Over the course of the last couple of weeks, Impact has been gathering information and speaking to all of the candidates for the Executive of your Students’ Union. Our reporters have probed, questioned, and endeavoured to find a way of differentiating between the candidates – to find out to just what is underneath the manifestos and what our potential leaders stand for. In the next few days, expect to see an article covering each candidate for the Executive this year.
We begin our series with a bang, looking at the first among equals. With an Executive team to manage, a wide ranging remit and a task of representing around 40,000 students across numerous campuses, the President of the Union is the fulcrum upon which the Executive turns. Five candidates are currently contesting the position, but considering a campaigning style from James Phillips which could be charitably described as ‘absentee’, our focus is upon Ben Ingram, James Torrance, Will Vickers and Hannan Azhar. The campaign is, however, set to be extremely closely contested.
Justine Moat writes…
Ben Ingram has launched his campaign to become Students’ Union President on the bold promise to make the Union more approachable and accessible in its interaction with students. In addition to this far-reaching goal, he is hoping that his manifesto pledges of fairer cab prices, more graduate opportunities and fighting tuition fees will win over enough students to ensure he is elected.
Impact sat down with Ingram, a third year Product Design student, to discuss the feasibility of his policies and to find out what his main priority would be if he were President of the SU.
“I’ve called it ‘transparency’ in my manifesto, but it’s accessibility”, he tells us. In practice, this means “getting a single line of communication and getting that out to as many people as possible…like recently when we had the push to go and lobby the rise in student fees. That’s an important message, it shouldn’t be going out in five different Facebook messages that people are just going to delete.” Instead, Ingram promises to provide regular podcasts and videos aimed at students to show them what their SU is doing for them on a daily basis. In return, he pledges to make sure that the SU is in “a position where any student that has something to say feels they have an accessible and constructive way of telling us about it.”
Given his obvious commitment to the idea of communicating with students, it is unsurprising that Ingram is using video as part of his campaign. His first video (the clever and brilliantly executed One Take) sees him walking a Lenton street whilst outlining his key manifesto policies in just over a minute, in a single shot (“no clever editing, no gratuitous shots of Portland”). The second is a fairly amusing spoof of the Keira Knightley/Andrew Lincoln ‘carol singers’ scene from Love Actually.
These efforts may well provoke a chuckle amongst voters, but the question is can Ingram deliver more than some viral gimmicks?
Sure, his “fair cab prices on all your nights out” pledge is undeniably populist and will, by his own admission, raise issues with local cab firms and the city council, but it is well-researched. Inspired by a trial programme currently being run by the SU Marketing Department along with City Cabs, this policy is based on the idea of set prices for particular routes across Nottingham. The advantages are that passengers know the fare in advance and that the SU has a relationship with the taxi company so can help out if there is any hassle with drivers. However, how many cab firms would be included in this scheme is debatable. Ingram also advocates the introduction of cab wardens outside clubs who can radio in cars when required. This would discourage the widespread but illegal flagging-down of Private Hire cars. Ingram appears steadfast in his commitment to pursue these policies: “as far as I’m concerned, at the heart of it we’re trying to keep our students safe.”
Convincing voters of the feasibility of a fairer cab prices scheme is just one of the challenges Ingram faces. Two of his other key manifesto commitments are also being pursued by his opponent, Will Vickers. Both of these candidates have ranked the issues of fighting tuition fees and seeking more graduate opportunities as being amongst their top priorities.
However, Ingram’s policies are distinct in some respects. His approach to widening employment opportunities also encompasses the provision of more part-time work for students, because “there are a large number of students that have to have that secondary, or very possibly primary, point of income to be able to stay and live at University.” His pledge to improve coaching, equipment and investment in AU clubs is also unique in the Presidential campaign.
Whether Ingram’s policies will prove distinct enough to see off his competition will be put to the test at the Presidential Debate, when the candidates will go head to head for the first time in the campaign.
If he is elected as your next SU President, Will Vickers’ top priorities would be to introduce a free Lenton hopper bus and an online academic feedback facility. Whilst no one could accuse Vickers of not being ambitious, there is no denying that a Lenton hopper will be a struggle to implement.
The Lenton-campus hopper bus is a populist but potentially problematic commitment. Current SU President Rob Greenhalgh recently described the chance of such a service being created as ‘”very low”, but Vickers vehemently defends his pursuit of the issue: “it’s an issue that comes up year on year and I think for a good reason. If people have failed to do it in the past, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep going for it.” He believes that a Lenton hopper bus service could be created simply by re-routing one of the existing hopper buses – such as the one to Kings Meadow campus – as these rarely serve more than a handful of passengers.
If this proves to be impossible to achieve, Vickers does have a Plan B: “the no. 34 bus to me represents an extortionate deal for students. At the moment, it costs the same to get from the centre of town to Beeston as it does to go from Lenton to campus… If in my time I couldn’t get the hopper bus I would want to get something and that would be the removal of the flat rate and to bring in a cheaper rate for students between Lenton and campus.” With this issue proving to be a hot topic among candidates for many positions in this election, Vickers’ ability to argue that such a service is actually achievable will have wide ramifications for the campaign.
Another of Vickers’ objectives is the creation of an online system of academic feedback. “The key thing a Students’ Union has to provide is academic representation”, he argues. Vickers envisages that rather than waiting for the end of semester Module Evaluation Forms, students should be able to visit a website if they feel short-changed by a particular lecture or seminar. Comments about teaching would be forwarded straight to the course representative, “making sure that your voice is being heard by those people who need to hear it.” Vickers also promises to improve academic services in the area of postgraduate provision, where he hopes to acquire more printers and longer library opening hours.
Whilst these unique policies will be advantageous to Vickers in his campaign, he faces competition from his opponents in two policy areas. He and Ben Ingram are both running on the platform of promising better graduate jobs; Vickers hopes to achieve this by working with the Centre for Career Development to hold drop-in sessions where final year students can seek advice on job applications and interviews. As well as this, he faces competition from James Torrance on the issue of increased storage for AU groups and societies. His current position as New Theatre President makes this an issue which Vickers feels particularly strongly about: “at Nottingham University we don’t have a building that is specifically and only for students… That policy is about me fighting to make sure students are well provided for.”
On the subject of his competition, Vickers appears quiet but confident: “I hope that my manifesto speaks for itself and that whatever they do, students use their vote, because they’ve only got one chance this year to use it.”
James Torrance is bidding to become President on the promise to lead the SU in being a more independent organisation that stands up to the University more. It is certainly a bold pledge regarding an issue that many students aren’t aware of. Impact caught up with Torrance to see what all the fuss is about.
“The biggest issue facing the Union is independence from the University,” he tells us. Having sat on the SU Council, Torrance has seen how much the SU often has to struggle to make its voice heard by the University. He highlights the issue of how the SU relies on the University for funding: “the SU Exec is scared of losing the block grant and so is reluctant to challenge the Uni. But that is students’ money… As soon as you say things like ‘we don’t even want to ask for that because the Uni might cut our block grant’, you’re not serving the interests of students in the way you should be.”
This was the motivation for his manifesto pledge to increase SU storage and office space, a policy that is opponent Will Vickers is also advocating. Torrance explains that “the way we run our Union and our bars is massively dependent on the fact that we don’t have any independent space – we are dependent on the University.” He wants to establish a fund (using any surplus that the SU makes) which could pay for an independent and probably off-campus space for the sole use of the SU. Torrance admits that this is “a really, really long-term, ambitious target” but argues that “if somebody had done it 30 years ago, we would have it by now.”
Another topic we wanted to discuss with Torrance was his policy to introduce a late-night SU pizza delivery service. Whilst many students will no doubt be excited about the prospect of this, is it really feasible? Torrance leapt to the defence of his pledge, saying “I think it is certainly feasible because Mooch and the Den do pizzas at the moment… all you would need to do is employ people for longer and maybe buy a couple of bikes to send people round campus.” He acknowledges the fact that the SU would not be able to match other pizza suppliers’ prices, but adds that “we would take the profit and put it back into making life better for students rather than putting it into the pockets of Dino’s or D2.”
This is not the only policy of Torrance’s that is likely to have a strong popular appeal. He is also in favour of reducing the price of drinks in the SU bars. “Prices in Mooch and the Den are kept artificially high as a welfare issue,” he explains. “I don’t think that is the right approach.”
He also would like to see the return of January revision week. Whilst admitting that it is an adventurous aim, Torrance says “the thing that annoys me about this is that two years ago we had a January revision week… The University sneaked it out and they have never really been questioned on it.”
Torrance’s other policies include the introduction of a full-time Intersite Officer to help deal with problems affecting students on satellite campuses and reform of SU Council. Council, he believes, “is getting worse every year”. He points to issues such as poor attendance that need to be tackled so that it has a proper democratic mandate.
Interestingly, Torrance is the only Presidential candidate who has published his own analysis of his opponents’ manifestos on his website. Whether this will convince the electorate to vote for him remains to be seen.
Hannan Azhar is contesting the Presidency with a view to redistribute power within the SU as well as tackling serious national political issues outside the University.
As the first elected International Students’ Officer, Azhar feels especially strongly about the proposed government initiative to impose ID cards on all international students studying in the UK. The system is aimed at ensuring that international students attend lectures rather than work whilst they are in the country. Azhar explains: “the government has said in the long-run this policy will reach out to everybody, but we’re ‘experimenting’ on international students to begin with, which I find weird. That is something I intend to campaign against.”
Whilst the severity of this issue amongst international students cannot be denied, the wider student population will want to know what Azhar can offer them. He declares: “I think I might have an edge regarding international students but I’m not just bound by that. I want to make sure everybody gets involved.”
Azhar plans on getting more students involved with the SU through increasing awareness through better advertising and marketing. “A lot of people know the SU exists” he says, “but they don’t necessarily know how it influences them… We need to reach out and we need to tell them this is what we’re doing, any feedback is appreciated and this is how you can get involved.” Methods that Azhar plans to use include e-petitions and visiting campuses such as Sutton Bonington and Jubilee Park more often. Bringing students from satellite campuses into the fold is a recurring theme in this election, and Azhar states: “I believe that we would have to go to these campuses a lot more and make sure we organise events and make them more involved in what’s going on here.”
If elected, he would also want to address what he sees as an imbalance of power within the SU Executive. “I believe there is this gap between the Executive and the Rep Officers and the Faculty Coordinators… I want to empower Faculty Coordinators and Rep Officers a lot more because these groups within our SU politics are there to ensure nobody’s left out… So I want to give them a lot more to do and also assist them with anything they might want.” As a former JCR member, he also feels that JCRs are another group who could be included more in the SU.
On a national level, Azhar believes that he has unique experience that would enable him to pursue national student issues, having served on the NUS Campaign Committee. “Our University is very active in terms of involvement in the NUS” he says, “but I want to take that to the next level.”
For now, Azhar plans to try and explain his manifesto policies well enough to win students’ votes. “I just want to make sure that before they cast their vote they are well-informed” he tells us, “because in the end it does matter and they should take the process very seriously.”
Images by Matt Turner