With just a matter of hours to go before voting opens for this year’s Union by-elections, candidates are rigorously putting together the finishing touches to their manifestos.
Covering a variety of areas, a total of 10 positions are up for election, with one of these roles – Alternative Student Officer – having student representation at its core.
Shumela Ahmed, a 4th year Journalism and Politics student is standing for this position and in a recent interview with Brig she outlined her main agenda and spoke about how her experiences lie at the centre of her campaign.
However, when speaking about the term ‘non-traditional student’, Shumela said: “There are many different kinds of non-traditional students. They come from college, they come from access courses and they can also come from school. A non-traditional student who is coming from school is somebody who is perhaps in care or a young carer.
“Most people think non-traditional students are all mature students or at least a bit older but you do have school age ones coming in; care leavers and young carers in particular.”
At the Union’s general meeting on Wednesday, the official name of this position was changed to Non-Traditional Student Officer – a role that Shumela says is a new and much needed asset to students.
She added: “It’s a new role that has just been introduced by our VP Education and hopefully what it is going to do is give one person to all the non-traditional students in the university.
“Before non-traditional students have always been an afterthought and there has never been a specific role for non-traditional students and we have a role for nearly everything now.
“It’s something that has been really lacking and finally there is going to be a voice for non-traditional students and all the support that goes with an officer having that role.”
With the role providing a voice for students across the university, Shumela looks forward to this responsibility and emphasises that being the ‘voice of the people’ is the whole reason she is decided to campaign for this latest status.
She said: “My main endorsement is to be a voice for non-traditional students. My slogan is ‘a vote for me is a voice for you’.
“A lot of people who are non-traditional students; especially those who have come from a care experience background or a young carers background, they feel voiceless in their everyday lives.
“An institution this size is able to give a voice to many people. You get a voice everywhere and that’s what my main ethos is in doing this; to be a voice for all the non-traditional students in the university.”
Combined with a strong sense of purpose is a clear and direct campaign using what she has learned from her time in university and her experiences as a non-traditional student.
She explained: “When I was 14 I left school and that’s because I was in care. Things are a lot different now – I mean you’re talking 20 years ago. Now if a young person goes into care its flagged up straight away, the school knows, everybody’s switched on and there is a bit of a plan that will go into place in regards to education for that young person. That didn’t happen for me.
“I have been a school officer for three years and every year as a school officer you take on a project. Mine was always a project surrounding non-traditional students. That’s always been my focus.”
The mother of two admitted that on a daily basis being a non-traditional student and a parent brings its challenges, particularly in being able to juggle both sides of the coin. This is something she admits students may not be prepared for.
She added: “What you are not ready for is all the other things that come with being a student, the day to day stuff – managing a job or family, being older than your class mates – which happens to be a lot.
“In any of my classes I am always the oldest person by a mile. That takes a bit of getting used to but for me I threw myself into everything. What I did was, before I even graduated from the access course, I applied to become a school officer. I saw the advert go round and I applied and got dead involved with the Union straight away and that really helped my transition into undergraduate study. I opened up a big network for me, that I would not have had otherwise, because I don’t have time to really socialise with the people I meet at university, but, being in the Union helped me have a broader social network and make friends.”
When tending to the challenges of student life, it’s no surprise that not every student is aware of the support services available; something that Shumela admits was a consequence she suffered when starting out at university.
She reflected: “I also think that a lot of the non-traditional students who end up coming to university, the ones that drop out are the ones that aren’t getting the right support because non-traditional students have different needs.
“There are support systems in place for everybody else and there are support systems in place for non-traditional students, it’s just that they are not very visible.
“I didn’t find that out until my first year because I was a part time student coming in in the evenings.”
With just one year to go until her graduation, Shumela plans to enact a clear and empowering message to all non-traditional students across the university if elected.
However, having spent the last four years campaigning for such rights, she now wants to spend the rest of her life being an ambassador towards the greater cause.
Shumela concluded: “When I first came to university I thought, I will get my degree and then I will go back out into the workforce – into the media workforce – but I don’t want to do that now.
“I want to work within education with people like me, people who have been disadvantaged and have not had the same access, opportunities and education. It’s completely transformed my whole experience here at university – and its transformed my career path. I want to work with young disadvantaged people and show them there is a way out through education.”
By-elections begin today (Monday) and end on Tuesday. You can vote through the Union website.