IGNITE sat down with the Student Council Steering Committee to discuss their role in UNMC.
Comprising of 39 members, the Student Council handles the policy side of the Student Association, such as changes to the student constitution, ensuring fair representation and accountability of all elected members as well as the transparency of the institution.
The Student Council Steering Committee comprises of 3 positions; Council Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, and Secretary. Each of the Student Council Steering Committee was interviewed – and we got to understand our current SC Steering Committee a little better.
Student Council Steering Committee:-
Council Chairperson: Ahmed Afrah Ismail (AAI)
Vice Chairperson: Angaindrankumar Gnanasagaran (AG)
Secretary: Dinesh Jayabalan (DJ)
What does the Student Council do?
AAI: On paper, we are supposed to make sure the constitution is up-to-date. And mostly, it’s trying to help the Student Association function better. We try to make policy level changes so that the things that are implemented now can be carried forward next year as well. We also help the management with student-related issues and give input on the SA.
We are sort of the bridge between the management, the SA and the students.
The Student Council is officially the highest governing body of Student Association; does that mean the SC is above the SA? And do you believe that the role of the SC is as important as that of the SA?
AAI: Since last year, we have decided to work together rather than be a “higher authority”. We have decided that working together will get us better results as compared to having a hierarchy. I think that the role of the SC is just as important as the role of the SA. We are there to make sure that what the SA do is in line with what the university has planned. This year, our role will be a bit bigger because we will be finalizing the draft for the strategic plan for the SA – basically, the strategic roadmap.
The strategic roadmap is basically a set of Key Performance Indicators set by the University for the year 2020.
When was the decision to make the Steering Committee of the SC a paying position, and how did that happen?
AAI: It is not a salary, it is a stipend; like a student allowance. It started when an SA president put it into place several years ago. The argument was that the UK campus’s Student Union gets paid. Another reason was that they wanted to incentivise the SA’s and SC’s roles; make it more attractive, on top of the recommendation letter and the work experience you get dealing with different nationalities and working in a team.
As the Vice Chairperson, how do you plan on assisting the Chairperson in all the initiatives taken by the SC’s Steering Committee?
AG: There are two parts to what I have in store; to continue in the work of the previous council and to fulfil my manifesto. For now, I have got to think of a proper training scheme in order to make sure councillors are trained properly so that they can actively participate in debates. I will help The Chair with the motions; as motions come in, we have to make sure the motions are debated with quality.
What are your plans on increasing the impact of the SC on the students of UNMC?
AG: My plans will fall back to the councillors – they have to do their job. If you make their jobs public, make their roles known to others, the students will know. Ultimately, the only way we can make that impact is if we were to strengthen the council itself as an institution.
What actually moves the gears in the council are the councillors.
Being the Secretary, do you believe that your position will allow you to represent the students of UNMC and bring about positive changes around the campus?
DJ: By being a steering committee member, we are impartial. In terms of bringing about changes, it is up to the councillors themselves to actually bring up these motions. Being a secretary, the typical thing you do is to send out agendas and record minutes of the meeting. For any significant change to happen, it has to come from the student body and the SA executives. If a student has a motion to propose, we have to discuss it. If it is relevant, we will get the school representative of the student to bring up the motion and after getting another councillor to second the motion, it will be brought up in the meetings.
Do you feel that there needs to be an increase in the number of councillors? If so, what should be done in order to make this happen?
DJ: I don’t think there needs an increase in the number of councillors. However, I think there has to be an increase in the number of students who stand for the councillor elections. The majority of the seats in the SC are from the Education Network, which means they are the school representatives.
Last year, for most of the schools, there were no elections as only one person ran for the position.
Many students are not familiar with the SC. What would you do in order to change this?
AG: It is difficult to get that information (the difference between SC and SA) out there. The easiest way to put it is that it is a similar dynamic between the executive (SA) and legislative (SC) branches in the separation of power. The SC creates the framework for the SA to work; at the same time, the SA is also a member of SC so they get to influence the framework creation.
DJ: The first thing that we are doing is that we are promoting the council activities. During the fresher’s induction day, I went to the faculty inductions and gave a short speech so that the freshmen knew what the SC is all about. The next thing we plan to do is to be more active – to engage more with students, compared to the previous years.
What are your hopes and aspirations for this academic year, in the context of the SC?
AAI: I hope there will be a rise in the attendance for the council meetings; with a little more marketing we hope to increase attendance. And we hope to finish off the Strategic Roadmap so that the next SA will have a solid guide as to what their goals should be.
AG: I hope there will be an increased awareness about the SC. I remember last year when I was presenting my manifesto, I was very idealistic, I wanted to a lot of things. But my main focus was that I wanted to create some sort of training mechanism to create the passion within the councillors. We want that awareness among students so that they know what is going on – then we can have a very good check and balance. I have always believed the best kind of check and balance is an adequate and well-informed population.
When we do our work and the students are aware and well-informed, then basically the council runs itself.
DJ: I am a very ambitious person in this aspect. I think the first thing I want to do is to get more students to be involved in the SC. I hope the elections this year will be better than last year.
I want more students to be involved, to know more things and to come for the meetings.
By Kaveeta Nair
Photographs by Hariz Danial