Abbie Hutchinson is the outgoing President of Newcastle University Students’ Union. During her presidency, Abbie has helped establish the Newcastle Student Fund, which has raised £370k to support our student community in its first year.
These donations have allowed us to support more students from asylum-seeking backgrounds to access higher education; more students to get involved in University society’s and sports; and returning students attend their rescheduled graduation ceremonies following the pandemic.
We spoke with Abbie to find out what life is like for a Newcastle student in 2022 and how alumni donations have made a difference during the turbulent past few years.
Hi Abbie! Could you first of all introduce yourself and tell our alumni a bit more about you?
I’m Abbie Hutchinson, the current President of Newcastle University Students’ Union. I came to Newcastle in 2015 to study History as an undergrad, and then returned in 2020 as a postgraduate student, on our MSc Global Public Health course.
During my undergraduate degree, I was involved in the History Society, and volunteered as a Peer Mentor and Student Ambassador.
Can you tell us a bit more about your role as President of the Students’ Union and what you’ve been focusing on in the past year?
I’m one of seven Sabbatical Officers at NUSU, and we were all elected by the student body. We’re there to represent our students when big decisions about the University are made – so I sit in on a lot of meetings!
Having experienced being an undergraduate, a confused graduate and a postgraduate, I feel motivated to improve the entire university experience, including the Newcastle community beyond graduation. I’ve been keen to push lots of opportunities for our students to engage with the wider University community, and the North East community outside of our University bubble, through volunteering.
I was elected as President in the summer of 2021, following a really difficult year for all of our students as they juggled remote learning and the fear and confusion around COVID. I really wanted to make this year a social, fund and memorable time for them – it’s what all students deserve to experience!
The overarching vision for me has been to create a vibrant, welcoming, inclusive and sustainable campus where we can all thrive, both academically and personally.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Every day is different. Today I was working on an international project that began in Scandinavia to support asylum seekers and refugees, followed by a meeting for this year’s Celebrating Success Awards (where there are two categories for alumni!), showcasing student activism. And tonight we have the Athletic Union Ball!
I love how varied and busy we are as Sabbatical Officers and getting to work so closely with the other six Sabbs has been such fun. I know it’s a cliché, but the people really do make it for me.
What does the future look like for Newcastle students?
That’s a very broad question! I think the future is very bright for Newcastle students. From my perspective, I think the University are learning a lot from the pandemic and that’s informing changes to improve the student experience. I’m looking forward to seeing a more equitable and diverse campus.
What are the biggest challenges facing the student community?
I’d say there are three big challenges facing students right now, whether that’s at Newcastle or elsewhere.
It’s been such a difficult couple of years for students, not getting face-to-face teaching, missing out on the social element of university life during lockdowns, but they’ve shown such resilience. This last year in particular has been really hard as everyone has been getting used to a more hybrid approach. Right now, our students are tired! And so it’s been a struggle to get them engaged in what we’re doing as a Students’ Union, even if what we’re doing would be a benefit.
A co-existing challenge is their mental health. It’s a global crisis, but I think has particularly hit students. They’re going through a period of such intense learning – both academically and within themselves, with many living away from home for the first time. It’s quite a vulnerable time, and when you’re 18 or 19, you don’t necessarily have the toolkit to deal with it. It’s something we’re campaigning on a lot at the moment at the SU.
There’s also the challenge of making higher education and university life accessible to all who aspire to it. Equality, diversity and inclusion has been high on my agenda during my presidency, and we’re seeing real improvement at Newcastle which I hope can continue.
How can philanthropic support combat these challenges?
We launched the Student Fund to the backdrop of a global pandemic, where applications for financial support from our student community increased by a third. It was a really challenging time for everyone, but because of donations we’ve been able to be there when it really mattered.
Now, with the cost of living crisis and changes to student loans, it can often feel financially impossible to be a student, let alone enjoy your time at university! Thanks to alumni donations in the past year, we at the SU were able to offer Participation Bursaries to students struggling to afford the costs associated with clubs, sports and societies.
Changes to university policy to alleviate these struggles can sometimes take a while to get in place, but with the Newcastle Student Fund we’re now able to offer support straight away. As well as the bursaries, our Athletic Union Officer was able to host an Active Women Week and is in the process of securing wheelchairs for our Wheelchair Basketball team. So the Student Fund is truly changing lives and helping us make university life more accessible.
There are so many students who would have missed out on memorable experiences if it hadn’t been for alumni support. It’s heartening to know that we have a wider community around the world who care for our students. You should know it has brought happiness and a sense of belonging to students in what continues to be a challenging time both academically and personally. Thank you!
And finally, what have been the most memorable moments from your time as NUSU President?
When I think of Newcastle University, I think of the Arches. I’m sure that’s a common image in the minds of our alumni too! I was based in the Armstrong building in my undergrad, so I would walk under the Arches and through the Quad every day. Every time I was going to a lecture I would stop and just think ‘I can’t believe this is where I get to study!’ The fact that I get to still do that walk every day on my way to the Students’ Union is really cool.
My stand-out memory from the past year has got to be welcoming students back to campus after lockdown! I’ve had so much fun with our students! Recently, I got to be a judge at the annual student Strictly Come Dancing charity competition with our Postgraduate Officer, Eleanor.
I was honoured to represent the University at COP26 last year. I never thought it would be possible for me to gain access to that kind of world, and to do social justice work on a global scale, so to be there was amazing. My MSc is in Global Public Health so it was really interesting to have that mindset during the conference.
Another very recent event that stands out in my memory is The Education Awards (TEAs) – which we held this week! These awards celebrate the impact our academics and professional staff have on our student experience. We heard so many beautiful stories and it really was a night to remember.