On Friday 10 March, the 2017 University of Edinburgh Student Election debates were held in Teviot Dining Hall. Attended by The Student and hosted by FreshAir, the University’s student radio station, the debates were an opportunity for candidates to present their manifestos, discuss major campaign points and deliberate over key issues in front of an audience. The hopefuls for the roles of President, Vice President Activities & Services, Vice President Community, Vice President Welfare and Vice President Education also answered questions submitted by the audience in what was a fast-paced and measured debate.
The opening statements were an opportunity for the candidates to showcase their individuality with the hopefuls for VP Community, Immie Terry and Oliver Glick, opening their debate in two unique styles. Terry went for a conceptual approach contemplating the nature and fluidity of change, enforcing her overall aim to make political change more immediate. Conversely, Glick focused on his past personal experiences as an active member of various organisations such as Sexpression, The Shrub, Bikes for Refugees and the Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative.
The Co-op became quickly relevant as the candidates were asked about how they would work towards fairer housing for students. Glick encouraged students to take advantage of the Housing Co-op and pledged to look into expanding the model if elected.
Terry focused more on tenants’ rights in her response, specifying that she would ensure that all students are treated fairly and equally by landlords and housing companies if elected.
VP Activities & Services
Candidates Kai O’Doherty and Eve Thomas-Davies faced off in the VP Activities and Services debate.
In their opening statements, O’Doherty focused on improving services for societies including room bookings and funding while Thomas-Davies advocated for greater support services for mental health as well as the full utilisation of Students’ Association venues.
Questioned on how the candidates would shape the new role, which forges a connection between activities and services, Thomas-Davies spoke about her live events calendar proposal. Promising to promote cohesion across the university, she said: “I want to create a central hub instead of all the different calendars we have for your semester dates and social events.” O’Doherty’s plans included a training scheme for community representatives and food waste reduction plans. “Schemes need to be collaborative, and talk to students from their perspective,” they said.
The candidates for Vice President Education are Bobi Archer, Geir Darge, Oli Perkins, Baber Rasheed and James Puchowski. In their opening statements, Archer focused on the necessity of communication amongst the academic community while Rasheed highlighted the importance of an encouraging university run with student interests at heart. Darge then outlined his plans to increase study spaces at each campus with Puchowski advocating for the protection of Erasmus funding post-Brexit and Perkins assuring he would work for improved treatment of lecturers and tutors.
Over the course of the debate the candidates also discussed study spaces on campus, engaging satellite campuses, such as King’s Buildings, and the cost of printing.
The largest debate of the evening was held between the candidates for Vice President Welfare: Mel Bridgwood, Esther Dominy, Cara Christine Johnson, Aisha Khanna, Lois King and Josh Simpson.
In their opening statements, Khanna spoke on her commitment to supporting mental, physical and sexual health on campus. Simpson stated he would use his experience as a lawyer to fight for student rights and King highlighted her policy of helping students with the provision of sanitary products. Up next, Bridgwood highlighted the importance of student welfare as a whole, Johnson said she wants more education on liberation issues to make students better allies while Dominy spoke from the personal experience of failing her first year at university due to a lack of support.
The panel were asked about combating sexual assault on campus. Johnson spoke first saying that the University should do more to support victims with Bridgwood agreeing, stating that this support should be readily available and extended to all genders, not just women. Simpson committed to making more forums for discussion on the issue available, allowing students to seek support in the way they felt most comfortable. Closing the debate, Dominy stated that the University is not understanding or accessible enough for students who need support, an issue she would work to combat if elected.
Finally, presidential candidates Beth Harris and Patrick Kilduff took to the stage for the final debate of the evening.
During opening statements, Kilduff summarised his manifesto, highlighting policies such as free entry to the Big Cheese on the week of your birthday, more free taster sessions for societies, keeping the 41 bus free for students and increasing the number of counsellors on each campus. Harris focused on the importance of raising awareness of the Students’ Association on campus to students, like herself, who may be unaware of its impact by creating an online space where students are able to easily communicate with their university.
When asked about what makes them suitable for the presidential role, Harris stated: “I wouldn’t be better than any other student at being president, I am just a student who wants all students to feel like they have an equal say.” Kilduff then expressed his passion for improving campus, allowing future students to have a better experience than his own.
Each candidate was asked questions specific to their manifesto. Kilduff was questioned about his ‘subject specific subsidies’ and whether they would lead to discrimination between subjects. Kilduff explained that Art students often need to spend more on degree related tools, such as colour printing, than, for example, Politics students, meaning that the policy would help to level the playing field between subjects.
Harris was asked about her aim to further integrate the careers services into university life by increasing the number of career related lectures into each curriculum. Kilduff agreed, saying that the careers service should offer clearer pathways into employment after graduation. Harris stated she would tackle this through her online space, allowing students to get in touch with the Students’ Association about anything they wish to change.
Image: Martyna Panasiuk