Are election debates necessary or nonsense?

Patrick Harland, who moderated the Education Officer debate, ponders the use of this stage of the SU elections

Patrick Harland
17th March 2020
Image: NUTV on YouTube
A lot of fuss has been made in the past week over the debates for the sabbatical positions in the university. Most had poor attendance and fairly low views on the streaming platforms used by student media. Despite this, I am here to argue that the debates are vital for electing candidates that represent you. Furthermore, I think we can reach a stage where they become an important, if not the most important step in the process for a candidate's election.

This is primarily down to the fact that each candidate is competing for a paid role with a graduate salary. This alone makes it vital to ensure that each candidate is questioned and put on the spot about their policies, ideas and intentions in the role. Otherwise, candidates would gain a valuable paid job for what is essentially a popularity contest.

A still from the Education Officer debate, which was moderated by your correspondent
Image: NUTV on YouTube

One could make the argument against the debates that they aren’t very effective, and are often seen as being run unfairly in favour of certain candidates. However, part of the issue with the debates is that there just isn’t enough interest or exposure. They would be far more effective with a bigger audience that care more about their representation and thus the results of the SU elections.

The debates are currently something of a formality. Much like persistent flyering and covering the students' union in posters, it’s something all the candidates do, but arguments about how effective they are can be made for both sides. The debates allow people to really get to know candidates, and crucially put pressure on them to defend what they believe. However, the impact that the debates have are so minimal compared to almost every other part of the campaign that it must be questioned how necessary they are in the grand scheme of the elections.

The debates need more preparation, exposure and interest

With more preparation, more exposure and more interest developed in the debates, they would be a far more effective tool. They would provide a platform for candidates, as well as an opportunity for students to have their questions presented and answered by those who will take hold of the University they attend. They would also help hold candidates to account, something desperately needed.

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AUTHOR: Patrick Harland
Medicinal Chemistry graduate, Environmental Engineering MSc student. Science editor for The Courier 2019-2020.

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