Meet Saqlain Riaz (Economics, 2019), the newly appointed President of City’s Students’ Union. Whilst his top priority is of course City’s vast student community, Saqlain is keen to connect with alumni. We asked him a few questions to find out what he’s planning for his presidency and how alumni can support the cause.
Can you tell me about your time at City?
I was born and raised in North-West London and decided I wanted to commute to University early on. I joined City in 2016 and decided to study the quirkiest degree I could think of, Economics (sarcasm, although I did enjoy the programme). I challenged myself from my first day to set out and find, or build, a community for myself at City, and that’s exactly what I did. I attended every event I could physically find the time for throughout those first two years and established a robust network of friends from across the University. The sheer diversity of our Student body was always something that appealed to me and I had no trouble finding my way around the different opportunities available to me. I graduated in July 2019 and had the honour and privilege of clapping every single student from the class of 2019 across the stage at the Barbican centre. The reason for this was because I was now an elected Student Sabbatical officer at City Students’ Union.
What prompted you to run for Student Union (SU) president?
My early experience of University forced me out of my shell. My friends from School always mention how much I’ve changed, hopefully for the better! I quickly got involved with Student societies and a range of Student campaigns across City and the National Union of Students. In 2018 I became the Finance officer of the Friends of Palestine Society which enabled me to engage with a number of societies at City as well as other universities in London and across the UK. In my final year I held up to four positions in the Students’ Union, one of which was being a delegate to represent City SU at the NUS conference 2019 (good times). I cared massively for the entire City community and decided to take a massive leap of faith and put myself forward to become the next Vice President Education, a full-time position which would begin a week after my last exam. I ran a successful election campaign and was voted in to represent our 19,000+ strong student community over the 19/20 academic year.
How has your role been impacted by the pandemic? What does the new normal look like for you and the other officers?
The pandemic posed new challenges to the world as we know it. I ran my second election campaign, this time to become the SU President, in the weeks leading up to the lockdown. I started the role in July and have been learning new ways of doing things ever since. My fellow officers, Shaima and Ruqaiyah have never experienced a day working on campus, and so their natural abilities have made the virtual handover much easier than it might have been. In terms of the Union, much like the rest of the world, we’re looking to adapt what we offer to students. Collaboration between the Union and the University is at an all time high which is always positive for getting things done the right way. Our calendars are packed with virtual introductions, meetings and events and we’re always looking at new ways to improve the way we do things. As time goes by, we hope to incorporate some of the lessons we’ve learned this year to improve ourselves as an organisation; why shouldn’t we be able to offer the exact same experience to students both on and off campus?
What are your priorities as SU president?
My top priority is listening to students. I don’t believe there’s a single student perspective or experience, rather every student has a lived experience which is unique to them and it’s important for us as a Students’ Union to be in tune with that. We’re a small organisation, but we work hard to ensure our members i.e. every single student at City, are represented fairly in every decision the University makes. My priorities include, but are not limited to, improving the democratic processes at the Students’ Union, continuing to fight for a high quality, accessible education for all students, working with our mental health and counselling services and keeping our students at the top of their game through meaningful employability work. It’s a lot, I know! But it’s the nature of Students’ Unions, to keep fighting the good fight and hopefully doing it well!
What would you like future City to look like?
I’ve met some phenomenal people working at City and there are fantastic examples of them doing work that other institutions wish they could do. A future City would be exemplary in showcasing this, demonstrating to students why they should come and study at our institution and exactly what they can expect to receive. We’re uniquely placed as one of the few commuter student institutions in London, if not the United Kingdom. What an achievement it would be to be named the number one destination of choice for commuting students, a place that is accessible both physically and digitally for all, regardless of who you are or where you’re from. That’s what I’d like City to look like, I’d like to think we’re on our way there.
How can alumni support you and the Student’s Union?
We’re always looking to expand our networks. We have a number of campaigns funded by departments and bodies external to our Union: every penny goes towards looking after our students. We also cherish every piece of advice, guidance and expertise we can receive; we have a number of external trustees on our Board, why not get involved? I would love for alumni to get involved by contacting me or the Students’ Union more generally. I’m all eyes and ears when it comes to learning from the wisdom of others and would love to expand the Union’s horizons when it comes to alumni engagement. Alumni are uniquely placed in that they were once City students and members of our Union – we have so much to learn from the experiences of those who came before us and can only do so if you get in touch!
To contact Saqlain or the City Students’ Union team, please visit citystudents.co.uk/contactus/