Grilling The SU Exec

With candidates’ campaigns for the 2011 SU elections rapidly approaching, Impact decided to check in on our current Students’ Union Executive to see how they’ve been doing and get an idea of what we may reasonably expect from this year’s lucky winners, taking a look at the campaign manifestos of each member of the SU Exec to see if what was great in theory has been successful in practice.

The SU Exec is composed of 9 Executive Officers, all elected by students of Nottingham University to run the Students Union. Eight of these positions are ‘sabbatical’, meaning that the officers are either taking a year out of study or have finished their degree, and are therefore working full-time. The Environment and Social Justice Officer, however, is a non-sabbatical position; the current E & SJ Officer, Ellie Stone, works part-time alongside her postgraduate study.

Democracy and Communications Officer: George Wright

Responsible for:

  • Running SU elections, the SU council, and other democratic structures, and ensuring that all SU elections are fair and democratic.
  • Ensuring students know what the SU is doing for them, and how students themselves can make a difference.
  • Overseeing media Student Run Services (Impact, URN and NUTS).

Manifesto pledges and results:

1)      Use e-technologies for more publicity on careers services, elections, SU, and University

  • Elections are now completely electronic, which George asserts has made the system both more efficient and prompted a much higher turnout in NUS elections
  • A revamp of the SU website is currently underway, alongside consultation with the larger student body, hopefully to be completed by A-level results day this summer

2)      An accountable SU; more reviews, forums, petitions, and increased accessibility to representatives

  • The presence of elected officials on website has improved, but since this resource is not currently being accessed by students, this has unfortunately had a limited impact.
  • There have been an increased number of ‘rep awareness days’

3)      Increase support for media Student-Run-Services (NUTS, Impact, URN) – greater presence on all campuses, more say in how their sponsorship and advertising revenue is used.

  • George meets with heads of the Student Run Services in his remit approximately once a month.
  • A media SRS survey is to be conducted to help all media SRS’s to get in touch with exactly what students want in order to reach a wider audience.

4)      SU council reforms – electronic voting, web viewing, web questioning, better publicity, more interest

  • With hindsight, George feels this last pledge only offered superficial changes or “quick fix” solutions. He has now changed his emphasis, realising that longer-term solutions are needed for a council that has not been functioning well for a number of years. In fact, a review from students showed that the option of giving the SU council the power to make important decisions was the least popular, which George believes indicates the need for substantial change.
  • Much research has been conducted into ways of holding the SU to account, including visits to other Universities’ Student Unions.
  • Ideas involving the devolution of power to smaller, more focused forums, e.g. an education forum, a welfare and community forum, and a student employability forum, are currently being explored.

High points:

  • Week One: both the nights out and the Freshers’ Fair
  • Last SU Council of last term: George believes it was full of tension and contested opinions, but within a professional, responsible atmosphere

Low points:

  • National demos on tuition fees and education cuts were both a high and a low point; unfortunately, the impact of the peaceful demonstration was lessened by the activities of anarchists

Advice/words of warning to future candidates:

  • It is dangerous to try to achieve too much in only one year; this can lead to the quality of action being compromised.
  • Be honest; don’t promise things you cannot deliver, and remember that an apology goes a long way.
  • Pick your battles.

Equal Opportunities and Welfare: Katie Mackay

Responsible for:

  • Ensuring all students have access to the resources, information and support necessary to enjoy life at University
  • Running welfare campaigns to raise awareness of such issues as sexual and mental health and exam stress
  • Working with the Representational Officers to highlight issues faced by various groups, including black and minority ethnic students, women, disabled students, LBGT students, postgraduate students, mature students and international students.
  • Chairing the Welfare Network.

Manifesto pledges and results:

1)    Improve support given to and role of personal tutors in student welfare:

  • Reviews of tutors had already been done before Katie came into office; Katie claims much has been done since.

2)    Improve food quality and choice:

  • There will be a food survey conducted on 14th Feb on food and drink to find out students’ motivations in their food choices.

3)    Recognition of students on satellite campuses, nurses, and medical students:

  • Katie believes that simply by being present on Sutton Bonnington has increased the sense of involvement there; Katie visits once or twice a week, and makes an effort to include Sutton Bonnington students in all surveys.
  • For Katie, representation of doctors and nurses has been more challenging; this pledge is a work in progress.

4)    Increase of student feedback and participation and fulfilment of student rights:

  • Easy Tiger and safe sex campaign; internet polls have shown a related significant increase in sexual health.

Katie’s high points:

  • Week One and Easy Tiger as an opportunity to welcome Freshers.
  • Training new representatives.
  • Being a personal representative of Sutton Bonnington.
  • Conducting surveys to find out what students really want, instead of diving in and making decisions.

Katie’s low points:

  • By-election and difficulties in getting students involved.

Advice to future candidates:

  • Don’t be put off by opponents if you really want the position.
  • Remember the position is not about you, but about 33,000 students and faculty staff; see the bigger picture.
  • Grow a thick skin: don’t take criticism personally.

Activities Officer: Douggie McMeekin

Responsible for:

  • Helping Societies to develop, and guiding students looking to form new societies.
  • Ensuring that all Societies are safe, fair, and inclusive of all the SU’s members.
  • Representing and supporting most of the Student-Run-Services (including Week One, Karnival, Summer Party, and New Theatre)
  • Organising Refreshers’ Fair and the annual Societies Ball and Awards.

Manifesto pledges and results:

1)    Cheaper and better campus festivals; reduce pressure on Week One and Summer Party to turn a profit and provide a programme of free societies events

  • 5 events in Refreshers Week were personally organised by Douggie.
  • Week One unexpectedly made a massive profit (though this is obviously not its main purpose).
  • Douggie helped to drive the decision to remove SRS status from the Summer Party, although asserts that he made sure proposals for student involvement were redrawn to ensure student involvement. Now he believes Summer Party has a great events team and he is “more than happy” with the decision to reassign its status.

2)    Better website – more accessible and reliable centre of information that is also an enjoyable online publicity space, benefiting society and student.

  • The website is due to receive many improvements and changes, though this will be directed by the new Communications department.

3) More support for new and smaller societies – targeted handover training and more accessible societies exec

  • More than 6 new societies have emerged this year and have received Douggie’s support.
  • Douggies meets, on average, once a week with new societies

4) Intra mural (society) sport on a varsity scale – publicise finals and host exhibition matches

  • At the time of making this pledge, Douggie did not realise that it was outside his remit.

High points

  • Refreshers’ Week.
  • Being part of a professional team.
  • Cultural Festival (October 2010): his first event.
  • Enthusiasm for the job; “I may not be the most skilled…but I definitely care”.

Low points

  • National Demos (November 2010); there was a split in the university and within the exec team itself, making it difficult to work together. Lots of students were apathetic, but many were very angry. Difficult to know what students wanted the Exec to do and everything they did do was criticised.

Advice to future candidates:

  • Seek out, experience and appreciate societies: societies appreciate attention.
  • Be nice to Angela (Student Activities Support Worker).

Will Bickford  Smith, Education Officer

Responsible for:

  • Providing academic representation for all students on educational issues, both at a local and national level
  • Running the Education Network, in which students may offer feedback to the SU on their academic experiences

Manifesto pledges:

1)    Get Nottingham back up the University League Tables

  • Will has worked to increase student participation in the National Student Survey.

2)    Better stocked libraries: the books you need, when you need them

  • Posters are currently in production to be placed around the libraries to better explain how to retrieve a book if it cannot be immediately be found.

3)    Keep fees fair: ensure Nottingham University offers an accessible education

  • National legislation has partially undermined this aim. Will feels it is not the Students’ Union’s job to challenge the level of payment chosen by the University, but to hold the administration to account in providing students value for money after that decision has been made.

4)    Work with the University to create a first-rate personal tutor system

  • Will promises a “seismic shift” by making feedback more meaningful, internationalising the curriculum, and giving the tutor system of a central role from the first year in all courses.

High points:

  • His work with the National Student Survey.
  • Progress in developing Tutor system.

Low points:

  • The Government’s decision to raise tuition fees.

Advice to future candidates:

  • Be prepared for a busy role!

Environment and Social Justice: Ellie Louise-Stone

Responsible for:

  • Ensuring that the SU considers environmental and ethical issues in all actions and decisions
  • Supporting all students who care and campaign about environment and social justice issues, and providing opportunities for action
  • Lobbying the University to become a more environmentally sustainable institution

Manifesto pledges:

1)    Closer links between the SU and the Student Volunteer Centre to ensure we are making the most of their work

2)    Achieve the Silver award in Sound Impact awards

  • The University has almost achieved a gold award

3)    Improve recycling in Student Halls

4)    Enter the University for a Carbon Emissions Survey and make the subsequent changes and improvements.

5)    More regular blood donation sessions on campus

  • Despite Ellie’s best efforts, students have shown “no interest” in increased sessions

6)    Ensure that all SU and University products are ethically sourced, particularly food in Halls and bars.

High points:

  • Contribution to ‘Sounds on the Downs’.
  • Preparation for ‘Go Greener Week’ (to commence in mid-March).
  • Success of ‘Project Nottingham’ initiative.
  • Dedication to all environmental issues.

Low points:

  • Lack of student interest in increased blood donation sessions.
  • National Demos: a hard time for all of the SU Exec.

Advice for future candidates:

  • Try to set realistic goals and manifesto pledges.
  • Stay committed to tackling environmental and ethical issues.

Finance & (Commercial) Services Officer: Oli Margolis

Responsible for:

  • Overseeing all the finances of the SU, both its commercial services (SU shops, Mooch, the Print Shop) and the SU’s activities.
  • Developing the SU’s income streams
  • Ensuring that the SU budget is distributed fairly across all areas

Manifesto and results:

1) Better acts and cheaper tickets at the Summer Party and Week One

  • Oli supports the decision to shift responsibility for the Summer Party away from the Student Union, believing that this will protect the Union’s exposure to risk (as shown by last year’s £69,000 black hole in Summer Party expenditure) and will ultimately offer greater development opportunities.

2) An online treasury to allow clubs and societies to access their accounts when it is suitable for them

  • Unfortunately, security concerns restrict the feasibility of this initiative. A software package to send out financial information to SRS’s is, however, being made available.

3) Greater financial independence from the University; by drawing on our alternative income streams we can ensure that our Union remains our Union

  • Oli now reappraises the financial relationship between the University and the Student Union, stating that the Union and the University should be “working with each other for each other.”
  • Oli has created links with ‘MyStudentBills.com’ which gives a commission to the Wnion and offers a high financial yield at a low risk, thus opening up new streams of revenue.

High points:

  • Developing the Union’s independent income streams via ‘MyStudentBills.com’.

Low points:

  • National Demos: disrupted the work of the SU Exec as a whole.

Accommodation and Community Officer: Teddy Smith

Responsible for:

  • Representing students in their accommodation both on and off campus, ensuring that all students enjoy quality accommodation from the University and from private landlords
  • Representing students on healthcare sites and other campuses (e.g. Sutton Bonnington).
  • Supporting student volunteering through the Student Volunteer Centre

Manifesto pledges and stated aims:

1)    To engage with all campuses

  • For Teddy, there has been a successful integration of Sutton Bonnington with SU in terms of events and ideas for University students.
  • Teddy has worked closely with the Grantham and Lincoln campuses, visiting sites and setting up drop-in sessions, during which ideas can be shared and problems resolved. He is working closely with Will Bickford and faculty coordinators to try and resolve students’ course-related problems.

2)    To assist in reforming the Unipol Website

  • Teddy admits that this was a somewhat misleading aim, since he was not fully aware of how the website functioned beforehand.
  • He believes that the Combination Fair was a huge success – there was a turnout of 1,000 students on the day.
  • Teddy has been working progressively with Unipol to upgrade the website; there has been a 100% increase on turnout in house-hunting talks
  • Teddy is working with JCRs to deliver house-hunting guides to Halls; he has also conducted comprehensive training with JCRs to inform them clearly of their roles and responsibilities.

3)    Reform of SU website; will create an online forum whereby all students can easily contact the SU for an help, advice or representation.

  • Plans have been set in motion to transform SU website completely in future.
  • New communications team has now been hired to clean up the disorganised spread of information across the website.
  • Keeping information on the website up-to-date has been a success; daily news stories with links to Impact, NUTS and ‘Your Hall Your Call’. The latter has been a surprising and rewarding new challenge for Teddy.

4)    Paris style free bike lending system and improve the current hopper bus system

  • Fortunately, the University had been considering such an initiative anyway; the ‘Ucycle’ scheme marked a compromise (bikes available at an affordable price). The University is now pitching the idea of a city-wide system to Nottingham Council.
  • Teddy believes the timetable for the Sutton Bonnington Hopper Bus system has been much improved.
  • The Lenton ‘Hopper bus’ is not necessarily desired by the majority of students; it is also not really a financially viable option.

High points:

  • Week One final party.
  • Snowflake Ball.
  • Everything involved in the house-hunting campaign.

Low points:

  • Meetings with residents in Week One; residents were often angry and uncooperative.

Advice for future candidates:

  • Enjoy working as a team with the other members of the SU Exec.
  • Be prepared to interact with students all the time, anywhere on campus; it enables you to feel truly representative of the students’ needs.

Athletic Union Officer: Dave Heads

Responsible for:

  • Supporting all Athletic Union clubs, including those teams competing in the British Universities and Colleges Sports (BUCS) league
  • Running the intra-mural sports programme
  • Coordinating Varsity and organising the Athletic Union Ball and inter-hall Superstars competition.

Manifesto pledges and stated aims:

1)    Reform Sports Centre membership options; introduce a monthly fees option

  • Monthly fees option one of the first things to be raised with the Director of Sport; sadly, monthly fees were declared to be unfeasible.
  • Discussion has been opened regarding better value for money; Dave believes progress will be made from here.

2)    Maintain level of financial support

  • There has actually been a slight increase in financial support from last year, though Dave admits that this success was, to an extent, out of his hands.

3)    Finding high quality coaching, so teams can compete at the highest level

  • Identified clubs to benefit from coaching at the start of the year, then contacted governing bodies; full-time coaches are not available for all, but generally high quality coaching has been introduced.
  • England players have come in for training sessions.

4)    Reverse the decline of intra-mural sport

  • Student Officers have been helpful in ensuring the process was better administered.
  • Dave feels he will leave a good structure in place for next year’s rep, depending on how proactive individual Student Officers are in running each sport.

5)    Provide club Presidents with help in securing sponsorship to assist the AU in financing these changes

  • Dave meets with Presidents every fortnight and encourages them to apply for sponsorship if they are struggling with funding.
  • All clubs who have requested help have received it.
  • Dave has made proposals to clubs to enhance their appeal to businesses that are potential sources of sponsorship.

6)    Improve fitness facilities open to elite athletes and first teams

  • Fortunately, last summer, the University independently converted the squash court into an elite fitness centre; vast improvement on attracting top athletes formerly travelling to Nottingham Trent University to use their more advanced facilities.

7)    Increase publicity around Varsity series

  • NUTS and Impact are a big focus for our sporting events and achievements; Dave feels they do a great job in getting the information out there through facebook, the websites, posters, reporting, etc.
  • Dave is looking to add one or two sports to Varsity.

8)    Recognition within student media of sports teams’ successes

  • Dave felt Impact’s sports section was too focused on national sports issues and wanted a greater focus on University sporting achievements; every week he now emails all teams’ results to Impact’s sport section and to URN.

High points:

  • First week of term.

Low points

  • The Demo; it left the whole SU Exec exhausted from the challenge of mediating between students and authorities.

Advice to future candidates:

  • Be prepared for surprises; Dave came to the job as a sportsman not involved in student politics, only to find himself suddenly involved in decision-making on tuition fees and the Demo.

SU President: Will Vickers

Responsible for:

  • Acting as the main representative of Nottingham University students to all external groups, including the University itself, the National Union of Students (NUS), and the local media.
  • Chairing the Board of Trustees of the SU, and ensuring students’ concerns are voiced in numerous other University committees

Manifesto pledges and stated aims:

Main problem with manifesto points was with the issues surrounding tuition fees: this “sucked up all his energies”.

1)    Free Hopper Bus between Lenton and campus: I will fight to make it finally happen

  • The bus was lobbied for by last year’s SU Exec, who were forced to drop it; sadly, despite Will’s best efforts, it has become clear that it simply is not plausible or indeed possible. Will acknowledges that this is a great shame: many students were really keen, although many students were actually against it. Will genuinely believes that nobody should ever again include the free Lenton-campus Hopper Bus as a manifesto pledge.
  • Currently researching alternative options for transport; bus transport is currently very lucrative for ‘NCT’, and Will is looking into the possibility of attaining student discounts.

2)    Improve careers support and guidance for final year students

  • Will has worked closely with Will Bickford-Smith to put student employability higher on the agenda.
  • Last term’s Employment Fair was in Will’s eyes a success.
  • The Director for the Centre of Career Development has created a new Council for employability, in which Will Bickford-Smith has been involved.
  • Discussions about long-term strategies to be adopted by the University and the Union to improve student employability have been initiated.

3)    Ensure that the AU and societies have more space and more storage to grow

  • Will produced a report on this and is currently lobbying the University on the issue.
  • The University is now keen to develop substantial space for SU usage in new building developments on Jubilee campus; Will believes that an SU building on Jubilee will “snowball” the effect of ever-increasing incentives encouraging students to make use of Jubilee campus.

4)    Academic feedback: year-round online feedback website to get students’ concerns heard by tutors

  • Fortunately, the University have already been working to improve the Learning Community Forum (formerly known as the Student Staff Feedback Committee) website; reps are now able to post student feedback online. The website is yet to become fully available to all students, however.
  • Will is working closely with Will Bickford-Smith to put open, accessible academic feedback at the top of the University’s agenda.

5)    Increased provision for postgraduates: printers in all postgraduate centres and increased library hours

  • Last year’s Officer made progress towards attaining printers in postgraduate centres; Will has attempted to continue to make progress on this issue.
  • The project to extend library opening hours is due to begin soon, although first evidence is required that students actually want longer opening hours during the summer.

High points:

  • Freshers address.
  • Taking 200 students to the London Demo protest, although sadly the positive atmosphere was soured by the end of day.
  • Winning the election!
  • Simply being SU President; it has meant being everything to everyone, and getting involved in every aspect of students’ experiences at University.

Low points:

  • Demo and tackling student frustrating with tuition fee increases; this hit at a time of “November blues”, after working with no holiday since July. Though Will anticipated fees creating a stir among students, he had not anticipated the colossal impact it would have on both students and consequently the SU Exec.

Advice to future candidates:

  • Don’t work on weekends! Look after yourself.

Feedback from all members of the SU Exec highlighted one key issue: that manifestos are a good place to start, but that it is only upon entering the position that one can truly see the feasibility of different pledges and agendas. As Will Vickers, SU President noted:

“There are great flaws inherent in making these plans before you enter the position, such as mistaking what people want and what is plausible. Crucially, you cannot realise beforehand just how much of what you aim to achieve is dependent on other people and other organisations. One year to achieve all your plans is such a short space of time – it takes a year to really get to grips with the job!”

All members of the SU Exec also emphasised just how huge a “black hole of time and effort”, as Vickers aptly puts it, the tuition fees fiasco has left the SU Exec to deal with. The whole controversy shifted all attention away from manifesto aims and day-to-day administrative functions, and also left the SU Exec “damned if they did, and damned if they didn’t” take action that satisfied the demands of protesting students.

Perhaps next year’s Exec will not face the drastic challenges that have at times made the job of this year’s Exec so challenging. Yet all those currently running for positions should certainly take heed of the words of wisdom offered by the current SU Exec; principally, that one should be ready for anything.

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9 Comments on this post.
  • Joe
    25 February 2011 at 14:17
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    So the National Demos “disrupted the work of the SU Exec”. Is representing students not the work of the SU Exec?

  • Anonymous
    26 February 2011 at 20:28
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    The National Demos didn’t necessarily represent all students and divided opinion to such an extent that it became debilitating

  • Moi
    26 February 2011 at 22:50
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    Most of what the exec did did not represent the views of all students. If they were only limitted to that, there wouldn’t be many things they could do!

  • anonymous
    1 March 2011 at 13:00
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    the National Demo was a massively dividing issue between all students, with the loudest being against the cuts and the ones for it staying quietly in the background. It is dangerous for one to believe that all students were against the cuts, and many actually see the new fee structure as more accessible

  • Moi
    1 March 2011 at 13:08
    Leave a Reply
  • Moi
    1 March 2011 at 13:25
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  • Luke Place
    3 March 2011 at 01:47
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    “The impact of the peaceful demonstration was lessened by the activities of anarchists”

    Having studied anarchism and met a fair few anarchists in my time, this claim annoys me. I’ve found the vast majority of anarchists to be peaceful and considerate, so I don’t appreciate them being blamed whenever there’s “anti-establishment” violence. It’s lazy and it implies that only people with extreme political views would engage in violent protest. There were hundreds of people in that building, I find it unlikely they were all anarchists.

  • meme
    24 April 2011 at 00:09
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  • VanessaBrown
    30 April 2011 at 09:32
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    @ meme: Like the site. Very informative yet funny. How could they calculate their number of respondants by counting every seperate question answered rather than how many individual people filled out the survey? Crazy but oh so typical.

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