Peter McColl and Steve Morrison faced off in the 2015 Rectorial Election Debate on February 4, outlining their visions for the next three years.
The two candidates for University Rector answered questions from the moderator, Edinburgh University Debates Union’s Nish Hegde, audience members, and each other, on topics ranging from mental health to what the Rector’s role should be.
McColl defended his record as the incumbent, touting improved feedback times and availability of accommodation for first-years, and stressed the importance of affordable education, saying to applause: “it is immoral to exclude people from education based on their ability to pay.”
Morrison argued that the University needs educational reform, with more emphasis being placed on interdisciplinary work, sport, and education outside the classroom.
He said: “I devised a program which I hope would lead you to an education fit for you, not fit for the traditional regime.”
While the two candidates agreed that action needs to be taken on many issues, like the affordability of education, they offered different approaches to solving these problems.
McColl called for decisive action in the upcoming general election to elect a government favourable to reaching his goal of free university education, while Morrison instead said it would be more achievable to focus on reducing fees for English, Welsh, and Northern Irish students.
A recurring criticism of McColl from audience members was his outspoken support for Scottish independence and affiliation (and candidacy for Parliament in the upcoming election) with the Green Party.
McColl said: “I think my political affiliation is in tune with a lot of what I hear students talking about, […] but it’s not so much about me representing the Green Party to you, it’s something I see as an opportunity and as aligned with the interests of the students.”
He said his support for independence was with the interests of the university in mind, claiming it would have helped achieve his goal of maintaining a low cost of education.
Morrison faced criticism that he was too focussed on preparing students for the business world, and that his residence in London would hamper his ability to serve as Rector.
He said: “I don’t think I’m talking about preparing for the business world, I’m talking about preparing for the world. There’s no point in having a traditional educational system that is so pure, that when we leave we’re not able to flex our muscles and our skills to do the best we can in the world.”
Morrison further promised to visit Edinburgh at least once a month should he be elected.
The candidates ended the debate agreeing that the Rector should be an advocate for the students.
In his closing statement, McColl said: “I think it’s really important that we go forward with the interests of students.”
Morrison echoed his sentiment, adding: “I think the Rector needs to be a bigger force representing you […] I’ll be your foghorn.”