“Whenever I go home my mum always asks me ‘have you got a real job yet?’ and I try to explain that I do have a real job. If I had to boil down what I do as the CEO of a students’ union it’s all about taking resources – financial, staff and space – and lining those up behind the priorities of the elected officers, democratic structure and the members.”
They’re the words of Ed Marsh-Rowbotham, De Montfort Students’ Union (DSU)’s Interim CEO. We caught up with Ed, a former SU and National Union of Students (NUS) officer himself, to see how President Dan Winney’s goal for the year of recruiting a new CEO for DSU is coming along.
But first, how did it all begin? “I guess my first involvement [in unions] was probably the same as a lot of people,” Ed said. “I came to university and as with most people it was a combination of extreme excitement and extreme terror – I went into my students’ union at the University of Hull not really knowing what it was and mainly to join a sports team.”
Fast forward two years of a politics degree (‘don’t hold it against me,’ he said), and Ed was elected as President. “I had a fantastic time,” he explained. “It was the best job in the world.
“For me the power of the SU was always the wealth and breadth of opportunities that it could offer and particularly the ability of students’ unions to transform lives. There’s lots that you get from your course but there’s also quite a lot that you get from being involved.
“For me, my degree was a little bit dry and at times quite tedious, but I found the students’ union stuff a lot more exciting. There was definitely politics there in getting me involved, but at its fundamental level I believe a students’ union should do its best by its members.”
Ed (right) pictured with DSU President Dan Winney in front of the Campus Centre at DMU. #YourNewDSU will largely be finished by the time Ed reaches the end of his interim role.
Ed then served as NUS’ Vice President Union Development for two terms between 2010 and 2012 and is now the permanent Director – equivalent to CEO – of Middlesex SU, while his interim role at DSU means he is currently spending two days a week on the De Montfort University (DMU) campus.
He explained: “I think De Montfort is a really interesting place. I’m from Leicester originally, and I grew up just down the road in Hinckley.
“My Dad was a lecturer originally at Leicester Polytechnic going back to the very old days of this university. He was here for the transition [in 1992] to university status and he taught here for about 25/30 years, so it was a university that was always talked about at home and a place that I’ve always had a real affection for.
“That’s what motivated me to split my time between Leicester and London and M1 – in essence, De Montfort is worth spending your life on the M1 for.”
So how does DSU stack up?
“There is a lot that is quite similar between the two universities [Middlesex and DMU], in particular the strength of diversity and the breadth of the student populations,” Ed said. “The thing that has really struck me about DSU is that there are two or three things that De Montfort do that are probably as good as, if not better than anyone else in the country in their areas.
“I genuinely believe that the content that Demon Media produces is as good as you will find anywhere, and I think Sulets; the idea that it is saving students a quarter of a million pounds a year in terms of fees is just a remarkable achievement.”
Ed will stay in his interim role until early next year when a new permanent CEO is found. And that makes it a time of ‘real change’ – but an ‘exciting one’ – for DSU.
“Once we get into the New Year there’s going to be a students’ union that has a new permanent CEO, a new building, new space, elections and new officers, and all of that is to come.
“It’s crucial for me, I think, and for the staff team that we don’t stand still and don’t wait for all that to start in the New Year but actually we need to start laying the foundations for that and keep the momentum coming because this should feel like the start of a new chapter in the history of De Montfort Students’ Union.
“What I’ve been hired to do is maintain that momentum and ensure that we move into 2017 in the best possible place in what is an extremely exciting time.”
"The best days as a staff member at an SU are where you empower the officers to go off and perform and achieve great things on behalf of students."