By the News team
Jackie Yip, President of Cardiff University’s Students’ Union, opened up this year’s Annual General Meeting with a call upon students to register to vote for the upcoming general election on December 12.
After approving the minutes of last year’s AGM with little opposition, Yip sifted through “student wins” from the last academic year, including working with the National Assembly of Wales to get rid of agency fees; achieving a 39% increase engagement with Give it a Go; and launching a Cardiff Volunteering online membership site.
Yip also boasted that it has been an award-winning year, ranking the third-best Students’ Union in the UK according to Which?, and also being named one of the Sunday Times’ Top 100 not-for-profit employers.
AGM 2019 was a night of heightened emotion with a varied list of motion topics, ranging from institutional racism to abortion.
Before delving into the specific motions, Josh Prior, Chair of the AGM, announced to the crowd that some of this year’s emotions are “quite emotive” and encouraged students to “keep it polite”. Here is a breakdown of each motion voted on at this year’s AGM and what happened throughout the evening:
Should Cardiff University Students’ Union become a Living Wage Employer?
Proposed by Leo Holmes, the first motion of the night requested that the Students’ Union becomes a Living Wage employer and applies to the Living Wage Foundation for Living Wage accreditation. It is reported that Cardiff University is already a Real Living Wage employer, paying its staff the Living Wage of £9.30 per hour.
The motion called upon the Students’ Union to pay its employees a Living Wage because financial stress can be a contributor to mental health issues in the younger generations; Union workers will become more productive, making the Students’ Union a happier workplace; and it will show that the Union respects the hard work taken by staff and contractors in the Students’ Union by reducing the likelihood of financial strain adversely affecting their mental health. What’s more, the motion proposed that Living Wage accreditation could be beneficial to Union business.
Therefore, this motion is calling for the Students’ Union to apply for accreditation; ensure all new and currently employed staff are paid at least £9.30 per hour within the next three academic years; ensure that there are no cuts to Mental Health services as a result of implementing the wage; and to immediately begin plans to employ all on-site contractors with the new wage within the next three years also.
At the AGM, Leo Holmes, was welcomed to the stage to explain his motion. He argued that by paying a Living Wage, the Students’ Union would ‘greatly benefit’ workers through raising their standard of living. He argued that this would improve the ‘work life balance’ of employees who work at the SU saying they work ‘an excessive number of hours.’ If their work-life balance is improved, he states that individuals will have more time to focus on their studies and not just their paid work. He went on to say it would be better for customers of the SU also as the workforce will be healthier and happier. There were people against the motion, including someone who works for The Taf, suggesting it would detract funds away from other services.
After the discussion, when put to a vote, although it was very tight, this motion was passed contrasting previous years.
Should Cardiff University Students’ Union commit to tackling institutional racism?
This motion, proposed by Jackie Yip, called upon the Students’ Union to do a various number of things, one being to call on Cardiff University to publicly acknowledge its duty to act on the findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission 2019 report into racial harassment in UK public universities.
The report discovered that racial harassment is commonly experienced by student and staff at UK universities, with 24% of students from an ethnic minority background reporting experiencing racial harassment since beginning their course and one in 20 leaving their studies due to racial harassment; additionally, it was found that three in 20 staff have left their jobs, too.
Additionally, two thirds of students stated that they did not report experiencing racial harassment to their university because they were not confident in the process.
The motion therefore also calls upon the Students’ Union to work with Cardiff University to find solutions to ensure student voices are heard and to work with the National Union of Students Wales to lobby the Higher Education Funding Council Wales to ensure the recommendations of the report are acted upon.
The motion states that “there is no place for racism in society” and universities should be leading the way in changing cultures and tackling behaviours to ensure students can study without living in fear of harassment.
Cardiff University was accused of institutional racism following a play performed by the medical school, Anaphylaxis, in which students “blacked up” to convey a member of university staff. Since then, some students have continued to protest against alleged racism within the university, for example in July 2019, a protest was organised outside of Cardiff University with Stand Up To Racism Cardiff to call on the institution to release the apology letters of those who performed in the play. At the time, a Cardiff University spokesperson said: “We do take allegations of racism very seriously” and that the University thoroughly investigate all allegations with appropriate action taken.
As part of her speech to propose this motion at the AGM, Jackie said that a ¼ of BAME students reported having experienced racial harassment in their first term, 8% said they felt suicidal thoughts. The report that was issued outlined 10 recommendations to help Cardiff tackle the issue. Jackie clearly outlined her position and the universities position toward racism ‘there is absolutely no place for racism both on our campus and in wider society and we should be acting to ensure that the results of these findings are things of our past and not of our future.’
The questions asked are paraphrased here: do you know what support is available to students as what is available is not good enough; and, a member of the Jewish society asked if there was anything about antisemitism in the motion finally.
In response to these questions, Jackie said for the first question that there are gaps in the current support system on offer to students and that the report has good comprehensive recommendations that the university can implement. In relation to the antisemitism comment, the report was a national report did not specify any particular ethnicity or religion, and that there is a zero-racism policy at the university.
There were no speeches against the motion and when put to the vote it was unanimously passed with few abstentions.
Should Cardiff University Students’ Union support the UCU Strike action?
This motion called upon the Students’ Union to support the University College Union (UCU) Strike action occurring in universities across the UK beginning on November 25. Proposed by Hebe Fletcher, it asked the Union to lobby the university for free reimbursements for lost contact hours; to work with the UCU to facilitate and promote ‘Teach Out’ sessions for students during the strike period; and for Vice President Postgraduate to encourage students to support and engage with staff at rallies or on picket lines. The motion argued that the UK Higher Education sector is facing “a crisis of poor employment conditions”.
As of November 25, university staff throughout the country, including staff at Cardiff University, are striking for eight days and refusing to cover absent colleagues and reschedule lost lectures through additional Action Short of Strike until April 29 2020 at the latest.
The motion argued that strike action is more than about pay and pensions but about “protecting the work culture within our University” and taking a stand against “pay inequality, precarious work, inequality and excessive workloads” which affect lecturers and postgraduate students who teach, and the Students’ Union has a duty to support issues faced by postgraduate students.
Arguing in support of the strike, the speaker said, ‘I believe we as a Student’s Union should support this strike action. We cannot afford to stay neutral’ and she went on to discuss the wider implications of the strike such as the impact on staff of working conditions and unsustainable workloads. Other issues included the gender pay gap and the lack of job security at Cardiff.
Queries from the audience raised concerns of missing exams and questioned whether this was taken into account when strike action was discussed and whether it is fair on international students, accusing the union of taking sides. In response to these questions, the speaker said the union takes into account how the industrial action will impact the workload of students and suggested that students approach advice for targeted support.
When put to a vote this motion was passed almost unanimously.
Should Cardiff University Students’ Union adopt a Radical Environmental Policy?
Proposed by Matt Tomlin, this motion called upon the Students’ Union to adopt a Radical Environmental Policy which would require a number of actions from the Union.
Firstly, it called upon the Students’ Union to begin a ‘Tell the Truth’ campaign regarding the climate and ecological crisis on university campus by the end of the next academic term and must be done in collaboration with interested campaigning and environmental groups. It also requires the Union to lobby Cardiff University to “communicate the truth” about environmental crises and for both institutions to commit immediately to a carbon net-zero target of 2025.
Moreover, it asked the Students’ Union to create a Students’ Assembly for Climate and Ecological Justice with approval from the Union and Cardiff University within this academic year. The motion outlined that such an Assembly would work like a Citizens’ Assembly, being composed of a random, representative sample of up to 500 students. If the Union cannot implement these changes, it is stated they must become “active in demanding the government makes systemic changes” so they are able to make these changes.
In the motion, Tomlin argued that there is very little representation of Cardiff University students in the environmental decision-making processes of the Students’ Union and Cardiff University. As a result, he claims the best way forward is to create a new democratic system.
James Wareham, VP Welfare, then proposed an amendment to the motion calling for the student assembly clause to be removed. He said that while he supports the motion, he wants to re-evaluate it to make sure it succeeds. “I vehemently support the remainder of the motion and its intention,” Wareham said, but added that the motion without the amendment could have unintended consequences, emphasizing a potential lack of support for the motion and emphasizing the fact that those present were there due to mandatory attendance. He also stressed the importance that the work in this area be done in a meaningful and effective way.
Tomlin argued against the amendment on the basis that “my motion specifically says up to 500 students,” and that a democratic majority should be sufficient to pass the motion.
The amendment passed, although the votes had to be counted twice and the motion as a whole also passed with very few votes against.
To read about the final motion calling for the Students’ Union to adopt a pro-choice stance, click here.
Sabbatical Officer Review
The Sabbatical Officer Review was set to be one of the most heated discussions of the night. The online consultation process to gauge student responses to the review options – removing VP Postgraduate to make way for a Welsh Language and Communities Officer; merging VP Education and VP Welfare to free up a space; or conducting a year-long review of the current Sabbatical Officer team – was met with hostility from both undergraduate and postgraduate students.
The proposal to introduce a full-time Welsh Language and Communities Sabbatical Officer was voted in favour of at last year’s AGM and was on the agenda early in the evening, However, the Sabbatical Officer Review was unexpectedly postponed until the end of the AGM in order to allow time to discuss a proposal to change the Standing Order, but was met with opposition from students, shouting “No!” from the audience.
As the AGM drew near its end, the Sabbatical Officer Review was then back on the agenda. Before beginning the debate on the Review, Yip stated “the decision is in your hands here today”.
The first proposal debated was to remove VP Postgraduate. Incumbent VP Postgraduate, Nick Fox, spoke against the proposal, talking of how the role has secured many wins for the student body as a whole, not just for postgraduates. For example, VP Postgraduate secured opening the ASSL for 24 hours a day, seven days a week during Christmas and Easter holidays. He also stressed the importance of VP Postgraduate in combating mental health issues in postgraduate students, as well as addressing the disproportionate focus on the undergraduate university experience. However, Fox made it abundantly clear he was not against the creation of a Welsh Language role.
The second proposal debated was to merge the VP Education and VP Welfare roles. Tomos Evans, current VP Education, said that “as a very proud Welsh speaker and someone who is half Welsh…I see the need for more Welsh representation, but I would not be doing my job as VP Education if I did not express my concerns”. The VP Education is a very broad role, he continued, which encompasses all students at Cardiff University. The role was also argued to be a crutch for other officers who do not understand the entire education system themselves. Merging the roles could unfairly increase the workload, he argued.
The third and final proposal was for the Sabbatical Officer team to remain the same with a year-long review. A postgraduate student spoke at the AGM stating how they wanted the Students’ Union to be bilingual, but they felt that VP Postgraduate is a vital role for them; they seemed dismayed at the proposals offered to them.
Wiliam Rees then spoke in favour of creating the Welsh Language Officer and expressed his anger at the three proposals offered to students. Speaking in Welsh, he reminded the room that last year’s motion called for the creation of an eighth Sabbatical Officer without any negative impact on other students; Rees felt this promise had not been met.
For Welsh students studying in the Welsh capital, Rees argued that the additional role is necessary to increase student representation and ultimately felt the three options did not do that. He argued that they either take away the representation of others or reduce their representation.
Following Rees’ speech, some students proceeded to rip up their ballot papers for the Officer Review, and some students were holding recycling bags by the exit door of the Great Hall to allow some students to bin their ballot papers instead of cast their votes in the provided boxes.