USU Board candidate interview: Ada Choi

Transcript of the interview with 2020 USU Board candidate, Ada Choi.

Honi Soit: What’s your name, degree, slogan and campaign colour?

Ada Choi: My name is Ada Choi. I’m a first year student studying a Master of Commerce. My campaign slogan is “Advance with Ada” and my campaign color is coral, a pinky colour. 

HS: And who is your campaign manager for this year’s USU campaign?

AC: I have Yolanda as my campaign manager.

HS: What’s their full name?

AC: Yolanda Bai. I’ll send it to you afterwards. 

HS: Are you in any political party that’s federally aligned? 

AC: No. I’m independent. 

HS: Are you part of any faction on campus? 

AC: Not at the moment. 

HS: We know your slogan is “Advance with Ada” so we thought it might be related to the Advance faction? Do you have any history with student politics on campus?

AC: You mean at USyd?

HS: Yeah. Just campaigning or generally how you voted or something like that?

AC: No. I’m in my first year and first semester so I have nothing to do with politics or policy here at this stage.

HS: So you just started at USyd? 

AC: Yeah. I just started. 

HS: Well, in that case, why are you running for USU Board?

AC: I was here during orientation week and some of my friends were there working and we had a good experience attending all the events during O Week. When my friends saw this opportunity, they referred me to it because it’s a really unique opportunity in student life so I think that’s good. They recommend me and I join. 

HS: So you are running on the recommendation of your friends? What’s your kind of level of knowledge about how the USU operates?

AC: My level of knowledge is based on all the information available online. One of the things I believe that is important is that I can consider the viewpoints from a newcomer perspective because everything has gone online and so many things are not very transparent. It’s hard to deliver information to all the students at the moment. There’s a lot of room for improvement on information delivery. I’m the only postgraduate student running in the election so maybe I can represent this group of the student population as well. 

HS: What kind of value do you think your newcomer perspective adds?

AC: I just came to the university and realised that so much information was available. You know that all the Chinese students still cannot come for orientation week. That information is not very accessible to many of the students not on campus at the moment. The point is that there are many things I don’t know. The things I don’t know is very similar to other students with the same situation. My point is: how can I make that information available to other students as well? For example, the events and activities hosted by the USU at the moment. 

HS: Considering you are new to the university Ada, what do you think makes you better placed than other candidates who have a lot more institutional knowledge about how USU runs?

AC: I think my competitive advantages will be my work experience and how I have been very active in my undergraduate degree. So I was a vice president of a student club, a study abroad representative and an international student mentor at my undergraduate university and I have worked in several industries like the education industry and I worked as an international marketing assistant at my undergraduate university. After I graduated, I went straight into film distribution – the entertainment industry. I am also a high school teacher. I have many student leader backgrounds and work experience. That might add value to running the Board.

HS: But your undergraduate degree was not completed at  USyd?

AC: No… But I have a lot of experience serving domestics and international students. Because I’m a newcomer I obviously don’t have a lot of friends. Given the situation, everything is online. I can’t get a clear picture of how the USU serves its members. I think the Board term is around two years. It is a way to learn and progress as well. Being on the Board is not just about producing outputs but also a way of mutual learning for me to grow as well. 

HS: So you mean you are running for USU Board mainly for yourself?

AC: Not really. You know one of the things I think is that postgraduate students are quite unrepresented. So most of the board directors are undergraduate students. Maybe I can make the decision that considers and involves the interest of postgraduate students as well. 

HS: So we are asking you a few questions about the workings of the USU and the current financial situation at the moment. If you have to cut one million dollar from the USU budget, where would you cut it from? 

AC: I did a bit of research before this interview but I don’t see any financial documents available on the USU website. It’s a really difficult decision to make if I don’t have a clear picture of how much funding is being allocated to different functional departments within the USU. So how about we source additional funding from somewhere else. For example, I read through the constitution and we have different types of memberships but we currently don’t have a alumni membership. How about we create a new kind of membership for new funding? We can ask for donations as well from alumni. 

HS: I understand you don’t have access to the financial numbers. But let’s rephrase the question. In principle, where would you cut money, especially considering the USU is losing a lot of money at the moment due to the COVID crisis? Where would the first place you cut funding be? 

AC: I think it would be marketing because marketing is a variable cost that can go up and high. That would be the first area where I’d cut funding. For example Instagram and Facebook if the USU is spending a lot of money online and offline.  

HS: Does that not go against your previous point about you wanting more information online and greater transparency? 

AC: Well, there’s still a lot of free channels on Facebook and Instagram. You can put money on it but you can still reach a lot of people through different social media campaigns, maybe  by giving out prizes instead of putting a lot of marketing cost on delivering information. Asking existing members to repost a campaign, for example, so that other students who have not joined USU can know about that. 

HS: Recently the USU has had to fire a lot of staff as a result of decreased money coming in. What’s your opinion on that and do you think that that was a necessary move? 

AC: It’s a difficult question because I don’t have a lot of information on that. In terms of that, I think it’s important to balance your corporate social responsibility and financial viability. I need to know more information on that before I make any decision and have an opinion.

HS: But, once again, if we rephrase the question to being principally speaking, do you think that should have been the decision? 

AC: I think that COVID 19 is a very challenging situation not only for the USU but also for every organisation and business across the world. It is a very difficult situation to stay financially viable. I personally do not support cutting staff or firing staff right away but instead giving them support across the crisis because they have been servicing the organisation for so long. It is not a very ethical decision to fire so many staff from my perspective. 

HS: I noticed that you said before that you would try to introduce an alumni membership. But actually USU has made all memberships free since last year with the election of new Board members. Do you think that the free membership should still continue or do you think the membership should be paid again given the current financial statue of USU? 

AC: I think the current option of having both free and paid membership is very good because you can reach a maximum audience number, not only the ones who pay but also the ones who do not pay.  

HS: Membership to the USU is actually free. The only paid option gives you discounts on things like merchandise, drinks and food at different outlets. What do you mean by alumni membership because alumni can buy into that discount system? What exactly do you mean by that?

AC: My view is that the alumni membership can be an extra source of funds. Maybe we can have some of the alumni make donations to the USU. 

HS: It’s not a special type of membership? Because the membership is free, the only type of membership is that discount to outlet stuff. So are you just suggesting you would encourage alumni to sign up? 

AC: Yep. Or maybe introduce an alumni membership. 

HS: So how would it be different? 

AC: Because you are an alumni, you need to sign up an alumni membership. So we are segmenting them into different groups.

HS: I understand. How would the alumni membership be  functionally different from the current one? For example, would alumni receive benefits that are different or if it is the same why the need for the split?

AC:  It’s just the title which is different. 

HS: Obviously, a lot of USyd alumni are not on campus so they cannot actually receive any benefits of the paid membership like discounts at food and drink outlets on campus. So what would be the incentive for alumni to sign up for membership if they cannot receive those discounts which are very much USyd campus based? 

AC: One of my policies is that I want to have more benefits and discounts for USU members. Instead of just on campus or mainly on campus, merchants, business, we can also extend discounts to off campus restaurants and events. They can enjoy the benefits not only on campus but also off campus. 

HS: I think the USU already has some systems in the app for off campus benefits. Would it extend that relationship? 

AC: I think the number of discounts is not very large. One of my policies is to extend the numbers of merchant discounts and have more businesses join us to provide more discounts and benefits for our members. 

HS: Obviously the USU and university have a particular type of relationship. The USU is a student union. They take care of student life in terms of clubs, food, things like that and the university does a lot of administration and are also in charge of teaching. Do you think the USU should be trying to take a stance against the university when the university is doing something wrong? So, for example, last year the USU took quite a firm stand against the university proposal for the Ramsay Centre. They came out with a statement that very strongly opposed the introduction of the Ramsay Centre. Do you think the USU should take political stands?

AC: I think it depends on if it is a stance that is of interest to the majority students on campus.

HS: Is that a yes then?

AC: If the decision represents the benefit and interests of a majority of students on campus, I would say yes. 

HS: The university has done some controversial things in response to COVID. Do you think the USU should take a stand against the university on certain things they’ve done about COVID? If they should, what should that stance be specifically?

AC: Like? 

HS: For example, the university has used ProctorU for lots of the exams which caused a lot of controversy. 

AC: I think SRC is currently doing that as well. 

HS: I understand. I’m asking if the USU has a role in doing that as well. 

AC: I think the USU can cooperate with the SRC to do this. 

HS: I was just wondering what is your opinion on how successful the current USU Board has been? And what’s your opinion on current president Connor Wherrett and how his presidency has gone?

AC: I think the current Board is very good because I see the diversity in it. So we have different people in it representing different groups of students. I think USU is doing a good job because, from a newcomer perspective, I attended O Week. I think O Week is very successful in terms of having so many clubs and so many businesses coming in. This is a really good opportunity for new students to experience how vibrant the campus is. I read through the website and the USU has student day employees students taking leadership roles. They offer opportunities for students to volunteer. So I think they are doing really good. 

HS: If you just access the USU through O Week and the website, do you think you really have the capability to run the organisation? board director is obviously a lot of responsibility. You will potentially oversee decision like laying off staff or signing big deals with different companies. 

AC: As I mentioned before, it’s not just me producing output. It is a mutual learning process. I believe through running for the Board, they will provide training and I will get more information on different areas of the university. And having that knowledge build up, I should be able to run the Board confidently. 

HS: But you are being paid for the role. It is quite a significant amount of money per year to be a board director. Some of that money potentially is coming from SSAF. Why should students in part be paying you if other candidates have more institutional knowledge already? 

AC: I think it is not only myself who has limited experience. I have to develop knowledge through a period of time. It’s not like I’m here for one month and I know everything. I have to make progress and it takes time. The Board term is around two years. I really need to build that knowledge throughout the process.

HS: If you are new here, why would you run said two years from now? Why did you join?

AC: As you know, I’m a postgraduate student. Most postgraduate students study for 1.5 years but I am studying for two years and I’m planning to do a PhD as well. I think there’s no postgraduate students running for the Board this year. It’s a good opportunity for me to represent postgraduate students. 

HS: In terms of the other people running on the Board, do you think there’s someone you share similarities with? And then who do you think you differ from the most?

AC: I think the most different point is that I run independently and I’m a postgraduate student. We haven’t come up to that promotion period so I don’t know their policies. It’s difficult to make an opinion right now.

HS: Have you reached out and tried to contact the other candidates? 

AC: Yes, I did. Some of them. 

HS: What’s your overall policy priority? The main or top area of your policy.

AC: I think that should be student welfare support and engagement. As a postgraduate student, some of us may just be here for one year or 1.5 year or five years. In that short period of time: how can we give them support and engagemnt? For example, CET students as well are not represented by any student body aside from the USU. So I believe from my policy we can maximise our reach to those who spend a short period of time here or who have no student organisation representing them. 

HS: Do you think there’s a problem currently with how USU supports postgraduate students? What is the specific problem you see?

AC: I think most USU events are open to everyone. But many of my friends think that information cannot reach them. I think this is one thing that can leverage the effort. 

HS: But there is not really an undergraduate channel of the USU that only undergraduates can access. How do you think you can increase the flow of information to postgraduate students?

AC: I think one of the ways is to communicate more with SUPRA because they are the major channel to reach postgraduate students. We can consult with them on how to do that as well. 

HS: I think USU has a relationship with SUPRA. You think that’s not enough? 

AC: I don’t have enough information on that because there’s no information online. 

HS: One of your other policies is about renovating the USU app. It is something that happened last year. Do you think that it’s viable that the USU put time and money into doing this when they did it last year considering their current financial state? 

AC: I think the current application is really good. They have really  a good design. But the thing is that if we go back to normal life and we have all off campus events happening at the moment. We can put them into one app. If you are a member of a certain club, you can get event notifications on the app instead of getting them on the email. 

HS: A lot of clubs and societies held activities on Facebook. The main stream of notification generally comes from there. Do you think the app could be improved enough that clubs and societies would use the app rather than Facebook to communicate? 

AC: I think having all the information on the app is very accessible and convenient for members of many clubs. They can use this application as a one stop shop. They can do everything like browse the event calendar, browse different activities for different clubs. 

HS: Are you suggesting it’s more like a discovery usage? So the people who aren’t already members of clubs can see what’s going on? Or is it for people who are already a part of a club?

AC: No. I mean that if you are a USU member you can get access to that notification from different clubs. 

HS: A lot of your policies are based on the assumption of going back to normal life. But at the moment, we don’t really have a lot of clear vision about what this semester or next semester looks like. A lot of your policies are not really very relevant in the case where the COVID 19 situation continues. Have you thought much about policies that are able to happen if the university doesn’t go back to normal?

AC: I think most of the clubs have online events as well. We are talking about the application. Certainly, we can incorporate them in as well, if they are doing online activities. With some of my policies, for example, with those memberships benefits and discounts, you still have to go and buy groceries. You still have to go and buy take away. The USU can leverage those discounts. Members can not only use that membership on campus but also enjoy those benefits and discounts off campus. 

HS: But those policies are very dependent on certain things. For example, the USU app depends on the renovation actually happening, which we already said before takes a lot of time and money. The discounts depend on the USU actually leveraging discounts which in history they haven’t managed to. Do you think your policy can be realistically achievable? 

AC: For the discounts, it is quite realistic and achievable because in my undergraduate degree I did this project for one of the student clubs. We had nearly every restaurant in the CBD signing up discounts and contracts with our club. Many of our members have been able to enjoy 10% discounts. I don’t think there are any difficulties for the USU to sign up deals with other businesses. 

HS: Do you have any specific measures or policies in mind to help students recover from COVID 19? Obviously at the moment, the USU one is suffering financially to the extreme. Since everyone is off campus. some clubs are doing online for sure, but the vast majority of the clubs are, at the moment, mainly defunct. There is a lack of student engagement. Do you have any policy specifically that will help us restore that? 

AC: I think we have more students joining the USU when they see there’s a discount. They will become the sources for funding. 

HS: A lot of students are doing casual work and have lost their jobs. Do you think it’s unrealistic thing for students to pay money to join USU at this point of time?

AC: That’s a good question. I think it takes time to do this. Recovery is not a one month or two months thing. It takes time and effort for each of us to recover.

HS: I noticed under your student support heading in your policy a second hand book policy. There’s already a lot of platforms for second hand books — private ones and the SRC has some similar platforms and there are textbook subsidies. Why do you think it’s the USU’s job to do that? 

AC: I discussed this policy with many of my friends. Many friends of mine told me that they cannot find a channel, especially since they are new to Sydney. They are not familiar with these things. I thought: what about the USU having that platform provided to every student in the university, so they can access the second hand books. Students can then buy at a cheaper price and it is more environmentally friendly as opposed to buying a new textbook. 

HS: I was more referring to why you think USU should specifically start a marketplace when similar services already exist? 

AC: I think taking the step is always better than not. Literally many of my friends say they cannot find a place or they do not find a place to sell and buy. How about the USU creates that platform? Many students can then access that  resource. 

HS: Do you have any final comments?

AC: No.