In the first part of a two part series, Editor Sarah Pusey grills three of the SU Presidents on how they got involved with UWESU and the best and worst bits about their job roles…
How did you first become involved with the SU?
K: Pretty quickly actually. I had a friend from college who was a UWE student and he told me about Students Reps. He didn’t sell it quite how it turned out to be; he made out that it would be one long party and a way to meet people, which it was but he didn’t quite seem to get the academic reasons behind being a rep, which does make me laugh three years on. Akram (SRC President 2005-06) was my flat warden in my first year…
A: I’d been really heavily involved in my college, doing RAG and staying on for another year, but when I came to UWE my course was pretty full on, I had a part time job and no real time to become a rep. It wasn’t until the end of my third year when the elections came up that I thought ‘I could actually do this again and get involved’!
L: I got involved with the kickboxing club in my first year because I wanted to try something different. I got really into it and started training more and through that I got to know the trainers who suggested I run for committee, so I did!
What made you decide to run for president?
K: Having been quite involved in my second year, Akram and Nisha were [SRC] President and [SRC] Vice President and I sat on the faculty board and academic board with those two, then in the last year’s SRC with Dom and Becca, it seemed like a role I could really bring something to and possibly help develop over the next year. I felt like it needed someone who really knew about the rep system and who had been involved for three years… I was a bit worried where it would go the next if I didn’t run really and obviously I didn’t want to leave UWE just yet either!
A: I didn’t plan to run for president. I actually thought I gave enough of my time at college! It was one of those things that took over my life you know? I didn’t get to see my friends, I didn’t have enough money but I really wanted to go to NUS Conference again because it made me really passionate. I remember when I had been there before, on the way back it just got me really fired up and passionate about everything. So I got the form for Conference then I started thinking ‘ I’m going to go to Conference, get really fired up again and I won’t have run in the elections and I’ll kick myself because there is loads of stuff I want to change and I won’t be in position to do it’.
L: In my third year I was elected as Martial Arts Rep on the Sports Executive and I thought about all the things I could do and what I would change but I never thought I would run. Then I saw Alice with her nominations form in the SU office at St Matts and she asked if I was running. “Yeah. Are you?” “Yeah, alright” in true sporting fashion – I think I just wanted to win!
How would you describe your job role in five words?
L: Fun, challenging, unique, I really want to find a word for the biggest learning curve ever, that’s in terms of professional work and personally, I know that’s more that one word…
K; Just have ‘the biggest learning curve ever’ because that’s five words exactly.
A: I’ll second fun and challenging and I’ll add tiring, varied, special and amazing.
K: Rollercoaster, interesting, exciting, knackering and emotional. I’ve had a day where I’ve been up in the air and so happy then I’ll come into work end up in tears – I think I’ve cried more in this job than I have in all my 21 years! It’s bizarre.
A: I think we’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn’t include ‘stressful’
K: Yeah, can we all agree on that? Oh, and rewarding.
L: Yeah, definitely rewarding.
K: Very rewarding and challenging would be the big ones. There are loads of different ones… We can’t agree so yeah, that’s it then!
Do you have a day to day routine?
All: No!
A: That’s one of the nice things though, that every day is different.
L: One whole day can be taken up with arguing with the Centre for Sport about facilities or just talking to clubs, or one day can be spent planning or having meetings with the other sabbatical officers on confidential or strategic issues such as the direction of the Students’ Union. Then you get an email asking you to attend a meeting or you’re speaking on behalf of students, chairing groups. Yeah, so no would be the answer!
K: If you think about how varied the student population is, there are 30,000 students but only four of us – I don’t think you can ever say that a day to day life of representing people is ever going to be the same.
A: Ooh, that was good! I think Katy had the best answer
L: No, give me a chance to think of another one…
K: You just want to win again!
Best thing about the job?
K: It really gives people the chance to develop as a person. As much as you don’t want the job to change you, you still develop completely as a person in terms of your skills set, your knowledge…just through what you do on a day to day basis.
L: One of the hardest questions you get [from students] is ‘what do you actually do?’ and to sum it up in a sentence is just impossible.
A: People will ask you that at 2am in a kebab shop after a night out!
L: When people accuse you of doing nothing and just getting paid lots to sit around, you just want to hurt them!
A: But at that time in the morning you don’t even have the energy to argue with that!
A: The best thing about the job is that is the best opportunity ever. You would really get these experiences the year after uni in any other job. Sure there are graduate schemes but they don’t compare to what you get in this year. It is just the most amazing personal and professional development you can imagine. And time management as well – it really prepares you for life afterwards.
K: It brings out your strengths and weaknesses, showing you what areas you are good at. For example, after only a couple of months in this job role, I already know that I want to work with people and have that front facing interaction, and I couldn’t just work in an office. I love the fact that I can choose to shut my office door and go out and chat to students.
A: The amount of responsibility you’ve got as well, such as looking after finances for different societies or clubs
L: I don’t think you can forget that in this job you do actually change things and better people’s lives, without even knowing it. It could just be doing one thing but do you do get to make a difference which is an incredible thing. I don’t think there are many other jobs where you could walk in and make such significant changes.
A: Yeah…
L: I like to think people look up to us and think ‘I’d love to be able to do that’ and anyone can – if they really want and really believe in something then its possible. We hope that students do feel like that, I know I did before I got this job.
K: It is amazing to have the students but also the staff that make up this multi million pound organisation look to us for student opinion which is really nice to see.
A: its amazing to do a job that you want get of bed in the morning for. When you come into work you know you’re going to make a difference.
L: Anyone can run [for officer positions] if they are passionate about their beliefs and if you’re worried about anything you get so much support. When I started I had no idea what the constitution was when I started and now we’re putting through a constitutional review.
A: Yeah, don’t look at the roles and think ‘I don’t think I can do that’ because the Union sends you off to NUS training over the summer, there is in-house training and they give you those confidence skills and time to work on your ideas. You’ll see us doing a talk and we’ll look so confident and cocky but we were really nervous beforehand. We jus had lots of training so we were ready.
K: The nature of the job is that the role develops with the person. Next years’ presidents might decide to focus on different goals or priorities. Where as there are certain things you have to do and mandate, there is also a large degree of flexibility in the role.
And the worst thing?
L: The pressure I put on myself.
K: Expectation. Expectation from a lot of people, like your predecessors, staff, students, your team, your family. Until I properly explained this role to my Dad, he still expected me to drop it when ‘a proper job’ came along. When certain situations arise, ultimately it’s you who has to sort it out; you’re the one that is responsible. If someone expects something of me, I expect ten times higher of myself so when you let yourself and other people down, that is a really difficult feeling.
A: I think the hardest thing to adjust to is that you do have to devote your life to the Union; it’s not a 9-5 job, sometimes you have to work late or come on the weekends and it can be quite difficult if you’re used to being independent. You have to give up parts of your social life but then you make so many friends in the Union that it becomes your social life as well.