SU Council: Freedom of Expression, Free Education and a Student-Run Lettings Agency

The seventh Students’ Union (SU) council took place on Tuesday 7th October. Motions debated included: Freedom of Expression, the Union’s support of Free Education and a proposal for a Student-Run Lettings Agency.


Mike Olatokun, SU Community Officer, brought a motion on behalf of the officer team on providing freedom of expression at the Students’ Union. He stressed the importance of freedom of expression, but said that this would obviously be carefully balanced with the Union’s other policies, such as the ‘Respecting Religion’ and  ‘Safe Space’ policies. SU President, Harry Copson, also spoke up in support of this motion which passed unanimously.


The proposers, students Scotty Jennings and Duncan Davis, stressed that Unipol, the current regulator, fell short of providing the service students need. They cited the fact that only one in five houses accredited by Unipol are inspected by the body, meaning some landlords have a few good quality houses for inspection, whilst others fall short. They set out their vision for a student-run lettings agency, run by an SU officer working in conjunction with a committee of elected students, which would individually accredit each house.

However, Mike Olatokun, SU Community Officer, questioned the ability of a Students’ Union to provide both accommodation and impartial advice on landlords at the Students’ Advice Centre. He also questioned the issues Duncan and Scotty flagged up with Unipol and stated that this policy would damage the relationship with Unipol which had just been renewed for one year. Mike concluded that he was already looking into a “compulsory landlords register” and that this motion would undermine the work he was doing, “putting the students’ union in a very difficult place”.

Duncan said there was pre-existing Students’ Union research demonstrating problems with student housing in Nottingham. Scotty argued that at the moment “a lot of the lettings agencies are really c**p” and cited past successes in Leicester, which had been able to force rogue landlords out of the market.

Harry, SU President, also spoke against the motion, stating that the Students’ Union had previously provided a lettings agency which was scrapped because it made a serious loss for the union. The Equal Opportunities and Welfare Officer, Chloe Averill, echoed his concerns, calling the agency “detrimental to the work we’re already doing”.

The motion failed to pass with five people voting in favour and and fourteen voting against.


Scotty and Duncan also proposed a motion whereby the official position of the Union would be to support free education. Duncan said that “saddling Students with debt which may or may not be sold off to loan sharks” was not in their interests, and the SU should support free education.

Harry Copson said that the SU currently had no policy regarding the cost of undergraduate education, meaning the Union was bound to act in the best interests of students. Mike Olatokun agreed that this mandated him “not to listen to the views of the students, but to those of the people who brought this motion” at which Scotty gestured at the panellists who got to vote, on behalf of students, on the issues.

After much discussion, an amendment was proposed, and accepted, to change the motion from “adopt a Union position which supports free education” to “adopt a Union position which strives towards free education” so that the officers would have flexibility to lobby for cheaper education if that was the best option.

The issue was taken to a vote and nine panellists voted in favour and ten voted against. The motion will now be put to the student body to vote on in a referendum in the coming months.

After the meeting had finished, Impact interviewed Duncan about the Free Education motion. He said that he “was disappointed that the full-time officers were trying to argue over the fact of whether specific wording contradicted other specific wording, rather than arguing over whether or not they agree with the issues. My opinion is that they don’t agree with free education and are just using this as a tactic”.

Impact also spoke to the SU President, Harry Copson. He said that he “welcomes students coming to the Union council” and he “encouraged students to come along and make their voice heard”.

Luke Watkins

Image: University of Nottingham via Flickr

Follow Impact News on Facebook and Twitter.

5 Comments on this post.
  • Duncan Davis
    9 October 2014 at 22:14
    Leave a Reply

    Summary of the free education debate:

    1. Us: free education is good for all these reasons.

    2. Full Time Officers: If we have policy supporting free education, we will have to oppose any reforms, like reduced tuition fees, that fall short. We need to campaign with a wimpy message of “getting the best deal for students”. (following the obvious party line they’d come up with before hand to derail the debate, because supporting something as “radical” as free education would hurt their careers)

    3. Us: That’s obviously rubbish. Of course you can support free education without opposing reduced tuition fees. Supporting an aspirational goal doesn’t stop you supporting smaller improvements.

    4. go to 2

    The SU is a joke. It’s supposed to be a UNION but the officers don’t understand that. And they clearly care more about their careers than students.

  • Protip
    9 October 2014 at 22:27
    Leave a Reply

    Left to their own devices, Sabbs are terrible. Organise and get good sabbs elected.

  • Rod
    10 October 2014 at 16:11
    Leave a Reply

    Duncan It does not matter what Union Council passes as policies are not always followed.

    Example 1) Back when fees rose to 9k the official policy of UoNSU was a graduate tax. Most of the Exec that year did not attend the NUS demonstration in support of that position because presumably they did not agree with that position.

    Example 2) A couple of years ago Union Council passed a motion to support an anti-cuts demo and put buses on. Some spurious arguments relating to the demo’s public liability insurance were made to overrule what was supposedly the highest decision is making body of UoNSU.

    In both instances Union policy was one thing and reality another.

    You are right that the trend towards careerism is regrettable but the NUS did try a free education policy back in 2004 and the result was that they were completely ignored. Forgive me for sounding like a sell-out but education was to be paid for if you want 50% of people attending. Is it that progressive for a cleaner’s 16k earnings to be taxed to fund your undergraduate degree? We could go back to sending 20% of people to uni but it would be state educated pupils paying the price.

    Duncan I’m afraid your task is something I feel impossible. To change to whole culture of the students’ union away from managerialism and to make a largely middle-class and well-off student body care about issues that have no impact on them. Good luck!

    • Duncan Davis
      13 October 2014 at 19:27
      Leave a Reply

      “It does not matter what Union Council passes as policies are not always followed.”

      Indeed. The SU has a policy to pay a living wage and they still don’t pay a living wage. But passing the policy is useful, in that officers can be held to account over it. There’s now an official “scrutiny panel” process for this, which means officers can go to a vote of no confidence of students if they don’t follow policy. It’s still a battle but at least it’s a bargaining chip.

      On the issue of should someone earning £16k pay for higher education: yes, I think so. But with a low income they should pay only a little tax anyway. If we need to raise taxes to fund education, I’d suggest raising the top bands. Education is a public good that we all benefit from. The person who gets the eduction may or may not benefit financially. If they do, they should pay through higher taxes on their higher income.

  • Matt Styles
    10 October 2014 at 17:34
    Leave a Reply

    Isn’t freedom of expression kinda.. the law? And part of the Union’s charitable objects? And can’t be restricted on University campuses because of other laws? Sounds like a policy officers can sit back and say they’ve fulfilled despite not really doing anything.

    Mike undermining Council is just repeating the same drivel other officers have to convince panellists that their job is only useful in situations officers decide. If Council isn’t ‘listening to students’ then it should be abolished. Funny how it’s good enough for their freedom of expression policy as well.

    I presume, also, that the only reason an SU-run lettings agency was opposed was because it would mean the officers actually doing something. Unipol is undeniably useless, as is evidenced by the fact that they only inspect 1 out of 5 houses they accredit with their standards code, and the low standards the code even requires. They’re also starting to let their own accommodation which means they’ll be accrediting themselves which is absurd.

    Yes, the SU might’ve run one before, but not recently and not before the documented monopolising of places like Lenton and Dunkirk by solely profit-interested landlords.

    I hear there were staff members in between officers coaching them on what to say. The new system of Council does encourage more debate, but it so needs to have less officer influence given how much self-interest there is in them deciding whether policies are good or not. They’ve basically opposed anything which requires them to a) take a non-mundane stance on a matter; or b) actually do something.

    In the meantime, I hear someone’s working on a Lenton Hub.

  • Leave a Reply