An interview with the EUSA Presidential candidate: Connok Bok
He wants to stop the rise in the number of students at Edinburgh
Connor Bok's main sticking point of his policy is reducing the size of the student body. He also wants to implement a more effective course review system and widen a scheme where the university operates as a guarantor for international students. He has a different approach to mental health which does not involve extra funding, but rather tackles what he sees as the 'root' of the problem of mental health.
Why are you running?
I just love Edinburgh and Edinburgh University but I see the problems, I’m the undergrad President of the Business Society, so I’ve been to all of the University Council meetings. I think that they have the wrong priorities and I want to correct this.
So, what is it that you want to prioritise?
I've approached this analytically, I want to know everything about the University. The big thing I've noticed is student numbers. From 2012 the student number has gone up by 8,252 students, there are now nearly 40,000 students here. You have to go to the library earlier and earlier every year to find a seat, classrooms are more full and another good example is rent prices.
It’s simple supply and demand. The centre of Edinburgh is a UNESCO world heritage site so you can’t really build new flats, making it a fixed supply but there’s more demand.
How feasible is it for the EUSA president to help with this?
I want to increase the awareness. If everyone knows the statistics of how many people there are here, then people will discuss it more actively. The former vice-chancellor launched this plan to have 50,000 students, which is very controversial and I’m very against it. The fact that there’s a new Vice-Chancellor and Rector gives me much more of an opportunity.
The new Vice-Chancellor comes from Hong Kong which is the quintessential example of a small university. If I raise this problem then we can discuss it with staff too. Because a high student number is a problem for them too. If every member of staff and student is aware of this problem then I think we can stop it.
Can you explain your international guarantor initiative?
For international students like myself, it’s difficult as most agents don’t accept international guarantors, meaning they have to use an insurance company or pay their rent up front. Both of these options are very expensive. Paying your rent up front also means that you don't have the leverage of being able to withhold rent in a dispute with your landlord.
The uni has a scheme where 100 students can use the university as their guarantor, but there are 17,000 international students. UCL operates this scheme for all of their international students. I’m proposing that the university extends this to the 99.4 per cent of international students who aren’t covered. The university doesn’t promote this because it has such a low capacity. They should open up this scheme to all international students who have their money up front.
Your plans are all quite big, arguably too difficult to achieve. How would you respond to this?
I think my policies are achievable. For example, the course review website I’m proposing. I want to make a website which qualitatively analyses courses, giving them a rating out of five for example. Working this out through an anonymous review system, thumbs up and thumbs down. They have this at Harvard and Columbia, where everyone loves it.
Most other candidates put mental health as their most important policy but you haven’t talked about it yet, what are your policies?
A lot of people talk about how to support people with mental health issues, I want a different approach. How to stop people getting mental health problems. I think this is mainly from social experience or academic experience but mostly from academic issues. EUSA and the university should provide support. One of the ways to do this is through getting a better student to personal tutor ratio, so you can talk to them about these issues. You can rarely meet up with your personal tutor and that’s where mental health issues start.
By having fewer students and the same number of academic staff you’d be able to access a greater proportion of help. Edinburgh University is spending £22.1 per student on mental health support, making it one of the UK’s top universities, it’s not enough but comparatively this uni is outperforming other unis. Everything is inaccessible because of the high student numbers. I want to attack the root of the problem rather than plowing extra money into the mental health budget.