Riddi Viswanathan, the inaugural International Students’ Officer at the University of Manchester Students’ Union, has had a middle of the road year in office, in SU terms.
Spending £1,143.75, or 14.3%, Viswanathan has been closest to spending an equal 12.5% share of the £8,000 Exec Officer budget, with £1,000 of her spending mainly on an 83-second-long video for mitigating circumstances information. The remainder of her expenses went on travel for work.
Viswanathan told The Mancunion that she “felt the need to invest in this project as this is a long term resource for the Union and the University and it has also received appreciation both from students and University staff.”
Viswanathan recorded the third-best meeting attendance rate, going to 85.2% of her scheduled appointments.
In terms of her manifesto, Viswanathan had five pledges listed on the SU website: “Make the Union and the University an international student friendly and a diverse welcoming body”, “work to empower international students to take up leadership positions locally and nationally”, “make the Union a home for international students who stay back during Christmas and Easter breaks”, “make the Union an inclusive and an engaging place for postgraduate students and liberation groups”, and “fight to ensure that international students have access to equal opportunity within the University”.
It is difficult to define what making the University and Union a welcoming body for international students means, as well as ensuring international students gaining equality of opportunity within the University and making the Union an inclusive and an engaging place for postgraduate students and liberation groups.
It is however easy to measure the opening hours of the Union during holidays – whilst the SU was more open than in previous years over Christmas for various events in Academy venues, it still had to follow University general opening hours, which includes a week long shutdown between Christmas and New Year. Over Easter it remained fully open.
On the point of empowering international students to take up leadership roles locally and nationally, next year’s Exec team includes two internation students: Rana Phool as Postgraduate Officer and Kwame Kwarteng as General Secretary. This is double the 2018/19 figure, with Viswanathan herself being the only ex-international student on the team.
What is noteworthy about the International Students’ Officer in 2019/20 is that Jake Garrett, who will hold the role, is a UK student.
When asked about her successes this year, Viswanathan told The Mancunion her “biggest success this year is getting the university to commit that the international placement year tuition fee will be reduced from 50% to 20% from September 2020. I hope this initiative will encourage more students to go on placements thereby bridging attainment gap”
“I have also had other successes including an international welcome, organising events like #Christmasawayfromhome with the international society, increasing support for cultural societies, starting conversations on de-stigmatising mental health, raising awareness about plagiarism and mitigating circumstances among the international student community through quick videos and the best of them all, opening work experiences and internship schemes in the SU to international students.”
However, the International Students’ Officer also highlighted the”amount of hate I received this year for standing up against far right extremism was definitely one of the hardest times” as a challenge, alongside the fact the Exec “team dynamics could have been much better… this year”.