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Interview: VP Education & Democracy Candidate, Tevita Masi aka ‘David the Gentle Giant’

What course do you study?
I’m studying a master’s in Public Administration. It’s only one year, from September to September. I got into it from here, studying Law and International Relations.

Where are you originally from?
Well I call myself local but people laugh at it. I’m originally from Fiji. I came to England in 2005, I joined the Royal Navy to you know see the world. I think I did. After 8 years of serving, at the same time I became a British citizen and I came out of the Navy on honourable medical discharge. Straight away I joined the university.

What drew you to the University of Portsmouth?
It was the advertisements for the university. I went to look at Law and there were three potential universities I was considering. The university was promoting mooting and practical law. I also was reading up about the lectures, which were more practitioner compared to those which were just lecturing with concepts of Law. So, I did, I came and I see the difference. I feel very liberated to be part of the university here at Portsmouth because my experience back home is very different compared to the experience here.

What is your favourite thing about the city of Portsmouth?
Part of the city? Has to be the beach. Southsea is my escape area, I always go there when I’m stressed out. I sneak away down there sitting myself in a quiet area to relax. Southsea is the best.

Who is your idol and why?
Celebrity or anybody? I would say I always have a woman model in my life because of my mum, she was a strong woman. So, when I was in the Navy I discovered there was something special about women’s leadership. They are multitasking, they are very strong. They are very honest and they do things with detail. I kind of put myself as them, as I try to achieve that as I know men are faulty with doing things with details. So most of my morals are my mum. Celebrity also, Pink. I love her songs. Sometimes it’s a bit crazy, then it’s reality, it’s real. Those who freely express themselves, I like that. Those are against sometimes the social system, like for me from my home. It’s a very primitive kind of man is the man, woman is a woman. Women are classed as stay at home, should only look after children. It’s like an old tradition of women. But when I came here to the UK, I found myself, you know just everything is there and yeah, we just need to empower women forward, especially with their talents. I think the main thing that empowers me, as a man I feel in the Royal Navy and everywhere I go I can feel a bias. But for me, in my perspective we are all equal. It’s the same thing, we put equal effort into everything.

What is your dream job?
My dream job would be to be representing as a lawyer. Mostly in the human rights sector. I know it is a very sensitive area. If I take an example, we are arguing about this, returning of this lovely lady down from Syria who joined the IS. Most of my friends look at this as a threat. But for me, if I take my human rights ideologies and look at her. She is a woman with a child. Even though she has been there, all they are doing is holding onto her rights to life. Bring her home. It’s not a threat if it’s women and children. But, we need to put emphasis on the right of life. For them to enjoy their life and sometimes things happen, maybe mistakes. And we, ourselves, we can change it.

If you won the lottery what’s the first thing that you would buy?
I think a McDonald’s. I’d buy my own one [restaurant]. So I can make everyone accessible to it. It’s something that everybody loves. Especially now some operate 24/7, that’s just crazy. I just think everything they provide just tastes so nice. I think they are the number one.

What was the primary reason for you running in the student elections?
Well my problem is I joined the university out from the forces. I found myself a lot of barriers and I know other new joiners experience the same thing. Honestly, loneliness in Portsmouth University. You come here with no friends, lack of information which you have to find out and a lack of representation of things happening around me. You know, when there is something wrong with your printer and you don’t know who to ask. Who to direct to and I was staying in accommodation as well and I was found in trouble when they tried to change it, I was sick and they were like you have to go, I found trouble with that. There was a mistake of the administration. I came here with the promise of the bursary, which I received in the first year. But in my second year, they said ‘Oh we are sorry we give you the bursary as a mistake.’

So it’s kind of issues that are coming up for me, but then later in my second and third year I discovered it was other students as well that experience these kind of issues. You know because issues matter. If you categorise issues like that, even the locals. The first freshers when they are coming in, most of them are straight from home. Leaving home from their parents for the first time. I think that was the main focus for me when I tried to understand how to represent them. Also, most international students as well. They come over and they try to find help, some do know how to operate Moodle, some do not know where is MyPort. Some don’t know how to access the library. Everyday little things like that which I represent them to find.

Education is to provide everything we can at Portsmouth University for them to achieve that excellency. One of my main objectives is to maintain the gold standard we have this year. The other thing is most students don’t know how to access the GP here. They totally forgot to register. With the flu issues coming around they don’t know where to look for their doctors. So it’s kind of everyday little things like that is for the student health and safety primarily. Also, somewhere in my discussion group, people are complaining about paying 50p for hot water in the library. You shouldn’t have to pay an extra 50p just for hot water. I think a lot of small things, they’re not only concepts but practically they were attractive to me to apply for the position.

If you could change one thing that would instantly improve everyday life for students at the university, what would it be and why?
The main change is, that’s always a question I’ll always ask myself in legal terms as well. Can we do everything that students can have so they’re enjoying their experience here at the university. One change I come of this strongly is that every lecturer must record their lectures and seminars for students to access it. I remember my struggle as I came here out from the forces and I have some of these disabilities, you could call it. Mental and physical, so my hearing was bad. I had PTSD as well, which I, I have these symptoms like difficulties with concentration. But the thing is, actually I’ve been testing out the fact that, if we listen to somebody telling a story or lecturing after you’ve left, about 10 to 20 minutes later, you’ve forgot everything that’s been said or told to you by hearing.

But if you record your lectures and seminars, what the lecturers have taught the students, you can make time to revise it and listen back to it. Which is, I think, something permanent to make permanent resources which students could use at the end of their exams as well to revise. Which they’ve worked very hard for. That’s one main thing I am concerned about because as I am involved with my course and I’m a course rep with the master’s students. And many of them are international students, mostly from China, India, or an African background. Sometimes we receive very big English words, they are lost. Then that’s it, they’re gone. Sometimes when you have lectures, the issues are not present in their countries. They just have no idea what is going on. So if the message is being recorded and then after the lecture they can go back and listen to it. Maybe make a note and try to work out what those words mean. I think it would be helping lectures as well as compared to students because we will receive closure for more questions and enquiries because we can listen again. So, we might not hear it very well when we are in the lectures, but if you listen again we can review and answer our own questions. Or even discover more questions which we could ask the lecturers.

Could you sum up your manifesto for us in ten seconds?
I’ve got a very simple manifesto. The first one is to put the student first. Second, student lives matter. Third, student voice is important, silence kills. That’s my three main points. To put the student first, I want to come close to integrate with students, meeting them more often. Try to put their issues first, listen to them. I think listening is quite a good way to process issues. I want to take action, I want to see action for every issue. Keep going because if you don’t tackle the first issues, it could be like a cycle. And it could just keep going on and on, creating big crowds of students which could put great distance between me and the students.

The second one, students lives matter. Different students, different planet. I think to be able to represent them in education, in democracy and their rights. So, international students are fighting hard because their culture is different from our culture and we need to open up and tell them, you need to learn the culture over here. Not only culture, but the weather. You know, we need to warm them they will be cold in the winter and where to go as well. The local students, I try to encourage them – don’t look only at the undergraduate, when you just pass undergraduate that’s it, end of life, look for work. I want to encourage the undergraduate that you can do more. There’s research going on but there’s a lack of local students doing master’s and postgraduate. But I think I need to encourage them that you can do more. And I think we lost a lot of good students, going on to work after graduation, undergraduate. We lost a lot of thinkers in that time because we hold many top students here in the UK.

My idea of excellency, I want to promote them to move forward. And that’s the only way they can publish their knowledge and ideas to the world. The last one is the student voice is important, silence kills. I believe once, I had my mental illness it was quite horrible because it closed me within like a small prison cell. But when I voice it out to the specialists available, from one helper to another helper. I feel the massive prison cell releasing me so I can move forward the best way I can. And I enjoyed it. With other students, more help is also available. We’ve got ASK, we’ve got welfare and wellbeing. We’ve got students that are helping, engaging with other students. So don’t be silent. You shouldn’t stay silent for any issue whether it be physical, mental, education from all other backgrounds. If you need to be represented and to be known that you’ve been going through these troubles, let me know. Because I can help you. I can’t just see your body language and know, but if you voice it to me, I will do all my best to represent you.

As the role includes democracy, how important do you think it is for the union to be politically engaged?
Yes, the union is going through a lot. Also, we’re not the only union in the UK and we have a lot of stakeholders available. We need to look at the whole relationship between the unions and the university and other stakeholders. We need to encourage the stakeholders to increase resources to the university. I think the increase of resources, sometimes they call it lobbying, politically it is defined as lobbying. But, including negotiating. Then will they only know what we need or the resources that we need if we voice it out to them. Explain to them or negotiate to them that we really need some resources here in the university. Hopefully with every step, sitting in with the student union like the bus, traveling, the library open 24/7.

But there are other things that we need to explain ourselves to it. One of my things I need to, I want to say is the computers. Some of the computers are not working well. We need to consider because it’s a very essential tool for the students to use. I’ve heard a lot of students rely on the use of computers. Most of those who are in technical side of things, engineering, technologies, surveillance. They come with that issue because they are learning within the computers in the drawing. And mostly within the finance as well. So if you can emphasise the maintenance and the sustaining of these computers and the systems. For us and the stakeholders to invest more into that. So we can see the changes.

With regards to education and academic matters, how would you look to build on and maintain a positive relationship with the university whilst ensuring the needs of students are met?
One of my life learnings is self management and organisation. I think that’s the key. If you have no plan or a strategy to managing your position, it’ll be chaos. I think taking little things by little. Organising everyday issues with SMART objectives, are they specific, manageable, are they achievable. Some of the issues, you just don’t want to hear, you want to have a face to face solution. You talk to students and students talk to you. If I spent time with them, explaining things to them and they are explaining things to me you can negotiate what position they are. Then the matters can be solved. But there are some issues which have to be considered mostly on the legal side which I think would come across with students especially within democracy and education.

Because they just want to go out and experience the world, but some of them might be arrested and it will be affecting the student union and the university and I want to bridge that. I want to make sure whatever the decision or outcome, I want to make sure it should be fair. My prerogative at the university for the students is I am here because of them, I am serving them and I want to make sure they know they are a priority as well. Because you are here to educate and learn, not only in a matter of education but also in a matter of life as well. So challenges I expected but dialogue I think that is the main thing with me, we make a quick solution. I think a long term solution would be to represent them if there is a tribunal or appeal with the university. For each person, I think there would be quite a lot of representation needed.

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