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‘On the Campaign Trail’ – The Portland Debate

Portland, the ‘hub’ of the Students’ Union, has played host to most of the individual position Candidate Question Times thus far. The Portland QT, however, is the only change for University Park students to grill all of the candidates standing for a position during the same session. As ever, Impact was there to report on the interesting debates that came from the Question Time…

The three candidates who are in the running for LGBT Officer responded in much the same way as they had done at Sutton Bonington and during the LGBT Question Time. There was a general agreement on homophobia being the biggest issue concerning the welfare of LGBT students, especially in halls. Elliott Reed had highlighted this problem previously and reiterated that; he wanted to work closely with “JCR officers to get them educated on immediate issues.” Abigail Alcock agreed, but emphasised the importance of recognising the need for an openness of gay and lesbian students claiming; “it would be nice to be able to see two boys holding hands”, this can only be achieved in an accepting environment. Christobel Burns was quick to identify that one of the weaknesses of the LGBT network was in fact that, “the same students come along to all the events”, there was no support for those who had not openly admitted their sexuality. To address this, she proposed “gayline”, which relieved the pressure on those who were not confident enough to openly admit their sexuality.

Questions from the floor for Mohamed Touqeer Ahmed, the only candidate running for the position of International Student’s Officer, were focused on the issue of spreading awareness of the International Students’ Bureau and the support it can offer. Ahmed accepted that increasing awareness and getting students actively engaged and involved in the network is the biggest challenge he faces after an audience member highlighted that last year’s ISB ball was cancelled due to a lack of interest. Ahmed believes that “publicity and access to clear information” is key to tackling this problem of lack of awareness.

Both the Postgraduate Officer candidate Georgia Thresh and Education Officer candidate Michael de Vletter are unopposed in their election campaigns, a clear sign of the perennial issue of Hobson’s Choice that faces the student electorate. Despite this, the candidates still engaged in debate with the Portland audience.
When asked about their views on the current Education Network and the effectiveness of communicating student feedback through the combination of Course Reps, School Reps and Faculty Co-ordinators, Thresh and De Vletter agreed that the current system was ineffective and in desperate need of reform. Thresh added that she had experienced the problems first hand as a Faculty Co-ordinator herself.

When asked how she would tackle the issue of getting postgraduate students actively involved in the student community, Thresh explained that this is problem requires a “long term strategy and will not be solved in a year”. She does, however, believe that publicity and spreading awareness of the work of the PGSA is crucial.

De Vletter was quizzed over his view of a recent library book amnesty that took place at Swansea University. After initial confusion about what a ‘library amnesty’ involved, De Vletter went on to praise the idea of having a period when over-due books could be returned without students being charged.
Both candidates agreed that over the coming year, in this new environment of increased fees, ensuring all students, under graduates and post-graduates receive ‘value for money’ from their education was their main priority.

Ellie Stone, our current Environmental and Social Justice Officer, kicked off the questions asking how candidate Sarah Lewis was planning on balancing the two parts of her job. She acknowledged that she “comes from a social justice background”, in light of her academic profile, but recognised that there is significant overlap. She furthered her point claiming environmental issues are often easier to tackle, through the use of recycling bins and an awareness of the need to care for the environment, however obviously social justice is more difficult to tackle.

There was a general agreement form the two candidates in the running for Democracy and Communications Officer that the SU Website, whilst it has been advanced by the current Exec, could still use some improvements, as it is essential as a means to communicate to the student body. Sam Bucknall enhanced this point claiming, “it’s the main point where students interact with the SU…It’s important to make sure, wherever you are, that you are part of the SU”. However, Danny Barry placed emphasis on the importance of reaching students “on a face-to-face basis…talking to people instead of emailing and handing out flyers”.

When it came to defining the SU Mission Statement, Danny Barry acknowledged he was unable to quote it, by comparison, Sam Bucknall could reiterate the statement word for word, comma for comma. However, both candidates, extremely enthusiastic, could talk for hours about their roles, but due to time constraints were continually cut off.

There was a general agreement among most of the Activities Candidates that widening student participation within the SU would need to address issues of publicity. Simon Murphy identified the improvements made during Freshers Fayre, acknowledging the fact that it led to wider participation. Hannah Turk agreed, but much like the Democracy and Communications candidates, identified that improvement of the SU Website would lead to a possible increase of student participation of particular societies. Gareth Whittaker suggested the novel idea of a “speakers corner” to help increase the exposure of societies all over campus. Ebba Wiberg, however, focussed on the training for committee members, addressing the need to have committee members who are aware of their role to increase the success of that society.

The candidates running for Finance and Services Officer acknowledged the need for student input showing commitment to the student body. Sam Le Pard highlighted the need to “focus on representing the students”; Rob Hudson added to this idea, claiming, “after all, it is our money”. Similarly, Phil Geller identified that his focus on students was a point of importance throughout his campaign, highlighting the initial point on his manifesto regarding “feedback” from the student body. The second point of importance regarded training. Geller and Hudson were in agreement about the need to improve training for treasurers. Geller highlighted the need “to improve support for organisational treasurers”. Hudson used his personal experience as Treasurer of Broadgate Park, to highlight inadequacies which need to be addressed, claiming; many of the other members of the committee saw the amount of money, which Broadgate was given, as a “bottomless pit” from which they could spend. On the other hand, Sam Le Pard claimed that the “training we get is [already] some of the best in the country”.

All Equal Opportunities and Welfare candidates were in attendance apart from Matt Byrne who sent his apologies as he was having emergency root canal work. The candidates faced a stream of testing questions from the Portland audience, the first of which concerned the problem of raising awareness of the activities of the BME network and the controversy surrounding last year’s BME election. All candidates stated that the work of the BME is vital, Rosie Tressler sympathised with the problems the network experience stating she experienced similar issues as Womens Officer, while Sophie Hindley voiced her intention to “work closely with the network to raise awareness through publicity”. Elorm Haligah promised “if elected, I will hold a by-election to get a BME candidate”, something that would need to be done regardless of the election result.
Rather fittingly, the issue of not neglecting satellite campuses was raised by a student online. All candidates pledged their commitment to ensuring satellite campuses are not forgotten, with Tressler and Hindley both agreeing that going out and speaking directly to students on satellite campuses was the way forward. Haligah remarked how his personal experience of living away from the University Park bubble would ensure that the voices of those on satellite campuses are heard.

By Priyal Dadhania and Helen Trimm

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One Comment
  • Anon
    8 March 2011 at 02:06
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    Good report, but AU? Pres? Accom&Comm?

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