Earlier this week, Bath Time caught up with the two candidates for Postgraduate Officer, Tony Cheung and Sid Singh. This is both candidates’ first year in Bath – Sid completed his undergrad in India, while Tony spent the last few years working in his home country of Hong Kong before deciding to move to the UK. Both were inspired to run by their experiences of representing students since coming to Bath – Sid is a Hall Captain and a member of the societies and Postgrad Exec committees, while Tony is the Postgraduate representative for the Faculty of Science.
What’s the job, and why is it important?
The postgrad officer represents the interests of over 5,000 students, of whom 30% are international. Many will have come to Bath from other UK universities. Postgrads are therefore older and wiser than freshers, but are often in unfamiliar territory, living alone or with strangers, and working fairly independently. It’s therefore important that they have access to support and guidance – hence the Postgraduate Officer position.
Where do the candidates stand on the key issues?
Integrating postgrads into the university community
Having moved into university-owned accommodation in the city centre, Sid was frustrated with the lack of guidance and support that was on offer for international students who might be less confident conversing in English on arrival. As such, one of Sid’s manifesto pledges is to create a handbook for international students to be translated into different languages, giving a basic overview of the essentials of getting around in Bath.
Meanwhile, Tony’s manifesto focuses more on different activities which could help to promote inclusivity. Notably, he wants to set up a Diversity and Inclusion group, which will take the form of a kind of cultural exchange between different nationalities. He also plans to dedicate a slot in the postgrad timetable to take part in activities, similar to undergraduates who are given Wednesday afternoon off.
The main point Sid raises on the academic front is to have some kind of universal tech training given to lecturers, so that they can all navigate Zoom equally effectively. Hopefully though, normal teaching will be back next year, making technical difficulties perhaps less relevant to the student experience.
Tony’s plan to enhance the academic experience is threefold. First, he wants to reform the feedback system so that lecturers have time to consider feedback before the semester ends. Second, he wants to make sure that all lecturers offer a clear course outline on Moodle before the semester starts so that students can prepare effectively. Third, he wants to introduce a postgrad-specific careers service, which would feature targeted industrial knowledge and jobs aimed at postgrads.
All being well, the pandemic will no longer be dramatically curtailing our social lives by next September. This may be optimistic, and Sid believes regardless that some students will still need time to adapt to life outside of lockdown. He therefore wants to introduce a variety of offline and online socials, so those who are still more comfortable indoors can connect with others over online games. When it comes to mental health, Sid’s big plan is adding more furry friends to the equation – as an avid dog fan, he wants to introduce pet de-stressing sessions to get that serotonin flowing.
Tony, meanwhile, wants to make some changes to the way in which mental health support is offered. Currently, he says, the wait time for an initial counselling appointment is around three weeks, and there is “a lot of paperwork” involved. He acknowledges the budget constraints which prevent the University from simply hiring more counsellors, and instead suggests ways in which a “better waiting experience” could be provided. This might involve sending out some useful tips or materials so that students have something to look at while they’re waiting for their first appointment or reducing bureaucracy by digitising the appointment process. As he so eloquently put it, “imagine if you were waiting for a table in a restaurant, and you’re told it will be a three hour wait. If they give you some snacks or drinks while you wait, that would be better, right?”
Tony doesn’t mention the environment specifically, but Sid loves sustainability almost as much as he loves dogs. This is a man who has cycled up Bathwick Hill on numerous occasions and lived to tell the tale. Keen for everyone to have the opportunity to join in the fun, he wants to partner with local shops to get cheaper access to bikes for students. Less terrifyingly (as far as all our legs are concerned), he also wants to introduce an app for buying second-hand textbooks, and a yard sale for student accommodation to prevent perfectly good items which are often left behind by previous students from going to waste.
On the whole, both candidates present considered and (hopefully) achievable manifesto pledges. Although they cover many of the same issues, they have slightly different emphasis in terms of what seems to most interest them – in a nutshell, Tony is big on activities, expanding mental health support and academic experience. On the other hand, Sid focuses more on sustainability and easing the transition for international students. With that in mind, feel free to read through their manifestos in full, watch our interviews with each candidate, and choose your favourite wisely.