Covering everything from Safety Nets and sustainability to one pound pints, this years candidates Abbie Hutchinson, Callum Swayers, Christopher Winter, Hussnain Shahid and Thomas Bracewell embark on a lively debate to become the next NUSU president. This is a summary of some of the main points raised, but you can watch the full debate below. Voting is now open until midday on Thursday 4 March.
Abbie explains that she considered running for president following the lecturers strikes as she felt the University didn’t do enough then, but didn’t feel ready for the role. Two years on, her passion has grown even stronger to represent students given the circumstances of Covid, and she feels ready for the role.
Hussnain begins by acknowledging his award as Changemaker of the year and current position as International Students Officer. Next year he would continue to lobby for student intertests, so encourages listeners to “vote wisely”
Christopher opens with the claim that “the union isn’t working”. Fixing this would require someone with imagination, strength and determination; Christopher Winter, he insists, is that person.
Thomas wants to ensure that all Newcastle University students are supported whole-heartedly by the SU. He suggests that the past year has highlighted major flaws in the way that students are supported, and wants to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated. He cites a proactive rather than reactive way of working, with students’ mental and physical health at the forefront.
Callum expresses his disdain at how students are being “brushed away” by the University. He claims students have been ignored on safety net, rent strikes and money for the cyber attack. He continues to suggest that the SU is broken, unaccountable and failing to represent the needs of students, citing the response to cases of sexual violence as an example.
Hussnain says that there has been poor communication this year, and proposes live communication sessions every week with updates on what has been happening in the SU. Abbie Hutchinson acknowledges that there have been drop ins and Q&A sessions this year, but also suggests increasing their frequency.
Christopher Winter brings up issues with Student Council, and proposes “easier and more flexible ways” of bringing up questions, such as Questions Officers and an Open Suggestions Box on the NUSU website. The moderator asks how this Question Box would differ from the one already on the NUSU website, to which Christopher suggests this should be promoted more effectively.
Callum steps in to echo Hussnain’s call for increased updates in video form for students. He seconds Christopher’s idea for a Question Suggestion box, but doesn’t see its utility unless all students’ are able to vote in Student Council. Finally, Thomas Bracewell proposes “ramping up the online presence of the SU”, using the recent power outage at Castle Leazes as an example of their poor communication (view The Courier’s coverage of this incident here).
Hussnain is questioned first on this issue as his manifesto pledges to “make the University more sustainable”. He proposes supporting local buses, which are now fully electric,suggesting they should be free for students to use.
All the other candidates are questioned as to why sustainability does not feature in their manifestos. Callum calls sustainability a “surface level issue” while problems with he University are “much deeper”. Abbie says the issue is important, but that Newcastle is already doing comparatively well in this area so she wanted to focus her manifesto on more “pressing issues”.
Christopher Winter agrees that the Union is doing a lot already, but says he will “openly accept any suggestion” from the student body on combatting this issue. Thomas agrees with other candidates, saying that though there is always more the be done but there are more pressing issues.
Thomas Bracewell says he wants to be proactive in seeking people out, rather than students having to approach the service themselves. Hussnain suggests providing welfare training to student ambassadors to help expand wellbeing support.
Abbie proposes greater action from teacher departments, such as working to prevent bunching of assessment deadlines to ease pressure on students. Thomas echoes Abbie’s point on assessment bunching, proposing working with the Education Officer to remedy this issue.
Finally, Hussnain suggests a close working relationship with the Liberation Officers would help to support the marginalised communities they each represent.
An audience question for Callum and Chris asks how they will go about demanding an apology from the University for their lack of support this year. Chris responds that the question of how is not relevant. Callum says an apology would be “the cherry on top”, but compensation money is more important.
Hussnain agrees that an apology alone would not improve the situation for students, echoing that financial compensation is far more important to make up for what students have endured.
Abbie suggests that more money should be spent on supporting remote learning, while Chris responds that the societies, welfare and more social spaces should receive more financial support, with money being taken from budget cuts elsewhere.
Callum brings up investing in Drug Testing Kits following the drug-related student deaths in October, suggesting the money is taken from the Sabbatical Officer bonding retreat that occurs annually and similar non-essential events. Thomas echoes his support for this investment, adding that the University should also make on-campus computer clusters available 24/7.
Hussnain insists that education should be prioritised first, providing an iPad or laptop to all students who need one.
Several other topics were covered over the course of the debate, most notably:
View the full stream of the debate here: