By Jorja Kyei
As a student at USW, you have the opportunity to have your voice represented by the Student Union. The union is a collaboration of executive officers, council members, student representatives and the students. The SU focus on many different aspects of student life such as clubs and societies, charitable events, student welfare, sports and campaigning. I asked USW SU President David Pye about upcoming events, changes to the student union, and where the funding for the union really goes.
David was the Vice President and Education Officer last year. When he moved to Wales in September 2020 for university, the idea of a student union was new and intriguing to him. He explained that within the role of Education Officer, he would aid students who were under accusation of student plagiarism.
‘I would be the first person that they would contact, I would say my role was to help students who were falling off their path’.
As we were speaking about the previous academic year, David informed me that the Student Union did not have a full team of executive officers. ‘Last year, our activities officer and our welfare officer resigned four months into the year and our president was battling cancer during this time.’
When asked if he was happy with the current state of affairs regarding the student union, David expressed that he is hopeful, prepared and excited for this year, but their current ranking is a concern to him.
‘I think this is the right time to bring this up. The USW Student Union is currently ranked at 7th out of the 8 student unions in Wales.’ This was particularly shocking to me as I considered the fact that The University of South Wales is the biggest university in Wales – over 20,000 students are currently enrolled. I wanted to know what David’s thoughts were about the ranking and what could be done to improve it.
‘I would like students to take away that there is an abundance of positions available in the student union’.
David informed me that The USW Student Union is affiliated with the National Union of Students. Last year, only members of the SU team attended the annual conference. David believes this is a missed opportunity and wishes that people were taking advantage of this uplifting and thought-provoking event. ‘Last year, the union only sent our officer team to the event that was held because no students wanted to go, if any students are interested in any of the roles that are available, the Student Union will pay for your travel and accommodation. I think these opportunities are really fun for first and second years’.
It was important to me to learn what the Student Union’s plans were for Black History Month. David explained that the union had published online seminars on their website regarding black history. There is also an Afro-Caribbean party that is being held at Eclipse Treforest on the 22nd October – the event is being run by the Afro-Caribbean society. He continued to say that he believes that Black history month is important because ‘we have a growing international student population. The USW student population is currently 50% domestic students and 50% international students. I would like to encourage all students from the black community to get involved with any ideas for face-to-face events on the campuses.’
In addition to Black History Month, I wanted to talk to David about the up and coming radio show that is being ran within the university. ‘Tequila Radio Now’ hosted a live event in collaboration with The University of South Wales. The show is being run by former Nigerian radio host Dooake Sonrandein. David described the “I Belong” event as ‘a showcase of individuals from any background, any ethnic group, any gender identity to talk about their experiences and their community’. The radio station is sure to create a buzz when it launches in November, but I wondered why David thought this particular asset to the university was an important one. ‘I think this is really unique to our university and it will be great to have something that people can tune in to.’
As we continued our conversation about the positive influence that Tequila Radio Now is expected to have in the near future, David suggested that we should speak about some of the difficulties that the international students within the university had been facing.
‘International students have to prove financial sustainability for the length of their course to get their visas granted. I believe this is why the officer roles currently are good for domestic students. International students have to apply for a different visa to have an officer role. We are right now one of 14 universities in the UK that don’t pay for the visa costs for international students to apply for officer roles’.
David went on to inform me about the ongoing housing issue that is currently affecting some international students in Treforest. Students have told David that they are travelling in from as far as Swansea and Plymouth to attend lectures. There have also been international students sleeping on the Student Union sofas because they have been unable to find housing.
‘During enrolment week this year, we had a group of students sleeping on our couches at the SU because they had nowhere else to go’. David believes that if the university were to build another accommodation in Treforest, ‘it would pay itself off in a couple of years. The percentage of international students is going to be the same if not more next year, so you know that the housing will be full.’ The University of South Wales has stated that there is currently an ongoing process to secure housing for those who do not currently have any.
The Student Union held many different events for World Mental Health Day last Monday. They held two giveaways, one included seventy mental wellbeing boxes that had £30 worth of products such as soaps and loofas inside. There were also SU wellbeing cards that were used to write positive messages by students. There was also the return of Therapy Dogs Nationwide, who were very popular last year. ‘I think that as long as these events make students forget anything negative that’s on their mind for that period of time, they have done their job.’
As our discussion came to an end, I wanted to know what the Student Union hoped to do throughout the rest of the year.
‘We are struggling for numbers. We need more people to join us and to get involved because they will be only ones that will be able to get in touch with what they want or what their demographic wants and help to represent their communities in the university. Get involved! If you don’t voice your opinion through formal mechanisms or rally people in terms of activism, it’s just going to fall on deaf ears. Start the relationships you need to further your own goals and community goals’.