Fourth Year student and serving International Students’ Officer Roberto Avelar is running to be the President of University of York Students’ Union.
What inspired you to run for the position?
I’ve been involved with all sorts of aspects of student life over the past two years. I’ve been in James JCRC, over the past two years I’ve been the YUSU International Students’ Officer and have represented over 4,000 students, and I’ve had an amazing time at York. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t be able to recommend international students to come to the UK. I got deported last year, partly because the university was not communicative about changes to visa legislation. Furthermore, university is too expensive, and yet accommodation costs go up every year. I want to ensure that York can be an accessible, enjoyable experience for all students, regardless of their background.
What makes you different from the other candidates?
I’m the only candidate running for presidency that is already a YUSU officer. I’ve worked closely with students, have been an officer for two years and was in a JCRC before that. I have talked to lots of different student groups and understand the issues facing York today, and I have achievable plans outlined for how to fix all of these issues. I’m running because I genuinely care about students – not about publicity – I do a biology degree so putting union president on my CV isn’t exactly going to make me more employable (YUSU Presidency doesn’t make bacteria more likely to appear and express your gene of interest, let’s be honest).
How would your policies change student life at York?
My policies will save you money, make you more employable, and ensure there is adequate support for all students! With the two new colleges being built I’m looking to get more economy-band accommodation built and also cap accommodation costs. I also want departments with higher hidden fees to provide more support to students, especially for course resources.
I want to create a rate-your-landlord system for off-campus students. I want to ensure students in groups that are at higher risk get the support they deserve.
I want YUSU to advertise student-friendly jobs (flexible working hours, pay more than minimum wage, offer other benefits to students) as well as accredit students holding leadership positions (in college/society committees, course/department reps, YUSU officers) to help make students more employable!
Finally, I’ll ensure you know what your elected representatives are up to and when they are achieving wins for students!
What challenges do you expect to face in this position and how will you respond to them?
I expect getting the university to cap accommodation costs and build more economy-band accommodation will be tricky. The uni is building their current accommodation based on data they collected but I think their data is flawed due to the price bands that they use. Therefore, I’ve worked the past two terms creating a survey with Think Tank and the ISA to collect data regarding student preference and perception of accommodation prices, which we will be taking to the uni to push for more economy-band accommodation.
What has been your most enjoyable experience at university?
Definitely running the ISA. I get to work with so many different student groups and meet people who have lived everywhere! I also get to organize some of the biggest events of the year, including Global Week which includes an all-you-can-eat international food event (it’s next week, week 8, tickets on sale now!), beverage festival which is an international alcohol event, and cultural performance where students at the university get to showcase different aspects of their culture on stage.
What are the greatest challenges that students in the UK face?
The biggest issues facing UK students today is finances and mental health:
Tuition in the UK used to be 3,000 pounds, now it’s 9,000. Next year it will increase due to the TEF, and the year after next it will increase to 9,500. We need to ensure that the university is doing all it can to keep York affordable, and this includes capping accommodation prices and providing more economy-band accommodation. Given Brexit, EU students will likely have to pay the same as international student fees next year as well, so now more than ever we need to ensure that York stays affordable for everyone.
Last year, East Asian students were over 50% of suicides at our uni yet they only make up 8.5% of the student population. Furthermore, trans students are statistically more likely to take leave of absences, BAME students disproportionately suffer from mental health issues as well, and there are ramps on campus that are too steep for disabled students to self-propel up. We are a Russell Group uni, we can do better than this York. We need to support students in at-risk groups, via targeted surveys and focus groups.