Elections kicks off with the Candidates’ Question Time

Nine candidates drop out of the runnings before manifestos are released, leaving only two running for SU President

Campaign Week kicked off on Thursday, 19th February with ‘Candidates Question Time’, an event which gives the student community the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the candidates running for each of the elected positions.

Between the Period of Notice and the release of candidate manifestos, a substantial nine candidates pulled out of the running.

Most notably Faraz Alauddin, current VP Welfare, dropped out of the race for SU President. This leaves just two candidates running for the position; Claire Blakeway, current VP Heath Park and Barney Willis, current VP Societies.

The fact that the election for the highest ranking job is now just a two-horse race means that the role is now at its least coveted ‘in recent memory’, according to Union officials.

A further eight candidates running for various positions prematurely ended their campaigns: Benjamin Cole (Education), Tim Nagle (Heath Park), Vidya Brainerd (Heath Park), Jasmine Kew (Heath Park), Ebunoluwa Bola-Shadipe (Postgraduate Students), Lisa Childs (Postgraduate Students), Jade Cox (Ethical/Environmental) and Alexander Franklin (Welfare).

During ‘Question Time’, candidates for part-time campaign officer roles were required to answer one pre-determined question followed by one question from the audience – whilst candidates for full time sabbatical roles were required to answer one predetermined question and a further two from the audience.

Due to the large number of candidates each response was limited to 30 seconds – a rule strictly enforced by outgoing SU President, Elliot Howells.

The audience was not allowed to pose questions directed at specific candidates or policies.

The event, held in the Julian Hodge lecture theatre, began off with the role of LGBT+ (Women’s) Officer – a muted start, as only one candidate (Ellie Utley) was in the running for the newly formed part time position.

As of 2015/16 the role of LGBT+ Officer, currently held by Sam Cook, will be split in to two separate roles: LGBT+ (Women’s) Officer and LGBT+ (Open) Officer, a move aimed at providing better representation for LGBT+ students within the Union.

Yet the role of LGBT+ (Open) also attracted a single candidate, Jack Meldrum, who did not attend the event.

LGBT+ (Women’s) candidate Utely suggested that the splitting of the role would enable her to “raise awareness of different gender identities” and better tackle the issue of prejudice within the LGBT+ community.

Next, attention turned to the candidates running for the position of Students with Disabilities Officer: Samuel Pritchard and Diana Isajeva.

Both were asked where they stand on the title of the position, in line with a recent motion brought before the Student Senate – with the body having already approved a motion to change the title of the role to ‘Accessibility Officer’.

Samuel remarked: “I am a student and I have a disability. That is where I stand on it,” arguing that instead of discussing whether or not the title alienates students “we should be talking about how we can help and how we can empower students.”

For her part, Diana stated that she believes that the change should “bring positive associations to its meaning.”

Steffan Bryn Jones, the current Welsh Language Officer and the only candidate to retain the role, was next to answer questions.

The issue was raised over whether or not the extent of the University’s financial investment in the Welsh language is justified, to which Jones replied that he has a “commitment to equality no matter what the cost.”

In a similar vein, candidates running for the position of Ethical and Environmental Officer – Sam Jenkins and Daniel Tucker – were asked why the Students Union should continue campaigning on ethical and environmental issues given that students tend to rank this as very low on their list of priorities.

In response, Jenkins boldly exclaimed that “regardless of whether or not people think it’s important, it’s important,” adding that “fossil fuels will kill us if we continue to use them”.

Tucker cited the University’s £2.5 million investment in fossil fuels (revealed by Gair Rhydd in December 2014), exclaiming that the role of Ethical and Environmental Officer tackles issues that “affect all of us and the world around us”.

Soon after, the candidates running for International Students’ Officer – Sarah Al Sayed and Grace Piddington – discussed how they would make themselves approachable to such a wide range of students.

The current International Students’ Officer has expressed difficulties with engaging with students, but both candidates stressed the importance of listening to the wants and needs of the electorate; Al Sayed noted that she would use social media to interact more with students.

Ahmed Laajam, who is also running for the position, was not present at the evening’s event.

The three candidates for the role of Women’s Officer were next to the podium – Amy Bullard, Leah Hibbs and Rachael Melhuish.

Bullard was the first of the candidates to speak, opening with discussing a “high profile year for the Women’s Association”. One of her key aims is to ensure the provision of non-profit sanitary products via the Students’ Union, following in the footsteps of the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Melhuish, currently chair of Cardiff University Women’s Association, emphasised the Union’s ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ concerning sexual assault, stressing that if elected she would ensure better support services for victims of the crime.

A member of the audience then questioned the candidates over why there should be a Women’s Officer but no male equivalent.

Melhuish responded saying that “men are also subject to issues such as sexual assault, but the number of male victims is disproportionate to the number of female victims.”

Hibbs noted that “women face daily discrimination,” citing the fact that only one member of the current full time elected team in the Union is female.

The first full time position to be discussed was VP Sports and AU President – this year only two candidates are running for the position (Sam Parsons and Steph Pugh), which in previous years has been highly contested.

The first question referred to the hotly debated question of whether or not sports society initiations should be banned.

Parsons said that it is important that sports teams are “open and honest” with the Union, stating that initiations “will still happen” and that more needs to be done to put boundaries in place –

This will ensure that Freshers are aware that their participation in initiations will not affect their status in the sport and they can leave at any point.

Pugh also stressed the importance of making sure students are able to opt out of initiations, adding that a move towards an “era of welcome drinks” is required.

Following questions from the audience, each of the candidates running for full time positions were also allocated a five second window to state their priority for the year if they were to be voted in.

Pugh insisted that she will focus on “facility reviews”, ensuring that sports facilities are above the standard of other universities – whilst Sam claimed that he hopes to “reduce the cost of sport for students so more people can play sport whilst at uni.”

Next, questions were directed at the seven candidates running for VP Education – Olivier van den Bent-Kelly, Will McLoughlin, Olivia (Livi) Gilbert, Felicity Holmes-Mackie, Sophie Timbers, Matthew Jenkins and Beth Innes.

The first to be posed was whether or not tuition fees should reflect the number of contact hours linked to each course.

Generally, candidates spoke out against the proposal.

Timbers stated that “we all pay for a university degree” and it’s “fair we are all treated equally”, whilst Innes argued that varying course fees “might encourage schools to reduce contact hours to reduce the cost and draw in more students.”

Candidates were also asked how they would tackle inconsistencies in marking, leading Gilbert to suggest that “more detailed mark schemes are required” so that “everyone knows what the goals are.”

However, Holmes-Mackie noted the sheer number of “exams, essays and markers in the uni” meant that there can be “no one particular way of dealing with it”.

Candidates were questioned over whether or not they think it is right to charge international students higher fees than domestic students – a question which received a wide range of responses.

Van den Bent-Kelly noted that international students already have higher living costs as they have to pay to use services such as the NHS, stressing that “education is a right” and that international students “should be allowed the same as everyone else.”

McLoughlin expressed similar views, insisting that “international students enrich our lives, culture and education” and he would “like to see more students study abroad”.

Innes was the only candidate to bring up the fact that Welsh students pay even than other British students, a point further noted by Welsh Language Officer, Steffan Bryn Jones.

Timbers stated that she “does not believe you can charge the same amount” as “it’s only fair as we would have to pay higher fees if we went to university abroad”.

Following this debate, the candidates for the position of VP Postgraduate Students Officer took to the stage.

Previously a part time position, the role is now to be made full time following a discussion at the Cardiff Students’ Union Annual General Meeting. Three candidates are in the running – MJ Melissen, Katie Kelly and Thomas Malo Tollefsen.

All candidates emphasised their approval of the creation of a full time role, with Melissen arguing that the “Union needs to market events for postgrads better” and that “events held now do not meet the needs of post grads”.

Tollefsen expressed similar views, boldly claiming that “post-grads are not taken seriously” by existing services.

He also criticised the Union’s marketing of events, ridiculing the institution for asking postgraduate students: “would you like to go to Solus and get pissed?”

Kelly noted that postgraduates are not integrated well within the Union, arguing that there needs to be improved communication as many people are “not even aware of the post-grad association”.

Next on the agenda was the debate between the candidates for the role of VP Societies, of which there were seven: James Clarke, Hannah Sterritt, Joe Perrins, Claire Wisener, James Ledward, Nicolas Rothera and Becci Guymer.

The first question posed to candidates pertained as to whether or not the number of societies should be capped so that resources are not spread as thinly.

The majority of candidates spoke very strongly against the proposal. Rothera stated that there is “no such thing as too many societies” and that any limitation would “reduce opportunities for students”.

Clarke described the ideas as “absurd”, suggesting that “there should be no limit to the diversity of societies”.

Sterritt was the only candidate who expressed support for the capping of societies, but stated that she felt we are “nowhere near that yet”. She added: “Cardiff is a brilliant place where very niche societies are celebrated and encouraged and I wouldn’t was to lose sight of those in favour of numbers.”

A number of the candidates also spoke about reviewing the society tier system. Rothera proposed “separate tier systems for different groups of societies”, whilst Ledward stressed that the system is “invaluable” and can be used to ensure societies offer what they say they will.

Next, candidates running for the most hotly contested position, VP Welfare, took to the front of the lecture theatre. A total of twelve candidates turned out – Jess Davies, Sam Cook, Kate Delaney, Myles Stenlake, Thom Davies, Alexander Franklin, Laura Knight, Dominic Dicks, Nadine Dahan, Eliza Walwyn-Jones, Daniyal Zafar, Himanshu Kishnani and Jake Smith.

Candidates were asked whether or not they felt sexual or mental health should take priority within the role. All were in agreement that both issues are of extreme importance – but many expressed the view that sexual health currently requires more attention within the Union.

Dicks argued that the two are “interlinked issues”, whilst Smith noted that “Cardiff University generally ranks poorly for sexual health” and that current services are poor. Delaney expressed similar views, proposing that the Union should “relieve the pressure placed on sexual health society ‘SHAG’.

Due to the sheer number of candidates running for the position, the decision was made to split the candidates into two separate groups who each answered a different question. The issues discussed were the candidates’ views on the provision of support for students with children and access to sexual health screening.

The penultimate group to face questioning were the candidates running for the position of VP Heath Park – Hina Sadh, Katey Beggan and Chloe Richards. George Powney was also scheduled to run for the position, but was not in attendance at the event.

Richards stressed that she aims to make the “Union more accessible” for Heath students, whilst – in response to questions over how they will support students who start their courses at different times of the year (such as March intake nurses) – all candidates stressed the importance of listening to students.

In particular, Sadh said that she would “listen and adhere to the wants of students”.

It was recognised that a large number of students have no interaction with the Union – with many not even aware that elections are happening. In terms of how she would improve communication, Richards suggested the start of a regular newsletter to Heath students.

The final candidates to face questioning on the night were those running for the top job: that of SU President. Following the withdrawal of Faraz Alauddin, the running is between Barney Willis and Claire Blakeway.

The candidates were tackled over the weighty issue of whether Cardiff University should remain a part of the National Union of Students (NUS). In response to this, Blakeway highlighted the role of the NUS in foregrounding university issues on a national level.

Both candidates were in agreement that they do not believe there is a need for a full time Welsh Language Officer. Willis argued that there is “an argument for all part time positions to be made full time”, whilst that “sometimes less is more”.

Blakeway added that it is “part of all officers remit to represent the Welsh language”.

Both insisted that they truly believe their manifesto points to be achievable – Willis insisted that “otherwise I wouldn’t have put it in my manifesto”, whilst Blakeway cited her achievements this year in the role of sabbatical officer as an indication “passion” for the job.

In the final query of the night, candidates were asked (in the presence of current SU President, Elliot Howells) what they felt was the biggest thing that the current President had failed to achieve and how would they address this.

Both candidates were sure to commend Elliot for doing a “fantastic job”, but drew attention to student engagement. Blakeway announced her intention to make the Students’ Union “one of the best in the world”, whilst Willis announced the need to engage with the “14,000 students we don’t currently engage with”.