Before being elected as CUSU Access & Funding Officer last year, Ahmed was access officer on Christ's JCRBecca Nichols

An understanding of how CUSU works from the inside is undoubtedly current Access & Funding Officer Shadab Ahmed’s biggest strength as a candidate for CUSU president. He tells me that in his view, “continuity and experience are a lot more powerful than people might think.”

Ahmed discusses the limitations of the one-year tenure for sabbatical officers, where “if you’re spending three months learning how to do the role, that’s a lot of time to make up for in the rest of the year”. He goes on to say that he thinks running for two years in a row should happen more often, “because you then have an idea of how you work, how the union works, and how you can build that up into legacy work”.

Despite this background, Ahmed insists that “I don’t think that I’m a CUSU hack, and I never was before”, adding that he hadn’t even considered running for president before he was well into his sabbatical year. Reflecting on his work as Access Officer, Ahmed says: “I know I can do work with prospective students, and I want to bring that to current students, and see what I can achieve there”. This year has also seen the CEO of CUSU leaving, which, from Ahmed’s perspective, makes “a smooth transition” even more important in this election.

It is clear that Ahmed will be running on a platform of continuity, and carrying on the work that CUSU has done this year. That said, last year, Evie Aspinall won on a platform of changing CUSU from the outside – I ask Ahmed if he is worried that he risks being seen as too much of an “insider” by those who support this viewpoint. But as someone who also ran as a relative outsider last year, Ahmed says he doesn’t think this will be the case, saying “I wouldn’t say I’ve become a caricature of what people think when you say CUSU”.

He adds that he still thinks of himself as fairly “grounded”, keeping in touch with student concerns through conversations with friends, and his work with students as Access Officer.

Ahmed’s campaign focuses on four broad areas: support, empowerment, fundraising, and, unsurprisingly, access. This includes welfare support for sabbatical officers, which he thinks will help them make the most of what can be a “tough year”, and working to further the integration of different student support systems across the University, saying that students currently face the risk of “slipping through the cracks”. And he sees college inequalities as one of the most important issues facing students, which he hopes to tackle through increased coordination across colleges, and creating a stronger bridge between the university and the colleges.

In terms of how he hopes to increase engagement, Ahmed says that he is hoping to work with groups of students who might not feel as represented by CUSU, such as sports teams, while acknowledging that CUSU remains a political union at its “core”. He further noted that if students feel represented by college, he sees it as more important to focus on supporting JCRs and MCRs in their ongoing work.

For a presidential candidate, Ahmed’s background is highly access-focused, both in his tenure as Access and Funding Officer, and as Access Officer on Christ’s JCR. I ask if he is concerned that he’ll find it difficult to let the incoming CUSU Access Officer make the role their own. “I do have strong feelings about access, but there is a reason I’ve decided not to re-run”, Ahmed says, adding that in his view, “access really is for people to shape for themselves”. Therefore, “it’s up to [the next officer] how they want to shape the role, and I will support them in that”.


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With the benefit of hindsight, I ask him how effectively he thinks he has implemented his campaign promises from last year, which focused on transparency, diversity and post-offer support. While emphasising that he still stands by them in principle, and that he feels he has done highly effective work focusing on diversity, he acknowledges that with “transparency, you hit all the legal guidelines, and that’s something I wouldn’t have known before coming to the role”.

This comes back to the experience he has now, with him telling me that “it’s good to be ambitious” but just as important to know where the boundaries are. That said, “there’s always a compromise and you should always fight for that as much as you can”. Based on his understanding of the way that CUSU works, he insists that his campaign promises “are quite easily deliverable … but I want to do them well, I think that’s the step up”.

Stressing continuity and experience which he sees as his major selling points as a contender for president, Ahmed promised that as president he’d be able to “hit the ground running straight away and start to make change from the beginning”.

Quickfire questions

Describe yourself in three words.

“Witty, fun, focused”

What would you want your last meal to be?

“Steak, chips, mushroom sauce”

What’s your biggest regret in Cambridge?

“Drunk texting after a first date”

Coffee or Tea

“Tea”

What’s your favourite place in Cambridge?

“The river – rowing on the river was always my favourite thing to do”

Gardies, Van of Life, or Van of Death

“Van of Death – they do Halal Chicken, so I can eat it, and there’s no queue ever”

What’s your guilty pleasure?

“I like to buy a whole tiramisu and just eat it all – that or drunk texting”

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