KCLSU President Mohd Yasir Khan discusses his time at King’s, manifesto pledges and takes questions directly from students
It’s the beginning of a new academic year. With the Covid-19 pandemic receding, students are beginning to return to normal campus life. Most teaching has moved back in-person, facilities are open and students can interact unimpeded.
However, a host of new problems are plaguing the student community. These range from the after effects of the pandemic, namely the cost of living crisis and the debate over tuition fee rebates, but also spiking in Guy’s Bar and lecturer strikes.
Roar sat down with Khan to discuss these issues, his own journey at KCL and how he intends to deliver on his manifesto pledges.
Why did you run for KCLSU President?
“It was about the representation of the students, I thought these student weren’t being represented well. Obviously, in the previous student officers team, some of them weren’t doing their job well. First of all, I decided to run for Welfare and Communities Vice President but then I realised that the issues [in my manifesto] weren’t just related to this role so I wanted to make a bigger impact.”
Do you have any advice for incoming Freshers?
“They have to be very attentive, they should join many societies that KCL has to offer. But they also have to find their own ways of doing things, not being bound by the university.”
Let’s move on to some questions about your manifesto pledges. How do you intend to convince the college to support your tuition fee rebate for the difficulties faced during the Covid-19 pandemic?
“The pandemic has affected many students at KCL, financially, mentally and emotionally. I strongly believe that these students deserve the tuition fee rebate [because] they had to study at home, no resources were being provided by KCL. I will be bringing up this issue in my first [College] Council meeting, which I think is on the 21st of November. I am trying to prioritise my manifesto first…so that I can go through them one by one rather than all at once.”
In the same vein, what actions will you take to achieve your promised 10% reduction in KCL residences rent?
“I would definitely also [bring this up in the College Council meeting]. But first, I will have a one-to-one catch up with the estates team, the head of the estates team is Nick O’Donnell. I strongly believe, especially after the cost of living problems and inflation an all around London, that the [King’s Affordable Accomodation Scheme] programme should be provided to more students, expanded a bit. At the same time, I will ask him to reduce rents by 10% especially at this time.”
You said you wanted to “decolonise the curriculum”. What specific aspects of the curriculum do you feel need modernisation?
“Decolonising is not something about deleting the knowledge that is already there. It’s about diversifying the knowledge from history and the non-western academic perspective…I mentioned [before] that I will be coming up with a platform at KCLSU where we ask history teachers and I will be asking in the academic board meetings for all these teachers to come to us in the SU to provide the knowledge as to where things are going wrong with decolonisation.
“We need to see where things are going wrong. Obviously, I’m not the professional here, I need the help of these people who can tell me where things are going wrong.”
What’s the thinking behind your proposed student mentor programme? Are students who have their own concerns and worries fit to effectively counsel their peers?
“I strongly believe that people from Psychology and similar departments should be asked [to volunteer]…We have an existing structure in the KCLSU, where KCLSU advice helps students with the problems they have. Under this advice programme, we can let students apply [to be mentors] and we’ll see what the results are and how to manage the situation.
“Mental health is not something that should be ignored or turned a blind eye too. This university has been more of a lip service on mental health than actually taking steps. Students need to stop struggling in silence and talk to their peers if they are not able to navigate their problems and if the existing structures at KCL are not helping.”
Lastly, let’s go through some questions directly from students. The ‘Stop the Music’ campaign, whom we recently interviewed, and KCL Intersectional Feminist Society have been vocal about the problem of spiking at KCLSU venues, particularly Guy’s bar. What will you do to reassure students and help victims of spiking?
“Firstly, this problem is something that shouldn’t be ignored. I’ve seen many student officers in the previous year that have been very active on this. At the same time, there is something [more] that needs to be done in a more comprehensive manner. Obviously, I didn’t have something like this in my manifesto but I need to bring this up with the council meeting, with the security issues.
“KCLSU doesn’t look after this but I genuinely care for this and this shouldn’t be happening whether it’s King’s or anywhere in London. What I can assure is that I can seriously raise awareness in the King’s community and let the administration know that this is affecting student wellbeing…this is one of the main reasons our NSS scores are going down.”
Last year, KCL students voted against supporting UCU strikes. Since then, the action has only continued with exam marking being delayed back in May. Where do you stand on the UCU’s action?
“I’m here to represent the student body. I would definitely go with last year’s decision…but having an intellectual discourse [with the UCU] would always be a good idea.”
A Music student, Naomi Stenning, has been campaigning to make KCL campuses more accessible for disabled students. In an interview with the BBC and Roar, she detailed the difficulties she’d faced in dealing with KCL administration. How would you address the issues faced by Naomi and other disabled students?
“First of all, I’m really sorry to hear that. I will bring this up with Nick O’Donnell, the Head of the Estates team. This is something King’s Estates has to address. But at the same time, we as a students’ union, can put pressure on them and make them listen to the student voice.”
The college has planned about a 3% hike in international student fees. Does the KCLSU intend to push back on this? If so, how?
“We have been working on a draft to present to the college council for four tuition fee instalments…I, as the President, have voting power in the Council. We will hold people to account, the Principal, the Vice Principal, everyone. I will definitely bring this up in the next council meeting.”
This final question is from your predecessor, Zahra Syed. She asked: how do you intend to make your office and the KCLSU more accountable to students?
“I think, again, town halls are a good example. For students to actually engage with the students’ union is the main way they can hold us to account. And I want them to hold us to account, not just the university. Emails and then complaint boxes, which our governing head Caroline [Crawford], heads up. I think these would be great ideas to hold us to account.”