Angus Shaw poses questions to our hopeful SU leadership candidates
It is the most magical time of year – the Essex SU Leadership Race. This particular election season may prove to be the most important for the university in recent years, with an increased 17 positions up for grabs by a whopping 37 hopeful candidates turning 2018 into the biggest role pool ever devised. Across the board, contention for positions has also heightened from last year, in particular with the VP International and VP Southend roles more than doubling in its applicants, meaning a slate of heated campaigning could be inbound to the race this week.
Such strong competition means a greater degree of grilling temperature will be needed to hold our candidates to account, and Rebel provides the grill. As banners fly across campus and speeches ring through the Squares at today’s official campaign starting gun, we reached out to the 26 full-time sabbatical candidates for comment on their visions of change during a potential year in-office. Remember, there are also eight equally important part-time roles being ran for which you can find out about here, however we intend to put it to those earning the paychecks for your votes.
With any election, from national to local, comes a degree of public concern that the victors simply will not uphold promises that are easy to make and even easier to break. I put it straight to the candidates:
If elected, what is the first action you would take in week one of your new role?
Following this, I asked just the opposite: Most who run for elected office often possess a couple of overarching, sometimes rather personal, ‘magnum opus’ policies: carefully crafted and achieved over the course of an entire electoral term rather than just a week. I therefore posed:
By the end of your time in-office, what would you like to have changed the most about the SU for students?
While their answers certainly cannot fairly be upheld as ‘legally binding promises’, due to the turbulent schedule elected office entails, they nonetheless reveal much about our candidates’ plans-of-action:
“This particular election season may prove to be the most important for the university in recent years, with an increased 17 positions up for grabs by a whopping 37 hopeful candidates turning 2018 into the biggest role pool ever devised.”
“Take John Bercow go-karting.” Immediately replied presidential candidate Lewis J Brown Esq, hoping to finally get Essex’s new Chancellor on the race track in just one week. His opponent Tancrède Chartier on the other hand emphasised greater student inclusion to the SU:
“The first action I would take as president will be to increase student representation to make sure that everyone has a voice in this Union. Furthermore, it will be to tie together different democratic structures in the Union into one.”
To my second question Mr Chartier answered “By the end of my time as president, I will have increased and introduced a real student representation in our Union, found solution to the housing problems that our students are facing throughout Essex (work that I have started this year) and along with the new Executive team, raised awareness about mental wellbeing and the overall security of our students.” While Mr Brown simply condensed the prospect of a year into the spirit of “Cheaper booze and less fake news.”
VP Student Activities
Coming from the highly contested pool of VP Student Activities, candidate Patrick Flude hopes to address a “dire” car parking situation at the university:
“If elected my first action would be to have a petition signed by students about car parking at Essex. This petition would then provide me with a manifesto in which I would act to try and change the dire situation with car parking at the university.”
Also running for the position, Jessica Donoghue spoke of “touching base” with the logistics behind societies and sports teams:
“In my first week I would like to touch base with societies and sports teams to discuss funding and involvement, and see what they would like my approach to be. I would also like to try and get more volunteering opportunities out there as quickly as possible!”
From a potential year in the position, Miss Donoghue wishes to specifically change long-term attitudes on volunteer roles:
“By the end, I would like to have changed the overall feeling towards volunteering. I’d like to imagine that people see volunteering and helping others as an everyday task as opposed to a chore or something that is expected of people.” While Mr Flude outlined the introduction of a scheme to increase campus-wide student activities:
“The main thing I would like to change within my time at the SU is having a scheme where students can be active while on campus. This could range from taking up a new sport, playing competitively, engaging within a society or even volunteering.”
VP Welfare and Community
Candidates vying in the VP Welfare and Community ring spoke at large about seeking greater ease of access to campus services for students:
“In my first week in office I would create a web portal where students could disclose personal issues in a confidential manner.” Said Patrick Davey, while opponent Caelin Toms replied “I would speak to Student Support about extending the hours of the mental health ‘drop in’ sessions, as they are currently decreasing, and do more to promote the mental health services provided on campus.”
After a potential year, Miss Caelin envisages “the SU to play a larger role in ensuring students feel safer travelling around campus, such as with longer periods of safety bus availability.” For Mr Davey, “to have equalized the inequalities in awareness between physical and mental health” stands as top priority.
VP International undoubtedly serves as the most popular position for candidates this year, with answers involving much promise of forward planning:
“Since the first week of the role will be during Ramadan (and I’ll be fasting – lunch time nap room please) and Eid will be just around the corner,” said Asha Ali, “I’d love to plan something for everyone remaining in Colchester over summer to be able to celebrate properly as they will be away from loved ones.”
Also running for the position, Georgi Agov replied “I would discuss with the current Sabbatical Officer what projects she currently works on and will decide together which ones I should keep working on if they are beneficial for our students.”
A third response came from contender Garima Sood: “My first action probably would be to act upon lowering tuition fees for international students and working with the university to introduce maybe more merit based scholarships (academics/extracurricular), so that at least by the time first years begin in 2018-19 or for their subsequent terms some visible change will be observed.”
In the long term, our candidates ultimately seek more assurance and comfort for international students against the burdens of living on unfamiliar soil:
“I would be glad to provide more financial support for foreign students in need so they can focus mostly on their studies.” Summarised Mr Agov, while to “make sure international students are less uncertain about their employability prospects, in the UK and beyond. As well as having more answers for international students regarding post-brexit university life.” Is Miss Ali’s take on a potential year. Miss Sood described “I would like to contribute in making the Students’ Union a much more stronger representative of students including international ones, and I would like drastic change in areas such as tuition fees and scholarships, employability (part-time paid work, placements and graduate jobs with sponsorship of work visas for international students) and starting cultural fests.”
VP Services and Communications
A very feedback-orientated approach to the question came out of the VP Services and Communications race:
“Move forward on progress with crucial services and support for students. Such as tackling mental health issues by attending to student concerns and suggestions.” Emphasised Joe Stringer. One of his opponents, Nana Dompre-Sekyi, highlighted:
“The very first step I would take would be to conduct a wide survey to form an understanding of the elements of the SU that people wish to change, but also the elements that they enjoy.”
When faced with the prospect of a year, Mr Sekyi wishes “to gain the belief that the people of the University of Essex are the voice behind the SU and have the ability to change what happens. Additionally I wish to improve upon the atmosphere of the university and create an even better experience for all.” Mr Stinger hopes “To have a more accessible, inclusive & engaged union. A union that closely listens to and acts on the variety of contributions by the student body.”
From the race for VP Southend, Leon Pazos answered: “I think a good idea would be to get involved with all the SU responsibilities and develop a good plan of work for the main issues concerning students.” Before elaborating “I think that my favorite positive change that I would like to participate in is to help students make the most of the university experience” after a possible elected term.
Finally, Ruairi Hipkin gave us a taste of what a week occupying the office of VP Education could look like:
“In my first week, I’d do two things. One is continuing to work on the rules of assessment (the rules governing how students progress through their degrees), making sure that they’re as student friendly as possible. The second is getting to grips with the new system of Higher Education regulation.” Over a potential year, Mr Hipkin said: “I want more students to get involved! The SU offers students loads of opportunities to get involved in how things work both in the SU and the University – from our student media such as Rebel, to course representation through Promise 1.”
If you want these actions and ideas to come to fruition at Essex, voting is the only proven way to make it happen. Polls open online here and at booths all across campus from Thursday (15th) at 8am through to Friday (16th), with results broadcast live on the Friday evening.
Regardless of whether your preferred candidates win, strong turnout for an individual’s ideas means those elected simply must pay attention to their runner-up opponents, if they are to truly represent the majority of student interest. Not only that, but being sure to get in touch with your elected officials after the race, and holding them to account on their manifestos which you can find here, is crucial to informing their jobs.
You can find the complete A-Z list of candidates who kindly took part in this interview below, along with their brief answers to the simple final question:
What inspired you to put yourself forward in the SU Leadership Race?
“If you want these actions and ideas to come to fruition at Essex, voting is the only proven way to make it happen.”
Asha Ali: I was originally inspired in my first year, in 2014. At the time I was campaigning for a dear friend, and I quickly found out more and more about the SU. After a year as BAME officer, more experience under my belt and so many ideas, this year definitely felt like the right time to put myself forward.
Caelin Toms: I have been involved in Student Support roles and student-facing roles for a long time and love working in this environment. I know our university can be better for its students and there are a lot of positive changes that can be made, and I want to fight for them.
Garima Sood: I am a loyalist and have always believed in giving back. My time at University of Essex has been a fantabulous journey and I want to make sure that, given the opportunity, I would like to serve the student body and make significant change
Georgi Agov: My passion to help people grow and develop, as well as because of the amazing experience to campaign and acquire new skills.
Jessica Donoghue: I was inspired by the work of previous VP’s and would like to carry on helping people in the future, I love the idea of making an impact on everyone’s university experience and really making them feel at home.
Joe Stringer: I believe that more can be done to engage and encourage students who don’t think the SU represents them, to get involved.
Lewis J Brown Esq.: Two bottles of chianti.
Nana Dompre-Sekyi: I saw there was a lack of diversity in multiple aspects of the SU and really wanted to be able to make a beneficial change. I truly feel that with my ideas and determination the SU could become a more inclusive and more enjoyable place for all.
Oscar Pazos: One of the members of the SU told me about the position and because I was already a Course Rep he suggested me to give it a try. I think it’s an interesting opportunity to participate and get involved with the students so here I am!
Patrick Davey: I was motivated to run because the expectation that people have of university as the best years of their life often doesn’t meet the reality.
Patrick Flude: I would say wanting to have a role within the SU where I can help improve and support students while at Essex. My inspiration I would say came from a desire to give it a go and try my best, something I would say came from my dad.
Ruairi Hipkin: It’s simple really. I’m passionate about representing students, and I want to use my experience that I’ve gained in representing students in my faculty over the past four years to represent students across the University and its three campuses.
Tancrède Chartier: As a current VP, I am extremely passionate about the Students’ Union but furthermore about carrying on as president, projects that we have started this year. The three issues that current students are facing that I have addressed (namely their mental wellbeing, housing and student representation) will be the center of my work and I believe I am the best candidate to deliver on this.
A big thanks to all our interviewees, and be sure to check out the complete list of candidates running this year on the SU website.