This article first appeared on DUSA Media.
About six months ago, the Exec – the seven student-elected leaders of Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA) – took office with ambitious plans. Now that they are more than halfway through their terms, we sat down with them to talk about their experiences, successes and lessons learned. In the third instalment of our series, Vice President of Student Activities Douglas Schreiber talks about how the Union benefits societies, UKIP’s accusations against DUSA, and why he was naive about the Careers Fair.
You promised “better benefits for societies affiliated with DUSA” in your candidate statement. What did you do in that regard?
I made access to booking Freshers and Refreshers Fairs very easy. It’s all done online, and I’ve created documents showing students exactly how to do it. That’s why we had such a busy Freshers Fair, and Refreshers will be bigger than last year, too.
We did the same thing for societies funding. I’ve made it very easy to understand how you apply for funding and I’ve detailed what you can and can’t apply for. Obviously every case is individual but if you just want money for booze or so, that is not going to happen. In the past, we had a lot of societies applying for party money, and we can’t legally do that.
I’ve also tried to represent societies better in the Student Partnership Agreement. The University is now going to give them free room bookings. If they have to employ staff to come in, there might be charges for that, but for the rest, regardless of what building you’re in, it should be free, which it hasn’t always been in the past.
Some campus groups are reluctant to affiliate with DUSA, in part because they would have to use Union venues. I think the Sports Union is one of them. Do you see that as a problem?
One of the problems with the Sports Union, although they were originally affiliated, was that a lot of the clubs felt that there’s more benefit in going to other venues and have big Sports Union nights out elsewhere.
Societies are never told that they can only use DUSA. They can go wherever they want and they can get sponsorships from wherever they want, that’s fine. We do not allow societies, for instance, to ask us for printing when they’re going to Liquid or Fat Sams. That would just demolish the Union. Advertising or using competitors might give your society a couple of hundred quid in the short term, but you can easily get that and more in the Union. Students have to remember that all the money made in the Union goes to students.
Last year, UKIP’s youth wing accused DUSA of banning them from campus and creating obstacles that weren’t raised for others. What happened?
I was on the affiliation committee when the UKIP society and the Young Independence Society tried to affiliate. Anna Dimitrova [the VP of Student Affairs at the time] stepped down as chair because being Bulgarian, she could have been seen as biased. What I saw as someone who’s politically neutral was the folk there to affiliate didn’t handle it well at all. Every time their constitution was amended by them and Anna to make it something we could work with, they came back and it would be exactly the same as before.
I think they went away to speak to the chairperson of Youth Independence UK and somewhere along the line somebody claimed that they had been called Nazis and things like that. What was said in the meeting, though, had to do with folk bringing in speakers who had been accused of Nazism in the past, but it wasn’t directed at anybody in that room.
The chairperson of UKIP’s youth wing misquoted [current DUSA president] Iain MacKinnon. What that person quoted online and on their Facebook page was a lie. I’ve never banned anybody from coming to the Freshers Fair. I didn’t receive any applications. I tried four times to get in contact with the fellow who tried to affiliate them last year during the summer, but to no avail, I didn’t get any replies.
You promised to work for “a bigger and more interactive Careers Fair”. How involved were you with the one last year?
I was perhaps a little bit naive in what I said. You can’t understand the amount of work sabbs and non-sabbs [full and part-time members, respectively, of DUSA’s Executive] do until you’re there. With the sheer amount of work for the Freshers Fair and students coming back and all the societies, I just did not have time.
I also realized that what they have in Bonar Hall is almost at full capacity. It might be tailored toward certain degree pathways, but I know many other degree pathways have their own careers fairs. I just wasn’t aware of that when I wrote my policies.
It’s the area where I’ve had the least impact because of time constraints and because there isn’t really an availability for change unless we were to use a far bigger venue. I’m working hard, though, toward the volunteering fair coming up in February.
You also said to make RAG [raising and giving] week more successful. What’s been happening on that end?
RAG week is no longer RAG week. There will still be a RAG week, but it’s now RAG year. Although the events last year were really well organized, the timing of RAG week just after Christmas and the fact that it was compressed into one very jam-packed week weren’t ideal. You’re not going to get students out every night of the week, spending a tenner in the Union. That’s not the way to go, particularly when RAG at this University is not that big yet.
The theory behind the RAG year is to have six or seven weekends throughout the year for students to come out and get involved. We’ve already had three of them and we’ve had [DUSA Radio’s 55-hour marathon broadcast]. We also had a “Bring a pound to Uni” day, which was more about publicizing RAG, but it still made more than 600 quid. And we had public days around the Overgate and at local community fairs.
We’re just getting the word out. The money for the charity is a byproduct, although it’s a very good byproduct. We’re trying to make locals and students aware that Dundee University is here with RAG, and we’re hopefully going to kick ass.
How much money have you raised so far?
Just under four grand, which was about the total for last year. Last year, quite a lot of money was spent to raise money for the charity, but this year we’ve spent next to nothing. I wanted to show that we can raise money from people’s efforts.
What was the biggest surprise for you as VPSA?
The sheer number of small requests. I knew it was going to be a busy job that keeps you on your toes. You come into the office in the morning with three or four hours to sort things out. By ten o’clock in the morning, that’s all gone. Societies will be looking to meet with you, for example, to discuss funding. It’s a very difficult job to plan around. It’s very varied. I love that about the job, but it’s obviously a shock to the system. There’s no slowdown, there’s no slow pace, there’s no real rest. You’re always in – at night and on weekends, too. But I enjoy that.
Are you running for re-election?
I am indeed running for re-election.
DUSA Media is part of DUSA, but you knew that already. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.