Union President candidate Aaron Caulfield is eager to “bring student representation to the highest level.”

16 mins read

Aaron Caulfield has been involved in the Students’ Union since he joined the university in 2019. Although he hasn’t run for any part-time positions, he has tried to make a difference, especially through General Meetings.

He recently passed the Coronavirus Recovery Motion, which seeks to provide help to recover smaller societies, particularly those with less than ten members, after COVID-19. The motion also helps to make them more accessible.

Aaron also assisted in passing the plant-based motion which will see the Students’ Union supplying only plant-based food by 2025. He also contributed to the Community Food Initiative to aid in reducing student food poverty.

Although he has been “trying to implement real positive changes” in students’ university experiences, the Law student is committed to contributing even more positive changes if elected as Union President.

Workers’ rights

In an interview earlier this week, Brig asked Aaron what he would like to do for students. He said: “I want to work with other trade unions to really develop a relationship between students and trade unions and to educate around the rights in the workplace.”

The candidate has been in touch with Unite Hospitality, Glasgow, which is the trade union representing hospitality workers in Glasgow.

“Hopefully building the relationship between the trade unions, the Students’ Union and students would improve the way the students are able to represent themselves at work.

“I will always campaign for better student’s worker’s rights.”

As Union President, Aaron would also oppose zero-hour contracts, show support for gig workers because “the type of work is so insecure” and create campaigns around improving student workers’ rights.

“Those [campaigns] will be for a broad national action. I’ll certainly try and cooperate with other Students’ Union’s to bring these changes in, which would require influencing the Scottish Government. I will try and bring representation to the highest level.”

Cost of living

At the heart of Aaron’s plan to help tackle the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on students is introducing a rent freeze for student accommodation.

“The University will undoubtedly try to use inflation as justification for rent freezes in the next academic year. I don’t tolerate it as they’re already overpriced. I remember I calculated the average rent to be £513 at the university. I simply don’t think there’s any justification.”

Other than cooperating with the Housing Officer, another way the 19-year-old would help accomplish this goal would be through direct communication with accommodation services. In the case of any rent increase, Aaron would also encourage campaigns to protest it.

“The specifics would obviously be better decided at the time to see what works best, but I’d certainly not in any way simply let this pass.”

Housing Emergency

The Housing Emergency was another motion Aaron helped pass in November last year, its purpose being to create a committee of six individuals that reports on the housing emergency within and outwith Stirling. Two of these members are the Housing Officer and VP Communities and the other four are regular students.

“VP Communities hasn’t called the election for the four other members, even though they were meant to have met already. So this committee hasn’t yet met and I’m not very happy about it. The motion requires them to meet a certain amount of times per academic year.”

As Union President, Aaron would get the four students elected as soon as possible and then hold an emergency meeting with them to help them report on the housing situation in the Stirling area.

Student Support

Aaron is interested in creating an open forum between the Students’ Union and the student body. He is focused on making representations on behalf of the Students’ Union to both governmental and non-governmental bodies in order to lobby for greater support for students.

“I would not just try to campaign within Stirling’s Students’ Union, I would be going to the Scottish Government. When it comes to housing, I’d be going to Shelter Scotland. I’d also be going to Unite the Union.

“I’d be going to different organisations to try and influence these issues, on a national level and within Stirling. The only reason we have a lot of success for students is that multiple Students’ Unions worked together nationally to get [these] changes, and it’s something we’re gonna have to do if we want to see change here in Stirling.”

In terms of more student support, Brig also asked Aaron about his stance on mental health funding.

“The Scottish Government funding for mental health counsellors at universities has been cut significantly. And considering the mental health in Stirling, which in the past certainly had a poor reputation, with drug use and suicide, this is a university that very much needs to focus on mental health support.

“It’s an area where we clearly need more university investment, but if the university isn’t going to invest, the Students’ Union needs to do all it can to try and support students.”

students' union
The third-year Law student is running for Union President this year. Image Credit: Aaron Caulfield

Volunteer Opportunities

Another way the candidate would offer student support is by offering more volunteer opportunities, whether that is through litter-picking, being part of the freshers’ team or through the Community Food Initiative.

“I’d definitely support student-led projects, give them some Union accreditation. I’d really like to give them recognition beyond the university for when they leave.

“When I speak about accredited, the Students’ Union already has the ability to write things to your academic transcript. Since the Students’ Union has the ability to do that, I’d like to use it to recognise the volunteering opportunities that we already have.

“As long as we can get this hard accreditation on a student’s transcript, I think it would entice a lot of people to come into the Students’ Union and even for the people who don’t particularly care about the recognition, it’d be very nice to be able to give them something regardless and try and help them when they leave Stirling.

“I want to help them when they leave. Having successful alumni is very much the goal of the Union President, and trying to give students something to show their employers is something we should focus on.”

Greener University

If elected Union President, Aaron would work hard to make the university greener and more sustainable.

“Back in 2021, there was a motion that passed around carbon neutrality. In order to support that, we have an ongoing transition plan which will be around food, to hopefully offset quite a bit of carbon emissions.

“When it comes to the specifics, the Students’ Union already took a few steps, [including] cutting down on the use of paper, especially around the elections. I’d generally be supporting these gradual reforms towards more digital media. A lot of carbon neutrality, when it comes to the Students’ Union specifically, will be around trying to modernise the workflow a bit and trying to step away from paper.”

Besides trying to modernise the Students’ Union, Aaron is also keen on having discussions about introducing renewable energy on the campus.

“There is no renewable energy on campus whatsoever. Not a wind turbine or solar panel in sight. Very strange for a hilly bit of Scotland. There are so many opportunities for renewable energy here.”

Perhaps the most fundamental issue Aaron would like to address as Union President, however, is the “greenwashing the Union currently does in issues of carbon offsetting with carbon credits.”

“[Buying carbon credits] is not an actual practice for the reduction of carbon emissions. It’s a way of making it look like there have been actual reductions in emissions – but no, it’s simply paying money. It’s wasting the Students’ Union’s money and it’s really not reducing carbon emissions at all.

“I didn’t actually know that [the Union] were doing this until I looked into the sustainability policy and discovered that we’re buying carbon credits from corporations who claim to be protecting the rainforest, but we’re very aware of carbon credits being entirely unsupported by science.

“There are a lot of things that the University does that the students aren’t aware of, like the university killing 18,000 fish. [The university] wasted them because they couldn’t use them over Covid. The university is really respected but they generally don’t seem to abide by the research output when it comes to their existing policy.”

To bring about greener and more sustainable changes, Aaron would hold the university to account.

“A lot of the influence would be through internal structures, but also through public campaigns.”

Reforming the Students’ Union

Because the candidate has worked alongside the Students’ Union over the years, he has some insight into how the Union works and is internally organised.

As Union President, Aaron would like to bring General Meetings back to being in-person while maintaining the hybrid option for more accessibility and student engagement.

“I would definitely try and advertise [the General Meetings] around the uni a bit more. I’d try to get more control for the Students’ Union over the screens to be able to publicise as much as we can.”

Additionally, Aaron mentions in his manifesto that he would like to “encourage reform of the constitution and schedules for the purpose of good governance” of the Students’ Union.

Brig asked him how he would implement such a change and why it was necessary.

“The Union’s constitution by law must reform every five years. I believe we’ve had a reform less than five years ago; the only problem is the constitution has only ever had surface-level reforms. Fundamentally, the constitution of the University of Stirling’s Students’ Union is broken.

“The Union has managed to function under it for a good few years but it can’t continue this way. Some of the schedules downright contradict each other, some of them are redundant, some of them don’t say anything, and some don’t reflect the current commitments of the Union.”

The Law student mentions that the constitution as it is currently doesn’t clearly lay out each role.

“It’s the question of what powers I do and I do not have that is absolutely not clear. There are some cases where you’re not sure if anyone has the power to do something. Right next to each other in one of the schedules, it says: ‘the VP communities can set the minimum membership fees for clubs and societies,’ and the next item: ‘the communities zone executive committee will set the minimum fees for clubs and societies.'”

Making the most of our Students’ Union

Aaron is determined to make the most of the Students’ Union areas which are “barely being used,” such as Venue.

“Even as a study space right now, most people prefer to sit in the café outside [over Venue]. I mean, I’d love to use the bar again. There are so many uses that we’re just wasting. We’re sitting on this prime space and we’re slowly losing Union facilities. We lost the smoking area outside the Students’ Union bar area, it’s locked all the time.

“Venue’s hardly used and there’s also that entire bar that goes around the back of Underground which is never used as well. There are so many bits of the Students’ Union that we’re not using and we’re complaining that students don’t necessarily want to go to the Union. You need to offer a lot more. Club nights at the uni would almost certainly be well-attended by students here.”

“You would save an insane amount of students’ money and get money back into the Union. I’ve seen some societies using Venue as a club night, they were quite successful.”

Generally, as Union President, Aaron wants to “make sure that the issues that students face are represented at the highest level consistently.”

Aaron’s full manifesto can be found here.

Voting opens on Tuesday, February 28 at 10am and closes on Thursday, March 2 at 5pm.

Featured Image Credit: Jonathan Boomer

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