SU president elections: meet the candidates

University Camera Red Cliff Oxford

The Oxford University Student Union elections close today. How will you be voting? Cherwell spoke to each of the three candidates for president.

1. Anisha Faruk – Impact

I’m running to be Student Union President because I believe I have necessary the leadership skills and knowledge of the SU. I would bring activism to the forefront of what the SU does – having been Labour Club co-chair, I’m experienced in grassroots activism and campaigning. I’m excited to work closely with the SU campaigns to push for living wages for all staff and students working for the university, hold the university’s feet to the fire on divestment and fight to reduce and prevent homelessness in Oxford. With regards to the purpose of the SU and its relationship to common rooms. I believe the SU should not step on the toes of common rooms but instead support them to function as best as they can and coordinate between them to bring them closer together. One way I would do this is through maintaining PresComm as a safe space for Presidents to discuss the issues they care about most. Furthermore, the SU amplifies the voices of common rooms as the Sabbatical Officers have access to university officials that students often don’t so they can bring their concerns to the highest level. I also believe another way the SU can engage students is through supporting student societies. Involvement with student societies is one of the biggest things that students will do with their time at Oxford. For instance, the SU can lobby the proctors to make it easier for student societies to affiliate to the university and lobby colleges to make room bookings easier. Having been involved in multiple societies like the Oxford Forum and Oxford Climate Society, I feel as though I understand these concerns. I’d like to establish an informal event which can act as a forum for heads of societies to meet, exchange ideas and learn from each other. This is why I’m proud to have the endorsement of student societies like PPE Society, international Relations Society and HumSoc.

2. Ivy Manning – Independent

Ask yourself: can Oxford be better? I’m sure for most of you the answer is yes, whether the potential improvements from your perspective are big or small. My name’s Ivy Manning (she/her), I’m a third year PPEist at Wadham, and I’m from Hastings. I’m running to be your Oxford SU President, because I have a long list of things I think could be better about Oxford, and plans for how to work towards them. Here’s a brief summary of my vision for Oxford SU.

In spite of the extra university resources in recent years, the university needs to do much more on mental health and wellbeing. Almost everyone at Oxford is under a vast amount of academic pressure, and the university needs to recognise that this can be a cause of short-term mental health issues, and exacerbate long-term ones. I envision a university in which tutors and departments are trained to better adapt their teaching when things go wrong, and where disciplinary procedures always address welfare concerns as a first resort. I’d like to see the SU work much more closely with the Disabilities Campaign to make teaching more accessible for those with long-term mental health conditions, as well as those with physical disabilities.

The university also needs to do more on access, both in terms of admissions and access on-course. I think many leading figures within the university are ready to do more on this, with early plans being made for the expansion of bridging programmes, foundation years, and starting a conversation on access for graduate students. However, it is a challenge to create change in an unequal and often disjointed collegiate university. The university’s publication of its first admissions report was embarrassing for many colleges, and has spurred them to improve on access and admissions. I’d like to see a similar approach on divestment, by pushing for a university report on the ethics of colleges’ investments, and use Oxford’s publicity to pressure it into changing, and quicker.

The SU can play a fundamental role in shaping the relationship between colleges and the university. I’d like to see the SU consulting with common rooms to create a Gold Standard for colleges to adhere to on issues from rent, financial support, and welfare, to vacation residence and storage for international students. As with the admissions report, pooling information will allow us to highlight those colleges which are underperforming or which are setting good examples, putting pressure on Governing Bodies to do better.

The SU should be engaged, open, and accountable to students. As a Student Trustee at the SU for the past year, I have seen a lot of internal reorganisation, and the SU’s staff structure and strategy are much stronger than they used to be: the SU is different to JCRs not just because it operates at the wider university level, but also because it has much more time, expertise, and resources than often-overloaded student volunteers at colleges. We need to make the SU’s massive potential power deliver real impact for students, through better communications, training for common rooms’ Oxford SU reps, and the creation of clear lines of feedback.

I envision a better Oxford, and I have clear, specific, and deliverable plans to make this happen. Check out my full manifesto and more details about my campaign at https://www.facebook.com/OxfordCanBeBetter/.

3. Ellie Milne-Brown – Aspire

The SU needs to work for and with students. That’s at the foundation of what I, as well as Amber, Miranda, and Róisín, want to do as your next Student Union team. There’s so much passion around this University for making it better and making it work more effectively for students, and Oxford SU can be an incredibly powerful vehicle for change if it harnesses that energy and gets students actually engaged. Students far too often don’t get involved in the SU, and that’s especially true for graduate students: as I write this, only around 2.5% of graduate students have voted as opposed to around 9% of undergraduates. That’s a problem, because there’s so much important work which needs to be done to improve conditions for graduates across the university, and some of our biggest challenges –including the new graduate college – affect them primarily or exclusively. My first priority as your President will be listening to and working with graduates to make an SU that works
for them.
Beyond that, I’m focusing on access beyond admissions. So much amazing work has been
done on admissions, but it’s not the end of the story – as much as the University would like to pretend it is. If students from disadvantaged backgrounds can’t afford to study here – either because of extortionate fees for international students, always-rising rents, or a lack of effective and accessible financial support – that’s a problem. If students from disadvantaged backgrounds can’t thrive because they aren’t given the academic or pastoral support they need, we need to do something. If students can’t succeed because their colleges don’t provide enough mental health support, something needs to change. If you elect me, Róisín, Amber, and Miranda, we’ll make that change happen, with engaging with students at the heart of our work.

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Students have to come first when we’re addressing these issues. That’s true in two senses:
firstly, the SU needs to always put the needs and requirements of students first, and make
sure everyone gets the chance to thrive here. Secondly, change is most effective when it’s
driven by students – I genuinely don’t think there’s any change which can’t happen if Oxford students campaign for it, and I’ll drive to enable that campaigning. If you build change out from the grassroots, and if you work with students to get their ideas and thoughts heard, you can affect change across the University – because students do genuinely care about access, divestment, and a range of other issues. As well as this, I have experience of working in committees and in meetings to make a difference – and I know that that’s most effective when you have students behind you.

Centralisation of admissions – and centralisation more generally – is vital for the future of
the University. Great work has already been done by the Earth Sciences department, for
example, in making admissions entirely college-blind; I think that’s excellent. However we
can’t ignore that this is a collegiate university, and change frequently comes from the
colleges; LMH’s Foundation Year, for example, changed the access conversation but was
opposed at a University level, while suspension policies are amazing in some colleges, but
the University’s official guidance is terrible and excludes suspended students from
participating in their college’s life. What needs to be done is to ensure that positive reforms
like the Foundation Year are encouraged while closing the disparities between colleges –
we’re in a University where the richest colleges have 40 times the wealth of the poorest, and that’s just unsustainable. The SU has to do the hard, University-wide and inter-collegiate work of closing that gap and making sure every student gets the chance to thrive here, whether that’s by centralising services or fostering cooperation between colleges.

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As the JCR President at Exeter, I saw how much common rooms – not just JCRs, but MCRs
and common rooms in graduate-only colleges – can genuinely get done in improving the
lives of students, but I also realised the limits to that. I couldn’t, as one President in one
college, make the University change its policies when I knew that needed to happen, but I
could change things if I worked alongside the SU and the other Presidents. The SU can’t
replace common rooms in their day-to-day work in colleges, nor should it want to. What it
can do is work with common rooms – and with campaigns, and any other student
organisation which makes change happen – and support the incredible work they do,
developing it beyond individual colleges or enabling the improvement of standards in just
one college. I think what needs to change to get students involved – and to make the vision of an SU that really engages with students a reality – is twofold. Firstly, the SU needs to be more visible, and to more clearly take stands on issues which affect students. Secondly, it needs to listen to students, and ask itself the hard questions about what it’s not getting right in terms of engaging with students, especially graduates.