Despite a poor turnout, with most of the audience being current SU officers, and the fact that both candidates are running unopposed; the Postgraduate Question Time for Education Officer Candidate Michael de Vletter and Postgraduate Students’ Officer Candidate Georgia Thresh produced a remarkably interesting debate.
The candidates presented a united front, agreeing on many issues, especially on the dealing with the problem of getting more participation through “grassroots levels”. De Vletter asserted again and again that this can be achieved by better integrating Faculty Co-ordinators and School Reps into the Education Network. He acknowledged that this is a pledge that many Education Officer candidates have made in past years without really delivering but expressed hope that “this year will be the year where it finally happens”.
When asked how to better improve postgraduate representation, Thresh responded that the main problem was getting postgraduates interested in the Students’ Union, especially with PhD students who often “don’t feel part of the SU”. She described getting Postgrads interested in the SU was often “like banging your head against a wall”, but said that this could be partially achieved by raising awareness allowing more feedback within the Postgrad Network.
When asked if she thought that the Postgrad officer should become an SU Executive member as it requires a year out of university and is paid, Thresh replied no, as “The Postgraduate Officer does not represent all students of the University”, whereas the Students’ Union Executive do.
There were also, unsurprisingly, many questions relating to the increase in tuition fees. De Vletter stated that while the university would have to ensure better value for money with more contact hours for many courses saying that he, as an English and History student, only has four hours. De Vletter refused to say that a rise in tuition fees was a completely terrible thing, stating that there were some positives, such as the changes to the payback scheme. Although Thresh expressed a worry that an increase in tuition fees for postgrads could result in many students being unable to do certain courses. She said that this already happens to some extent with Postgrad students often deciding on a course that costs £4,000 rather than £10,000.
Although at some points the candidates were a little vague in how they would achieve some of their aims, they both agreed that the main changes they wanted to make to their departments was to make them more cohesive, with better participation.