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 fourth instalment of our series, Vice President of Engagement Stefan Tomov talks about the challenge of publishing exam dates earlier, why all Exec positions should be sabbatical ones, and how the Union can be about more than drinks.
The VPE is the newest role on the Exec. What exactly is your job?
The idea is to engage students in different aspects of the University’s student life. How do you do that when you don’t include societies, media, representation and student welfare? By devising campaigns for student engagement, basically.
What are some of the things you’ve done so far?
One of them is the “Aspire” lecture series. We have lectures in the Union where students have a chance to learn from other students about their experience and hopefully become engaged themselves after that.
I also promote student projects as much as possible. That’s even more difficult, because the other Exec members oversee most activities that people are getting engaged with on campus. I was trying to promote events the VPE’s Facebook account. It’s difficult because students are not following that one, they’re following the DUSA Facebook page instead. So I’ve been trying to get events promoted on there as much as possible.
One thing I’m very happy with is that a student approached me with an idea, and I will help her realize it in the second semester. It’s a campaign to pick up litter, where students will have the chance to clean up campus. It will take place on Wednesdays between 12 and 3. It’s after “Skint”, so there will be plenty of litter on campus, and people usually don’t have lectures on Wednesday afternoons. We’ll three main days during the semester: 5 February, 5 March, and 26 March. If it gets the momentum we expect, we can spread this across the whole campus and maybe even into the city.
You said in your candidate statement that you wanted to establish a “framework on bringing the announcement of exam timetables” to an earlier point in the semester. Have you had any success on that?
Such a framework is hard to establish and unfortunately, it’s not going to happen. I’ve been telling the University that students want their exam timetables as early as possible for two years, first as a member of the Student Representative Council (SRC) and now as VP Engagement. The key thing is to contact the person who is drafting the timetables. That’s Kieran Clifford [the University’s Examinations & Graduation Manager], and I’ve been in contact with him since week 1 [of the academic year].
The winter semester is very problematic for this because the University can’t can start working on the exam timetable until week 3. As you know, students can change the modules they take up to the Friday of week 2. However, in the [Graduate School of Natural Resources Law, Policy and Management], students can change their modules until week 5 – they have three weeks of general foundation studies and then get to try their modules for two weeks. So you either remove them from the central timetabling project or try to anticipate their choices based on numbers from previous years, but that will always be problematic.
Someone from the Exec or the SRC will have to talk to the person constructing the timetable every year. And school presidents need to talk to the lecturers from their departments. After the timetable is drafted, it’s sent to lecturers, who have to approve it. But sometimes, lecturers have to attend a conference or so, which they aren’t always telling the University about early enough. That needs to be worked on. Students need to be active every single semester, telling their lecturers to pass on that information.
You also said you wanted the Union to be a place where students can “spend the day productively without needing to buy a drink” through “movie screenings and debates”. How is that going?
That’s what “Aspire” is for. I’m doing one lecture a month when students are on campus. I’ve already done two of them, and I’m pretty happy with the way they were run and the attendance. There were 40, 50 people at both events. We have three more planned for the second semester, one each in January, February and March.
I was writing my candidate statement before I knew DUSA’s financial situation, which was announced at the [annual general meeting]. It became clear that movie screenings are not going to happen because of financial constraints. I’m happy to say that it’s not going to happen because of something I didn’t know about when I wrote my statement.
You said you would support the Deputy President in organizing the elections and the Vice President of Student Activities (VPSA) in making RAG (raising and giving) more successful. How involved have you been with those events?
I oversaw the elections for the halls reps, because it was when Jade [Rea, DUSA’s Deputy President] had to promote events and deal with complaint procedures. I’ve been talking to students about running for positions on SRC. I have also attended the society councils Doug [Schreiber, DUSA’s VPSA] is organizing. I helped him with the elections of the two society members that became members of the SRC, and the election of the funding council.
For the RAG project, I’m the deputy coordinator and basically Doug’s right hand. I spent a weekend in the Overgate collecting money, for example. I’ve also used my position on the Westend Community Council for that. My involvement with RAG this year is focused on promoting it to the community, because you cannot collect £15,000 only from students.
You’re one of three non-sabbatical member of the Exec, and there are four sabbatical ones. Would you like to see the VPE job to become a sabb position?
I would say that every single position on the Exec should be a sabbatical one. Non-sabbs are spending lots of time in the office, and if their positions were sabbatical, that would be an incentive to work even harder. I also study, so I cannot focus completely on the job. It would definitely make more sense for every single one of the Exec positions to be sabbatical, like in other universities.
What was the most surprising thing for you as VPE? Something that made your work very difficult, for example.
You need to do lots of work not related to your policies. I was thinking that once in office, I would be able to focus on my policies, but there are various other events and meetings I need to attend. That slows it down a bit.
Are you going to run again for the Executive this year?
Yes, I will be running for Deputy President.
DUSA Media is part of DUSA, but you knew that already. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.