from this, it was a pretty common occurrence. So that’s pretty important to improve.


You mentioned that you’d like to see more practical teaching, is there anything specific you’d like to see in that regard?

There’s already volunteering opportunities that are in place, whether it’s attending a summer excavation or volunteering for a professor or doing summer teaching, there’s so many examples that students are already doing. The experience is very valuable, but many students aren’t taking those opportunities, there isn’t really an incentive to do it, but if you incorporate it into the program, I think placement is the extreme example of that, and that might be too far because you lose an entire summer of university experience. I would want something more in the middle, and this would be more long term, you can’t really see this change overnight. Obviously different schools could implement this differently, it may not be possible to do it across the board, but we’ll talk to one school at a time and see what can be implemented.


You mentioned in your campaign material that you think one positive thing that came out of the pandemic was more take-home assessments, can you explain why you think this was a positive change?

Well, in the real world you have a job and in very few circumstances will you be asked to sit down at a desk and be asked to fill out things from memory. There are situations where memorisation is useful, but it doesn’t really reflect what you’ve learned and how you’re able to use it. I had some really interesting projects this year where you create a public learning resource, I designed a board game that was based on everything we’d been learning and of course different sorts of essays, there’s all kinds of projects you could do that reflect things you might do in your job, and you can find creative ways to show it. If you just learn a bunch of facts and list them off, I feel like you’re not really using what you’ve learned, you’re just being a parrot.


One concern that you’ve raised is that the cost-of-living crisis is forcing students to take on more work responsibilities and that this is impacting their studies. Have you personally experienced this?

It’s affected me for sure, I’d say I’m working basically full time as a student, and I’m doing societies and committees, I honestly don’t know how I’m doing everything! But it’s stressful and there are times when something has to suffer. I’ve done quite well in uni, but I could have gotten more out of the experience had I not needed to work 30 hours a week, and I know I’m not the only one. So there really should be more financial aid available to students, obviously there is a financial crisis, and the university is not immune from that, so we need to find out how we can increase the hardship funds available so that students can enjoy the university experience without needing to work full time.


VP for Activities Tõnis Tilk


What made you want to get involved with AUSA in the first place?

I honestly saw some faults in AUSA that I would like to fix, because I was part of the Volleyball committee and we had problems communicating with AUSA even over simple things, it really cannot go on like this. So I would like to see better communication between AUSA and societies, it would just make life easier.


What are your goals outside of improving communication? Is there anything you will be working on over the summer?

Yes, one of the things in my campaign was helping students with the cost of living crisis, so I want to set up a cooking class at Hillhead. During my first year there were some cooking classes but they stopped due to COVID I think, so I want to bring them back. We are also having societies contact us to partner up, for example the Baking Society were very interested. It’s going to be a great way for students to meet new people, because it’s going to be more geared towards first and second year students. When I was in first year I moved away from home for the first time, I did not know how to cook at all, my cooking was horrible, I ate bad food which made my mental state and physical state worse, which also impacted my studies.


You also have a plan involving tennis courts?

Yes, there’s a plan for the Hillhead [court], fixing that up and getting a multi-sport facility there, not sure if I can get the ball rolling on that but it should be somewhat viable. There are also the ones on campus that I want to fix up, but I have to gauge the viability because I’m not sure how much funding there is and how much we can actually do.


A big issue that AUSA are facing is funding, do you have any ideas of how to bridge the gap between what societies are asking for and what is available?

It’s a massive problem, I can’t do it myself obviously, I will need help from everyone within AUSA. I’ve been thinking about outside sponsors, for example I know some clubs have been sponsored by companies. In the Volleyball Society we had sponsorships from Red bull, and we got some stuff from them as well. It would be nice to have lots of outside sponsors, however if you rely too much on [them] it would be more like an American model where everyone’s getting paid by sponsors and it’s a bit of a slippery slope.


Adam has also floated the idea of training society committees to raise money themselves through things like fundraisers, are you in favour of that?

Absolutely, we tried to do fundraisers in one of my clubs, and it was a bit difficult, but if you get help from AUSA, with their skills and knowledge of fundraising and marketing, it would be a better thing for societies.


There were concerns raised during a student council meeting that there aren’t enough opportunities for non-competitive sport, are there any changes you’d like to see in that regard?

I would like to bring intramural sports back, there used to be some before my time I think. It’s a great way to meet new people, for example there are the Give-It-A-Kick sessions that are happening on Wednesday, they’re a great way to meet people and have chill sports. We should have that for other sports as well, not just football. It would be nice to get more people involved in sports, sports are amazing, not just physically but for your mental health as well. It allows you to be part of a community and make friends.



VP for Communities Ainhoa Burgos Aguilera


So what made you want to run?

I am determined to promote sustainability and protect nature, throughout my four years of uni I've been trying to make changes here and there, wherever I could, primarily through The Secret Garden Society, the Environment and Ethics Committee and Fridays For Future. That’s how I met [Camilo] and the Sustainability Officer, both of whom I've been working with in the past years. Camilo stopped me one day and asked me if I had considered running, I saw an opportunity to implement more, bigger changes. Because I believe [we have] the potential to improve, a lot, in so many aspects regarding sustainability, inclusivity and accessibility. And so... I ran for the role.


What do you think AUSA could be doing better?

I believe [they] could provide more opportunities for students to engage. The pandemic has made it hard for many to socialise and experience the exciting part of the student life. So having more large-scale events could be a good idea. I, of course, would like the communication between societies, clubs and groups with AUSA to improve, and ensure they're able to run their activities smoothly. Another aspect for improvement is the fact that societies, clubs and groups are failing to attract post-graduate students, who are often neglected, preventing them from having the full student life experience. Additionally, the Students' Union building could be more efficient, in sustainability terms as well as space-wise.


Biodiversity and sustainability were strong themes during your campaign, can you explain how you're going to achieve these?

Having just graduated with a Biology degree, I am extremely concerned about the massive biodiversity loss we're experiencing. Linked to this is climate change, a worry of mine that has shifted me [towards] a more sustainable lifestyle. First of all, I want to make sure the actions from the biodiversity motion which was approved by the Student Council is carried out to make our campus a more biodiverse place. The list of actions is too extensive to explain here, but it mainly involves improving and connecting green spaces. Secondly, I want to promote sustainable travel. I'm determined to push for cheaper bus fares, I'll also encourage students to cycle. I am aware cycling in Aberdeen is not the safest, and so I am inclined to push for better roads, spread information for drivers to respect cyclists and provide opportunities for students to learn how to cycle safely. And of course, I'll ensure the Students' Union is more sustainable, not just the building but the events organised by the Union, and the activities organised by societies. And I also want to boost the swap shop and food sharing facilities, open a refillery store, or revive what once was The Corner Shop and have a tool room where everyone can borrow tools.


Which of Camilo's projects are you hoping to continue? Also, have you been in contact with Camilo at all regarding this?

I've been involved in the Shift Campaign, for sustainable transport, the Borderless Campaign, for zero discrimination against Tier 4 visa students, and the Biodiversity Campaign which the Vice-chair of the Environment and Ethics Committee came up with. All of which are very important, and I am inclined to continue with and lead. [I’ve] worked with Camilo in the past, [it’s] provided me with the experience needed to take on this responsibility, and hopefully go beyond with my own ideas.


The rights of international students have been coming under fire recently, including a new policy by the Home Secretary preventing them from bringing family with them, what do you think about this?

I obviously think this is discrimination. Sometimes I struggle to believe that still nowadays we're cutting down on rights instead of providing people with more. Is society moving backwards? With my new position, and the connections I'll have with other UK universities, I hope to be able to prevent injustices like this one from happening and pushing for fairer conditions for international students.


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