Sabbatical Officer Election Debates

The Courier reports on the debates held NSR and NUTV for the seven sabbatical positions.

multiple writers
19th March 2020
Last week, NSR, NUTV and the Courier held a series of debates for the seven sabbatical officer positions. Everyone was welcome to attend, and the debates saw a variety of questions posed to the candidates based on both their manifestos and their past experience.


by Alex Darbyshire

The turnout for this year's President debates matched the much lower number of candidates. Of the three candidates running, only two, Dorothy Chirwa and Kolade Abolarinwa, made it to the event. Fin Holden could not attend the debates due to prior travel arrangements. He did, however, submit written responses prior to the evening. Holden's statement stressed his past involvement with the Students' Union through his experience as President of Parachute Club, as well as his plethora of awards, and even his writings for our very own publication. Abolarinwa's concise statement stressed his creative drive and abilities as a leader. Chirwa stressed her experience as President of History Society and her previous involvement with the SU.

One of the main issues raised in the debate was that of transparency with the University and the Students' Union, mainly aimed at Chirwa's manifesto points. Chirwa's main concern for transparency from the University was that of the recent UCU industrial action, stressing that a more streamlined line of communication would benefit students. Abolarinwa framed his answer in terms of product placement, and placing more information where students are likely to find it, such as on the University app, citing Transport for London as a model to follow. Discrimination was also raised as an issue, which did not feature on Abolarinwa's manifesto at all. When pressed on this, he pushed more effective punishments and events that would encourage positivity on campus.

Activities Officer

by Sophie Wilson

Discussions of the activities store cupboard, the day-to-day running of societies and disciplinary measures dominated the debate between Hannah Finney, Elli Brown and Alexandra Vipond.
The debate began with Hannah stressing how communication was integral to her manifests. She stated that the role of this officer is to showcase societies and she would be open to all members of societies for help throughout the year. Elli then stated how she wanted to stress how societies should be “safe and sustainable”. Alex concluded the opening statements by stressing how important the idea of societies being a stepping stone to employability is, and how employability should be incorporated into societies without the students “even having to think about it”.

The long-term issues associated with the activity cupboard was a dominant part of this debate. Elli stressed the importance of departmental societies utilising space within their schools, using pre-existing contacts within their subject department. She also proposed a complete clear out of the cupboard and a restarting of the organisation. Hannah then argued that this problem cannot be resolved in a year, and there would have to be “gradual change”. Alex proposed the idea of a strike system and sanctioning to ensure societies stick to procedures laid out.

In terms of the day-to-day running of societies, Alex really pushed for the idea that she would create a support system for more societies to fundraise their own money. She said that she wanted to be the point of contact for the activities, but also that we need to come up with new ways for society to gain the funds that they need to complete the vision that they have for their societies. Elli proposed a dedicated fresher’s fair grant and also a formal handover document that would allow the transition between society committees to run more smoothly. She stressed that societies are there for people to have fun and we need to maintain this. Hannah campaigned for including Give it a Go within the Earn Your Stars award, therefore making the recognition that society members receive more cohesive. Regarding disciplinary measures and welfare, Alex suggested that office hours are given so that members of the SU can go and talk to the Activites Officer about their queries and their concerns. Hannah backed this and then added that coffee mornings would allow her to be open to members on a regular and informal basis. When asked about this situation, Elli then pushed for more understanding of the legal requirements of societies so that stress is taken off committee members. She thinks that discussion within training should be pivotal.

Athletic Union Officer

by Aimee Seddon

The candidates were Chris Baker, current President of Korfball; Benthe Tanghe, 1st team player for Women’s Football and Women’s Futsal, and publicity officer of the former; Em Walsh, Vice President of Surf Club; Jack Baines, Records Officer of the Archery club; and Katy Matthews, President of Netball.

Chris started his opening statement with his desire to ensure all clubs have equal opportunities by restructuring the grant system, introducing monthly Sports Centre payment plans, and increasing awareness of non-BUCS successes. Benthe’s main manifesto points involved improving inter-club connections, mental health, and coaching. Next, Em mentioned her desire to ensure all clubs feel involved with the AU, and to make sports more accessible to all students. Jack’s main points were to increase accessibility and visibility, especially for smaller clubs; to increase transparency of the AU Officer role; to implement affordable travel system for training off campus, and to increase the support Welfare Officers can give. Finally, Katy’s three main aims were to improve intra-mural sports; work with performance sports to improve strength and conditioning, provide nutrition advice and improve promotion of fixtures to attract bigger crowds; and find a Stan Calvert replacement.

The first topic of debate was awareness, Chris wanting to improve the current weekly email system by increasing transparency and reporting more on non-BUCS activity. Both Katy and Em stressed the importance of advertisement, either through social media officers or general advertisements around university respectively. Bentha explained that she did not mention increasing awareness in her manifesto due to its difficulty; knowing how hard previous AU officers, Joe and Maggie, had tried, she did not want to make any promises.

In terms of inclusivity, Em wanted to extend inclusivity week across the year, and host more postgraduate specific events; both she and Katy also talked about increasing publicity of Give It a Go. Benthe emphasised her support of inclusivity, whilst also being wary of not wanted to make false promises. Chris drew attention to the cost challenges that students face, particularly involving Sports Centre membership, whilst Jack recognised it was important to note that the level of inclusivity varied across clubs. Both Em and Jack also discussed the importance of casual involvement in sports.

Welfare was also a major point of discussion, with Katy advocating the use of regular surveys and a reiteration of welfare training at Refreshers. Jack aims to increase the specificity of welfare provision, reducing the steps it takes before a student can receive the correct care. Benthe wishes all committee members to receive welfare training, and for University lecturers to have improved knowledge of sport-playing students, explaining early lecture departures. Chris also highlighted the importance of mental health, whilst Em wanted to provide Welfare Officers with greater recognition.

In terms of funding, Chris wanted to reconstruct the funding system, believing that money can seem to be ‘wasted’ at times, he noted the disparity between clubs with big surpluses compared to those struggling to fund the required equipment. Em shared many of Chris’s views on this subject, having both been on the AU Executive Committee together. Related to finance, Jack explained his desire to help students pay for sport transport, hoping to offer a similar provision as Northumbria University, where students can travel for free with Stagecoach.

Editor of the Courier

by Sophie Wilson

The debate began with the discussion of ideas about readership of the newspaper within university. Aimee called for a weekly column that showcased what societies have achieved that week, saying that it is “unfair” that we are not promoting their work. Rory then stated that it was our “duty” to make people “aware of what is going on in our university”, and that we need to “realise that we are living in a world where less people are picking up a newspaper.” He suggested that a feasibly study be undertaken regarding an app for the newspaper. Molly disagreed with this idea, saying that an app would not be beneficial, and that we need to look at how to raise more awareness for student media rather than increasing the amount of engagement that students already interested in it have. Becca’s focus on increasing readership centred on bringing more sports teams into engagement with the paper. She declared that once they are interested in the paper, they will begin reading other sections, and that this would create more of a “community” within the university.

The debate then moved on to ideas about how to improve the content of the newspaper. Ella proposed a pull-out for the paper that would feature elements of the culture section. It would allow students to have more “creative freedom” and make the paper “more cohesive” rather than alienating the culture section. Joe’s manifesto also talked of adding a “Your Voice” page, which allows the voices of marginalised people at university to be heard. He claimed that he has noticed that the paper focuses predominantly on white, British voices and that we need to be more inclusive.

When a member of the audience questioned the candidates about how they are incorporating both NUTV and NSR into their vision for the future of Newcastle’s student media, he said that only Rory had consulted with them to ask what the other branches wanted. He said, “how can they know what we want when we do not have a clue what we do?” Molly began this discussion by saying that she was “always willing to listen to NSR and NUTV”, and that her main focus would be on listening to their ideas and then driving through change. Ella talked about how she wanted the website to engage more NUTV and NSR, so that it was the work of all three rather than just the newspaper, and Joe called for a flagship show that would combine all three sections of media. Talking about their engagement with events, Becca then called for each society event to be covered by the other forms of media, and Aimee called for more explicit promotion of each element of social media, as “students are lazy” and need these forms of media to be more actively encouraged in their lives. Finishing this discussion, Rory claimed that they were evidently “three separate entities, each with their own identity” but that he, “of course”, wanted cross collaboration between them.

Education Officer

by Carl Smith Valdez

The Education Officer is responsible for enhancing the academic experiences of undergraduate and postgraduate students. They also oversee the Student Council with the Chair of Council.

The debates began with opening statements, which identified the main points from the manifesto of the candidates. Sian Dickie highlighted making RECAP compulsory in every teaching space to increase accessibility, and proposed giving students a week off after semester one exams. She also discussed reforming the PEC system to stop regulators from asking intrusive evidence.

Robin Kaur situated her manifesto from her experience as a mature student. She stated: “The student life is totally different from what is out there.” She mentioned the PEC system and the lack of clarity on how it operates, having been a course representative for Marine Biology for three years.

An issue raised on the debate was the Coronavirus outbreak and its impact on the quality of education. Both candidates emphasised using online tools to continue delivering education if the university was to close for a long time period. Dickie related back to her point of ‘RECAP for All’ and making coursework available online. She also suggested reparations such as free graduations to compensate for student fees. Kaur recommended online seminars through Skype, which can be recorded live by lecturers remotely at home.

Another debated point was about the ongoing UCU strike and its implications for next year. Dickie emphasised the lack of consideration on student-teachers on campus. She highlighted: “We tend to forget of PhD Students who are on casual hours. We think of lecturers as older, but they are not. They are sometimes the people around you.” Kaur proposed giving resources such as emails and letters to bring understanding to reasons for the strikes and how students can support lecturers.

Postgraduate Officer

by Emma McLaren

On Monday night, a debate was held between the candidates for Postgraduate officer. Candidates are Charlotte Paige Boulton, Chaudhry Jibran, Mark George Drybrough and Rachel Hart. Charlotte and Mark were not able to attend the debate, but sent in some responses. Chaudry was late but offered profuse apologies.

Due to Chaudry’s late arrival, Rachel began the debate defining some of her goals as Postgraduate Officer. She acknowledged that there was currently a poor engagement between postgraduates and the Students' Union, but that she wanted to change this by talking to postgraduates about their needs in order to represent them. Rachel referred to a ‘grey area’ occupied by postgraduate research students, between staff and students, implying that there needed to be greater acknowledgement of PGRs' teaching responsibilities.

Charlotte’s opening statement focused on how she wants to be a visible point of contact for postgraduate students, making sure that she represents both mature and international students. She claimed that she also wants to work with societies to ensure that social events are available for postgraduates.

Mark’s statement brought to attention how important it is to engage with students on social media, and how this is something he would pay attention to as Postgraduate Officer.

Next up was Chaudry, who focused on how stressful life as a postgraduate student could be, and how he hoped to combat this by making the university experience more fun.

The candidates were next asked about the strikes, and how they would respond to them as Postgraduate officer. Chaudry acknowledged the impact strikes may have on post graduates. Rachel announced her full support of the strikes, noting the gender pay gap, but emphasised that PGRs are striking from paid work. Mark thought that despite strikes affecting the availability of staff, they are necessary to protect future academics. Charlotte’s response also pledged support of the strikes but emphasised that she would make sure that all postgraduate’s opinions on the matter were heard. She emphasised working to resolve the disputes to make sure postgraduate researchers are fairly paid and treated.

Mental health was another issue raised on the night. Rachel emphasised how mental health services should not be about occasional wellbeing days, but the reform of a system that students currently only come to when on the point of drop out. Chaudry emphasised the importance of activities to combat stress for postgraduates, such as interschool sports events. A response sent in by Charlotte noted that she would expand mental health training for all supervisors and hold bi-weekly drop-in sessions focused on mental wellbeing.

The debate finished with closing statements. In his closing statement, Chaudry emphasised how he wants to make the postgraduate experience more fun as a final university experience. Charlotte apologised for her absence, and pushed that she believes she will be able to quickly fulfil her pledges. Rachel emphasised her passion for the role, and how she wants to improve post graduate engagement with the union. Mark’s statement noted his goal to improve health, social care and education interventions.

Welfare & Equality Officer

by Em Richardson

While Georgia Corbett and Alice Galatola were both present in person at the debate, Nadia Ahmed did not attend, and was thus represented by an empty podium.

Corbett’s introductory statement focussed on how her work with a variety of societies makes her suitable for the role, whilst Galatola highlighted her contribution to raising awareness of issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community, particularly asexual and trans people. Ahmed’s opening statement was read out by the moderator, and emphasised her strong commitment to promoting gender equality.

Throughout the debate, Galatola stressed her commitment to encouraging the creation of more sober socials, and offering support for students suffering from addiction to drugs or alcohol. If elected, she plans to offer more funding to societies who organise a certain quota of alcohol-free socials each year. She expressed concern that socials tend to revolve around a culture of excessive alcohol consumption. In turn, she claims this leads to a “pulling” culture, where sexual consent can be disregarded. She wants to educate freshers on the true meaning of consent, and hold the University accountable for how it deals with cases of sexual misconduct. Other proposed policies include allowing students struggling with addiction to submit PECs.

Corbett touched a wide variety of issues, ranging from sexual consent to improving facilities for disabled students. She wants to use empty rooms on campus as “Quiet Rooms”, safe spaces for students dealing with issues like anxiety. She also offered some comments on disabled students’ participation in university sport, suggesting high entry fees for sports clubs deter some disabled students from participating on the grounds that they might be unable to commit to participating for the whole year due to changing health circumstances. When quizzed on her manifesto, she maintained that Personal Tutors should receive welfare training, and that she disagrees with the University’s calls for tutors to step back from the “welfare support” aspect of their roles.

Comments written by Ahmed were read to the audience. She stated her desire to run campaigns aimed at students from different minority backgrounds to ensure they feel included on campus.

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