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.
Our series continues with the Education Officer, the students’ point of representation within the University of Nottingham for issues that relate to academic studies. It is a diverse position and the elected representative will have a wide range of issues to address and respond to. With areas such as the library, tuition fees and the university’s place in the league tables falling under the Education Officer’s purview, the question is which candidate can deliver on some issues of paramount importance for students – education is why we’re here, after all.
Daniel Gadher writes…
When discussing the role of the Education Officer and how to achieve change, Phil comments that as a representative, “sometimes that happens on the big lobbying scale telling the university we don’t want to pay 7000 pounds for our fees, and sometimes that’s going to happen on the really small scale – perhaps someone who has been unfairly graded and needs representation”. Phil thinks he’s ready for both.
Arguing that “the government’s case for raising fees is flawed”, Phil also addresses the wider issue of the higher education budget, which he says “has [had] a lot of money cut out… which affects any number of things”. He states in his manifesto that while cuts are necessary, he wants to “ensure the University makes educating us a priority”.
Phil also believes that the library facilities of the university are inadequate, pointing out that “academic spending at Nottingham doesn’t compare well with the other top 20 universities”. To address this he says that “one thing I would like to encourage is students letting the library know they want more copies of books”. Another way he seeks to improve the library is “to improve access to the resources we have, whether short loans need to be looked at and 24hour library access extended beyond what it is now”
When addressing his student feedback policy, Phil has seen the need for greater involvement and activity from course representatives, suggesting “training for students who are course reps – just to help them briefly understand how they can be more pro active about finding out what students need”. However, this is not to say that issues will not arise during the year. Phil acknowledges the fact that a lot of his work “could be reactive”, and thinks he is the best man to deal with any problems that come up on the job. The issue of raising awareness of the student body to the issues facing higher education has arguably always been a problem, and it is imperative that any new information gets out to the students as effectively as possible. To assist in this venture, Phil has indicated his intention to set up a blog in an attempt to keep the students informed of issues as and when they occur.
Phil certainly needed to be quick on the draw as captain of last years’ University Challenge team – the question is whether he can apply the lessons he learned from Jeremy Paxman to his campaigning.
Will ‘Bicky’ Bickford Smith
The first policy on Will’s manifesto is to get Nottingham back up the league table. This is an ambitious goal and when asked about this policy he says, “I sat and I thought about what the main worry for students is when they are coming to university and when they are leaving, and I think it’s all about a university’s reputation”. Will, known as ‘Bicky’ in his campaign literature, is principally concerned with the fact that “Slowly but surely we have been moving down the table”, and his aim is to improve Nottingham’s standings in the league table by acting on his manifesto policies and improving the “educational experience of the students”.
Will admits there is “no one fixed answer” to getting Nottingham back up the tables but a number of issues will need to be addressed. One area he sees that improvement could be made is in library facilities, and he argues that “it all seems a bit crazy to me that if there is really important reading for students to do, they all rush to the library, get to short loan and the books aren’t there… I’d like to see more core books available.”
Improvement in communication between faculties and students, in Wills opinion, “requires change [in] the tutor system” to amend a system he regards as inefficient. Will feels this will be achieved by “implementing a system where tutors actively care about student’s progression throughout university… none of this new tutor every year”.
Discussing tuition fees, Will states that, “I want to keep fees fair… that doesn’t mean I’m going to campaign to have them scrapped. I don’t think that’s the right way forward”. Looking to the current situation, he feels the need for “a combined contribution for the individual and the state”. To resolve this issue he feels that it is about “finding the right balance”. He suggests this is close to what we have at the moment yet he is adamantly committed to not seeing a rise in tuition fees, commenting the he will make a “firm commitment to actively campaign against the rise in tuition fees. I completely believe that no student should be denied, if they get the right grades, the opportunity to go to university due to a worry about lack of means” he comments.
Talking about his experience for the role, he feels his previous roles – in groups like Politics Soc and as Vice-Chair of the SU Council – will give him adequate experience. He adds that, “I feel like I have my finger on the pulse of the student vibe, and about how they find university education at the moment”
Faruk Patel’s central policy is concerning tuition fees: “My number one goal if elected is to oppose universities’ attempts to increase tuition fees”. He sees the government’s attempt to remove the tuition fee cap as “fundamentally wrong”, claims that the increase will only have a damaging effect on higher education, and states that the rise will “discourage many people from poorer backgrounds going to university… I will be adamantly opposed to it”. Faruk believes that the way to achieve change is by acting through what he describes as the “effective mobilisation of people” by using “the popular support amongst the students, making your voice heard and running effective campaigns to make sure the university is listening”
Faruk also discusses the student satisfaction survey and its effect on Nottingham University in the league tables. “In recent years I think it is well known the University of Nottingham has slid down the league table and many people have attributed that to the student satisfaction survey”, he said. He has commented that “ever since those surveys have been introduced many students have expressed their dissatisfaction with the amount of contact hours they have with their tutors, the lack of feedback and the lack of academic support”. Faruk pledges that “If elected I promise to bring those concerns and issues that students prioritise to the university management”.
The state of the libraries are another concern for Faruk: “We are meant to be a top ten university but our library does not reflect a top ten university”, he says, “I think the university needs to take a greater interest in this matter. it is one of the reasons why students have cited this as a level of unhappiness with the university… we need to raise this with the university and I will make sure I do that”.
Faruk has several suggestions on how to actively improve student awareness by “making the most use of Facebook” as well as “making more use of the JCR presidents to make it easier to let all the freshers know what is happening at the university” He feels that these will attract student attention to educational issues.
Faruk concludes by saying, “I don’t take this position lightly and I will not take it for granted. I have no doubt, if elected as Education Officer, I can acheive good results”.
Georgia’s motivation for running for the position of Education Officer comes from her experiences as a joint honours student. She argues that “It made me aware of problems and, as this has developed, of other problems the education officer deals with”.
The improvement of departmental communication and co-operation is a large part of Georgia’s manifesto, and she thinks that simply “making sure departments know what’s going on between each other” is of crucial importance in the role of Education Officer. She thinks that at the moment there is “no communication whatsoever”.
Another key part of her manifesto is to place more importance on support systems and structures within the University of Nottingham. The use of ‘buddy’ systems are an important way in which Georgia feels she can improve these. Georgia feels that an improvement to such systems – as already used by some departments – is the way forward. She thinks that ‘buddy’ systems should be “compulsory across the board, so there is always someone to turn to”.
Georgia has also raised concerns over what she feels is an inconsistent marking system and she hopes to rectify this. She claims that “a first in one subject is a lot more difficult to achieve than a first in another”, and feels that only with a more uniformed marking system will opportunities for graduates at the University become fairer.
Georgia suggests that improvements in areas such as Course Representatives can start as early as Week One, stating that she wants “more Course Reps to be more prominent in the departments with more publicity”, and wants to “make Week One the start of the education”.
She is committed to increasing bursaries and keeping course fees down, and while a conspicuous absence from Georgia’s manifesto is a list of experience, Georgia feels that simply being a part of the educational system she has the experience needed to make an improvement: “because I have had to work the whole time I have been at University, I know how difficult it can be”.
“Your ability to take part in education should not be based on your ability to pay” is Emily Faulkner’s forthright stance on the potential rise in tuition fees. Emily feels that if she becomes Education Officer she will need to “work with other higher education and other further education units, putting pressure on MP’s to listen to students”, in an attempt to keep tuition fees manageable.
A rumour had been going around at the time of the interview that reading weeks may start to disappear, and this had caught Emily’s attention. She is adamantly opposed to their removal, as she feels that, “reading weeks allow independent research and taking it away would be detrimental to students”.
Feedback on coursework also features as a policy on her manifesto. She believes that the current system is inadequate, as “at the moment we are getting a number on a page and copied and pasted words”. Emily looks to improve this by pushing for “individual feedback that relates directly to the work we have done”.
Emily believes in being pro-active when it comes to this role, arguing that “the really key thing about this is being active, getting out there, handing out surveys, reviews, making sure the course reps and faculty co-ordinators are doing their jobs properly, and then you can put it in place by taking it to the higher positions”. She pointed out the importance of the satellite campuses when discussing student integration, particularly with Sutton Bonington, Derby and Mansfield. “Making sure all students are looked after and getting the satellite campuses involved are really important things”
Emily also believes that the university needs to do more in making careers advice information easier to access. She states it is all about “bringing accessibility of information to the students”. At the moment she feels that the careers service is insufficient: “The careers centre is full of a variety of information but it is completely inaccessible”, and she thinks that the centre for career development should be more open and more publicised.
For Emily, the priority for the Education Officer will be to “make sure the students are heard” and to remember that “it is our money, it is our education; we need to make sure that things change the way we want”.
Images by Matt Turner