Rhuanedd Richards on student politics

AS elections are everywhere at the moment, crowding your social media feeds and this very website, we’re asking why student politics is so important to people.

Rhuanedd RichardsChief Executive, Plaid Cymru

Rhuanedd Richards
Chief Executive, Plaid Cymru

Should it be important? Why does it make a difference? What makes candidates run for election? Why should uninterested, disengaged students, be bothered to vote? To try and get answers to these questions, I tracked down some high-profile ex-officers of Aberystwyth Students’ Union in the hope that they had the answers.

In a series of interviews that will be online over the next few days, I firstly spoke to Rhuanedd Richards, who is currently Chief Executive of Plaid Cymru, and was President here at Aberystwyth in 1995.

Since leaving Aber, she went on to work as a political correspondent for the BBC both on TV and Radio, and worked as a special adviser to the Welsh government before becoming Chief Executive of Plaid in 2011. She attributes a lot of her success to her time involved in student politics.

Why did you choose to get involved in Student Politics?

I’d been involved in Student Politics since my first year, because I genuinely felt that students were under threat. Grants were being cut and there was a big spectre of tuition fees potentially being introduced. I felt passionately then as I do now that education should be free, and I still believe that the cost of education is a deterrent for some. I saw the fact that some students were unable to come to University because of the cost, and one of the key reasons I ran for election was because I wanted to change this.

There were many other reasons for me to get involved in Student Politics: I felt at the time that the Students’ Union could engage more with students and offer better services to them in areas such as social events and entertainment provision – this was something that I also wanted to change.

Do you look back on your time involved in student politics with pride?

rhuanned newThey were the best years of my life, and I think that we (the officer team) made a lot of difference on a number of levels. We were involved in many campaigns, and fought hard against the introduction of tuition fees, warning the University of the impact that fees would have. We didn’t win the fight, but we fought hard, however it’s perhaps through battles such as this that some have become disengaged with student politics.I’m also proud of the individual casework we undertook when I was president, such as helping to save a Malaysian student from being deported. I’ve kept that memory with me because it shows how much student politics can make a difference to people’s lives.

After you left Aberystwyth, you studied a postgraduate course in journalism, before working for the BBC as a presenter and producer, and then becoming a special adviser to the Government before becoming Chief Executive of Plaid Cymru. How did your experience involved with the Students’ Union help?

It helped in a massive way. Even back then, employers were looking for something extra. Being involved in the Students’ Union taught me so many things and helped me a lot in my future career. It gave me confidence, taught me how to win an argument, it taught me about marketing, managing a budget, and human resources, and I learnt about politics. Now, as Chief Exec of Plaid, I look for these skills as well as others. It’s important for students to show interests outside of their studies, be it through sport, music, theatre, or student politics.

Do you think that students are disengaged with national politics, could political parties such as your own do more to gain student votes?

Untitledrhuanned new 2I wouldn’t be complacent about it. I’ve got a theory that students aren’t apathetic. If you talk to students, they really care about the cost of living, about job opportunities, and they care about the current concerning education situation. They care passionately, and it’s not apathy. Whether some parties have positioned themselves in such a way where they can respond to these concerns is another matter – it’s a challenge for all political parties, to be able to engage and offer solutions. Plaid Cymru has a strong network of student groups across Wales and the rest of the UK, and we have to take the message to them, we encourage student groups across Plaid to reach out and to talk to people about politics.

Why should students take an interest in their Students Union, and why should they vote?

Looking back on my experience, I hope that I made a difference as Union president. I hope that during my time as an officer, there were individuals whose life I made a little bit easier, either through fighting their corner when it came to hardship funding, or whether it was fighting for a campaign. You need somebody who is going to be in a position to show that leadership. If the student voice isn’t represented in the University community and the local community, which is equally important, then nothing will change. If you want to make a difference, you have to be a part of it. If you’re happy with your lot, then maybe you don’t feel the need to cast your vote, but I don’t know many people like that and I think people should get involved.