Postgraduate Academic Officer Interviews: Mohammed Salha, Aida Asgarli, Freddy Fossey-Warren and Ruoning Wang

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Mohammed Salha

While Mohammed Salha is still listed as a candidate on the Durham SU website and it is possible to vote for him, he has said to Palatinate that he intended to withdraw from the election. 

In communication with Palatinate, Mr Salha said that “I have been going through urgent issues. I would withdraw from applying for this position”. 

Mr Salha never released an official manifesto. 

Aida Asgarli

Aida Agarli is the first of three candidates running to fill the vacant role of Postgraduate Academic Officer. The masters student from Azerbaijan has received support from Durham People of Colour Association. 

Ms Agarli was unable to schedule an interview with Palatinate but did attend the candidate question time, along with having released a manifesto online. 

In her manifesto she outlines her goal to  make a difference in the lives of postgraduate students and “foster a sense of community among postgraduate students” – something she aims to achieve through “organising events, activities and initiatives that bring students together”. 

Ms Agarli also wants to include postgraduate students in all the decisions she will make through “direct communication” and social gatherings”. She also wants to raise awareness of challenges faced by postgraduates through “organising campaigns and initiatives”.

Ms Agarli wants to “foster a sense of community among postgraduate students”

 

When asked to describe her vision for Durham in one sentence she said,  “To create a thriving and inclusive community that supports the well-being and growth of all the students through sustainable development, cultural diversity and access to all possible resources”.

Freddy Fossey-Warren

Freddy Fossey-Warren is the third candidate to be running for the role of the Postgraduate Academic Officer. Having studied in Durham for both his undergraduate and postgraduate degree, he has received nominations from both the 93% Club and Durham University Labour Club. 

When asked about what his main priorities would be, Mr Fossey-Warren said he would want to concentrate on the issues that are uniquely faced by postgraduate students such as “uncertain job prospects, juggling wok with academia, striking with the UCU and feeling deprived of a true sense of community”. 

He also said that he wanted to make sure “that postgraduates feel like they are no longer an afterthought”. 

Mr Fossey-Warren was also very critical of the treatment of the postgraduate communities by both Durham SU and the University, saying that “the issues of postgraduates have been perpetually ignored by the SU” and the University have often swept their issues under a carpet. 

While he welcomed work Durham SU had done to support issues facing both undergraduates and postgraduate students, he said that he was “not sure the SU had done well for postgrads this year” and that it was “hard to think of one thing that the SU had done well” only for postgraduates. 

He wanted to make sure “that postgraduates feel like they are no longer an afterthought”

When asked his thoughts on Durham SU’s decision to hold a preferendum, he said that the default position of a postgraduate officer should be to support strike action and that he personally disagreed with the decision for one to be held. 

However Mr Fossey-Warren would not commit to whether or not he would support another prereferendum saying that “the fact that one has been held has set a precedent” and while he would likely not support another preferendum he would “have to look at it on a case by case basis”. 

Mr Fossey-Warren was also very aware of the limitations of his role, saying that many of the issues the SU faced could not be fixed overnight. He still felt that “much more support could be provided” for Postgraduate students. 

He also said he wanted to “make headway on the issues” that have not received attention and “get the ball rolling on the issues”. Ultimately, he hoped to inform students that “work has been done, as we will fight in your corner” by trying to get students who are not involved with Durham SU involved through reaching out. 

When asked to give Palatinate one sentence why readers should vote for him, Mr Fossey-Warren finished the interview by saying “If I was elected I do really want to be on your side. I want to work for the people who elected me, not for the SU, not for the University and I want to make sure no one is left behind”.

If I was elected I do really want to be on you side

Freddy fossey-warren

Ruoning Wang

Speaking to Ruoning Wang gave the impression of a confident candidate who knew what she wanted.

When asked to name a role model she said that “my opinion is that you should not look up to one person. I support groups that promote democracy when making policies”.

Ms Wang is one of three candidates running to be Durham Student Union’s next Postgraduate Academic Officer. She is a master’s student in finance at Ustinov College who describes herself as “rational”, “economic” and “practical”.

Throughout her interview she consistently emphasised that her priorities lie squarely with furthering the academic interests of postgraduate students. She labels working closely with the university “really important”.

In this area, she wants to lobby for a “more convenient and efficient communication system for all students”. Speaking from her own experience, she told Palatinate that “scholarship chances are not well exposed to international students. I’m looking forward to promoting access to scholarships and jobs”.

On housing, Ms Wang wants the university to take a much more active role, arguing that “many students cannot communicate effectively with landlords and fear being cheated. Maybe it would be better for the university to communicate with landlords and represent students. That’s just my idea”.

I’m looking forward to promoting access to scholarships and jobs

Ruoning Wang

For Ms Wang, the key issue she wants to tackle is the poor communication from the Durham SU. She describes her frustration at the SU’s lack of response to her feedback, saying that issues she raised about postgraduate access to SU’s services and difficulty voting in elections were not resolved. 

She mused that, “maybe having a regular zoom meeting [with SU officers] would give students a chance to communicate?” Much of her motivation for running for office seems to be to reform a system from the inside which she says repeatedly fails international and postgraduate students. When asked about satisfaction with Durham SU more generally, Ruoning sympathised and said that much of this stemmed from the poor communication she wanted to address.

Discussing low engagement levels with Durham SU, Ms Wang was shocked to hear the turnout for last year’s election.

“19%!” she exclaimed. She seemed unaware or uninterested in the more controversial sides of the SU – “I’m not really interested in the political”.

Ms Wang said that if elected, she would most look forward to working with Skye Carroll. Ms Carroll is running unopposed to be the Opportunities Officer. 

A link to vote in this election can be found here. Voting closes at 17:00 next Wednesday (22nd February).

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