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An interview with the EUSA Presidential candidate: Bharat Singh Chaturvedi

He wants to make big changes for incoming international students

Third year Bharat hopes to draw on his time as an international student to significantly improve their experiences at the University and make the university a more accessible and inclusive place for all students.

What was it like coming to Edinburgh as an international student in the first place?

I enjoyed coming to Edinburgh number one, I feel Edinburgh as a city is one of the best cities in the UK for a good student life, that is one of the reasons I chose Edinburgh over Universities down South. I really enjoyed coming here with the international background community, but still the transition happens to stay and I personally found that post admission care for international students really lacked – there were a lot of questions in my mind; which bank should I go to? which societies should I join? I mean it can be a bit overwhelming coming from not such an engaging, dynamic place to a city like Edinburgh where you see that there are more than 250 societies in the University.

Have you been involved with student politics before?

You hear a lot of people say that EUSA are shit, it's easy to say.

Yeh, it’s a very easy narrative

Yeah, it's easy to say that and having no understanding of EUSA I didn’t go ahead and believe it or start following it, I thought that getting involved with EUSA would give me more knowledge of why firstly EUSA might be shit and secondly, if it is, being more involved. I saw everyone in EUSA, including the Senior Management team – they have been doing quite well. I sit on the finance team and we are predicting at great surplus this year.

So, getting to know EUSA and having an international perspective really helped me to bring in a different conversation on the Trustee Board that I have served on.

So what are your main policies?

I am contesting on three main ideas: Inclusivity, accessibility
and representation.

When it comes to inclusivity, it’s not only inclusivity for international students, it's inclusivity for mature students as well, students from marginalised backgrounds, any group that requires support financially, or mentorship or any push from EUSA.

When they need help with say the language barrier or financial issues, the university should help. There should be a timely intervention from the University early on when it comes to Visa advice, it shouldn’t be that once you’re in 4th Year that’s when you get to know about the Tier 1 Visa and suddenly you get to know that you need to fundraise £50,000 if you want the Entrepreneurial Visa. If such things are laid down, tricked down and told to people at an earlier stage it would be better for not only international students but it would be better for everyone else.

Along with that, one of the policies for all the students is select student led individually created courses, so this is a fanatic thing the University does. People don’t know about it. I interned in New Deli in my 1st Year Summer, it was a parliamentary internship in New Deli. Select allows me to, set my own course, set my own objectives, work on those objectives and then that would give me 20 additional credits. Now, this isn’t open to Honours level students right now. Right now it's only open to 1st Year and 2nd Year students, I’m rooting for opening this up to Honours level as well, because that’s when you start doing quality internships and they matter.

Along with that, one thing I’ve been subjected too, just last summer, was looking for flats. But more than that, being an international student, the worst drawback is that you need a UK guarantor, the University’s guarantor scheme only lasts for 100 students, which isn’t representative of the International students population. Any student that needs help should get it – 100 out of 39,000 doesn’t really do the maths for me. But it has started off as a ballot programme, it has received positive reviews – certainly the University needs to understand that not everyone can afford this. When I was applying for flats last year, I applied to nine or ten flats through different letting agencies but then because of the lack of UK guarantor we had to tell them that we were willing to pay six months rent up front. Which for my family was a financial pressure.

We didn’t get our flat until June and had to be willing to tell our landlord that we would pay our rent upfront. It really doesn’t give us any leverage, suppose if there is any injustice from the landlord. We had to pay every penny of our rent before moving in and that is sadly the case. That’s where post-admission guidance comes in. The University of Edinburgh does give you a very warm welcome when you’re here and applying through UCAS or coming here during Freshers week but then over time the type of support you would need to settle down in Edinburgh is non existent.

What kind of support do you think there should be for people when they come here after the first few weeks?

I think number one is language barrier, I am fortunate enough to study English as my second language back home but a lot of people don’t do that. One thing that was quite surprising to me was when I was sitting down, on the exam script there is a note that says such calculators are allowed and which dictionaries are allowed. It made me think, if I’m not comfortable speaking the language how am I expected to write an entire answer. I’ve seen a lot of people in 1st Year who used to sit with their dictionaries open because, there is a language barrier, understanding those terms is very difficult. So certainly, when I mean post admission care the University can enhance the peer support which everybody requires. The courses could be much more straightforward, this is how you will be assessed, this is how you write an essay and referencing is something a lot of international students don’t understand. It’s a new adventure that you’re going ahead with, so more support around that, more induction.

Apart from that, one thing is that there are hidden costs with every course that you do. A lot of my friends who do History for example, are supposed to hand in their coursework. If handing in coursework is a priority for the University then students shouldn’t be paying for that, so one of my manifesto points is free printing for mandatory coursework. I don’t want people to confuse this with mandatory reading or recommended reading because that’s a waste of time.

So certainly, when I say students come here in 1st semester, it can be an easy transition but right now its hard one. That’s why I’m proposing a buddy scheme.

Explain that to me, how are you going to get the people to voluntarily be the buddies?

So right now, they have something called 'global buddies' which is only open for the year abroad students that come here. Certainly there is training in place, again I’m not saying that this is something someone has to give up all their time. But it could be somebody gives up some of their time and through advisers create an Edinburgh Award or a note on their year transcript that they have been part of peer support by being a buddy to 1st Year students.

A few schools do run peer pals scheme. So the buddy scheme would involve more senior students voluntarily taking up being a buddy and we divide it between schools, we give them proper training then these buddies are the first point of contact for the 1st Year students. Lots of societies do it, why not give it more structure and get it down through EUSA. That is one recommendation from me, I did a bit of research on this, this isn’t something revolutionary I’m proposing it certainly happens at other universities like St Andrews. Inclusivity is one of the major points I would be highlighting.

So what other big policies are you trying to headline in your campaign that you’re trying to get across to voters?

So, I’m proposing free and sustainable sanitary products on all campuses. The background from this comes from a project I did called Sanitree. Last summer I was back home and someone said they thought Women bleed because God is punishing them for being females and there is a huge stigma around menstruation in community. Being in Edinburgh, understanding my own position and knowing a lot of people around, I thought why shouldn’t I talk to people here about the stigma and do something about it. Number one, being male and number one coming from an economics and politics background I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do but I knew that I wanted to do something. Talking to friends that did reproductive biology and business studies I got them together to sit down, and we have now set up a little cooperative in my home town which manufactures reusable sanitary pads and gives them to about 27 local women. In a community where there is a huge stigma, one of the main problems is that women can't afford sanitary pads, like here they are sold with a huge mark up. Sold at £3 or £4 and yet only costing 60p. You can reuse it around 150 times, that’s around two years, so for 60p for two years instead of £150 for two years. We got commended in the Scottish Parliament for it.

This is something that happens in different colleges and Universities already. This was something that was by started Andy Peel two years ago but then one of the reasons it failed was that EUSA was backing it financially. So whilst for the short terms it's fine when you’re buying £4 sanitary pads but for longer term its not sustainable. So I’m proposing more sustainable options. I am very certain it won't be difficult to get this off the ground.

Are you confident that you will be able to secure funding for all of your ideas?

So one thing with being involved in EUSA, one thing I am certain of is dividing all of the ideas into short term and long term goals.

When I say sustainable sanitary products, start talking about these things to people, these aren’t very money driven policies these are logistical changes that have to be done. Like select opening up to Honours students.

The University have a huge surplus right now one of around £130 million pounds. Along with that seeing that the University can pay £26,000 to fly the principles pets and belongings here, I'm sure they have spare money to spend. Then we can certainly go forward and ask for more financial support backing all of these policies. When I say funding, it needs to be a correct balance between logistics and funding. Being practical about it, like when we did Sanitree we didn’t receive a lot of funding, we started off as something very small and that could function immediately. When we started getting our money back that’s when we started spending. So starting off on the short term then keeping the long term objectives and aims in mind.

With the exception of one or two of the other candidates a lot of you are saying similar things, people see what things can be improved in the University, so why do you think that you’d be better than the rest of them?

I think number one having credibility, knowing EUSA from the inside has really given me the understanding, the knowledge of how the Students' Association works. Along with that setting up something like Sanitree, being an international student here, representing the majority of people who come to Edinburgh. Having an understanding of how to get the things in place, how to do things and get things off the ground. I feel that really sets me apart from other candidates, I have examples behind me, experience behind me to get these policies done. Apart from EUSA I have been involved in many societies, Enactus, doing a project with EGP. Knowing a lot of people around the University and certainly through personal experiences I know how to get things off the ground in a University like Edinburgh.