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19th February 2014

Have the Exec kept their promises?

One semester in – we check if the Exec have kept their promises
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Grace Skelton – General Secretary

Considering her responsibilities as a trustee for the Students’ Union and the recent financial difficulties the organisation has faced, Grace has impressively managed to implement the vast majority of her manifesto. Her key pledges to ensure all students had free access to wi-fi within halls and to expand silent study space are both in the process of becoming a reality. Currently some halls continue to lack free wi-fi access, but the University has guaranteed that every hall will receive free wi-fi access before September 2014 at the very latest. Communal areas such as Squirrel’s bar in Oak House will also have free wi-fi access.

Study space within the Learning Commons remains an issue, but currently Grace is working with Rosie look at ways in which space can be utilised more efficiently as the Learning Commons is not technically full even in peak times.

Probably the most memorable pledge Grace made was to give University of Manchester students access to discounted gig tickets within the academy. Obviously given the financial situation of the Union, this policy was dead on arrival. However, even in the absence of the Union’s budget deficit, doubts have been raised over whether this policy was ever likely to be put in place. Costings were not made available for the policy in the run-up to the election, and questions have to be asked over whether adequate research had taken place before bringing in the policy.

Other pledges fulfilled by Grace include, an anonymous exec phone number for students to text ideas or access advice, and success in campaigns to increase bursaries.

Tabz O’Brien Butcher – Women’s Officer

Tabz is probably the busiest member of the Exec, indeed it was an effort to get her to take the time to respond to questions. That said, the sheer number of campaigns Tabz has launched is impressive. Fulfilling her pledge to launch an Everyday Sexism style campaign, this past thursday Tabz kicked off the We Get It campaign. The campaign aims to highlight the Union’s zero tolerance to sexual harassment policy, and has had support from across the student body and the University, with Dame Nancy Rothwell endorsing it. Tabz describing the campaign said “It aims to get students to talk about their experiences of harassment on campus and beyond, and feed into the campaign to create a safer space for students at Manchester. In three hours we’ve got over 300 likes on facebook, and lots of tweets too!”.

Also pledging to carry out a community safety audit using online mapping, she claims to have been working with over 50 community groups within Manchester to develop mapping tools and to launch a large scale Take Back the Night Bus campaign after hosting reclaim the night.

She also launched a Woman’s Welcome Week, describing  the week Tabz said “Events included LGBT Women’s film night, meet and greet with ISOC sisters, Manchester modernists heroines walking tour with the riveters, No More Page three campaign launch, a poetry event with Women for Women International, Fempowerment link up and launch event, a film screening of ‘Miss Representation’ and also a BIG women’s campaign welcome event bringing together all the different women’s groups and societies.”

Kazi Tawseef – Wellbeing Officer

The manifesto pledge that likely raised the most eyebrows during the election was Wellbeing Officer Kazi’s pledge to bring in a dedicated 24h student ambulance service. Kazi justified the policy to The Mancunion “My concern was that the ambulance service is sometimes very slow to attend emergency call- outs. I once encountered a situation where a casualty was in a life threatening situation, but was told to wait an hour for an ambulance”. Having lobbied the University Kazi’s proposal was rejected on the grounds that it would not be financially feasible, he is currently lobbying the NHS.

Another of Kazi’s policies was to lobby the University to bring in a reading week for all. However this policy was scrapped with Kazi explaining “After taking office and doing further research on it, I have found that it has got strong arguments against reading weeks [sic], both from academics and students. I decided not to pursue it.”  Kazi’s policy to bring in a affordable students only gym was also scrapped after he found that there were many local gyms offering students decent deals during Welcome Week.

Kazi commented on the U-turns “When I ran for the position, my manifesto points contained specific priorities. I feel that my priorities have changed over time, since taking up my post. This is mainly because of lack of information and feasibility analysis.”

Other policies that Kazi prioritised had already been on the University’s radar and by the time of taking office the University had already taken steps to expand counselling services and expand the role of the Purple People during Welcome Week. With this in mind Kazi has still been able to work on some of his manifesto pledges including putting in a bid to fund a pay as you use bicycle scheme and lobbying the University to reduce re-sit costs for overseas students.

Omar Aljuhani – Diversity Officer

Omar has been able to implement all of his manifesto pledge. Pledging to bring TedX to the University of Manchester has been successful and the event, which is an offshoot of the popular TED conferences, will take place on March the 2nd. Speakers will include BBC presenter Jon Sopel and New Statesman journalist Laurie Penny.

He is also working on bringing personal development courses in public speaking and leadership to the University, and while currently the project needs more volunteers it looks set to be ready by the end of the semester. Omar is also organising the Global Week which runs from March the 10th to 16th and includes a fashion show and a food festival. Currently ten cultural societies are  involved and thirty people have volunteered to take part.

Omar has also been working with Kazi to reduce re-sit costs and working with Clifford to launch the I’m Not Welcome campaign. He has also hosted the Great Debate with the Fempowerment society as part of Black History Month in October.

Charlotte Cook – Community Officer

Charlotte has had mixed success in implementing policies from her manifesto. Her pledge to bring a “Students’ guide to website” which would offer students advice hit a stumbling block when she was told that the Union’s web provider cannot facilitate an interactive forum. However, the web provider will be making expansions next year and it will be a long term project for the Communications staff team and future Execs. While unable to offer free first-aid classes, working with the British Red Cross Society she has been able to run them for £2 a session, currently over 70 people have been trained and the British Red Cross Society will be holding free lessons to teach people to carry the knowledge into schools.

Her proposal to write a weekly column in the MEN or the Manchester Evening Reporter’s community section was met with little interest from the papers. Instead she has been promoting the excellent students do in the community by attending residential meetings.

The Student Safety App which she pledged is currently being worked on by the University and her proposal to protect Kosher accommodation has been successful in that Kosher accommodation is still being offered, although the extent to which she is responsible for this is unclear.

Clifford Fleming – Campaigns and Citizenship Officer

Clifford has broadly been able to implement his manifesto with two exceptions, firstly his pledge to reduce commercial flyering outside the Union was out of his hands as the Council control the issuance of permits for flyering, although Clifford aims to meet the Council to discuss the number of permits issued. Secondly, despite pledging to campaign for cheaper utility bills and to conduct research into the utility prices, he has determined that this is no longer a priority preferring “campaigning to make positive change on campus and in society”.

Recently, Clifford has worked on his pledge to raise awareness of global issues by launching Earth Week, which starts on February 10th and will include a food festival and a lecture series. Working with Community Officer Charlotte  Cook Clifford plans to launch Big Ask week, Clifford said “We’re encouraging students to give the SU feedback on what they’d like to change in their local area. We’ve been collecting information with our Big Ask box (which you can find in the Union foyer) and we’ll be presenting the top issues back to the Council in a hustings on Friday March 28th.

Liam Mayet – Activities and Development Officer

Liam has fulfilled most of his pledges although some have had to be slightly modified based on feasibility issues. For instance, he pledged to hold regular meeting with society chairs. However, upon realising that there were over 350 society chairs Liam has dialled down the pledge instead working to improve the Activities Forum to establish links with society chairs. He has also had trouble in putting the amount of charity events he had hoped, but plans on doing more this semester.

Pangea is likely the first thing to come to mind when discussing the Activities and Development Officer. Liam was able to increase the quality of production by investing more creative installations and dynamic lighting. He has also worked to improve links with Man Met student societies by meeting with his MMUnion counterparts.

He has also worked with Clifford to encourage the University to only sell ethical products by lobbying them to sign up to the Workers’ Rights Collective.

Rosie Dammers – Education Officer

Rosie has worked on a range of her pledges, although in some cases the University has made commitments which cannot be backed out of. For instance, she pledged to lobby the university to switch from the BlackBoard online system to the Moodle Virtual Environment, but when she had taken office the University had just made a three year commitment to BlackBoard. To her credit, she’s continuing to work on online learning and managed to get student reps involved in developing new e-learning system within the EPS faculty.

One area she has worked on is course feedback. Rosie has lobbied the University to publish online the results of course unit surveys and include lecturer comments to discuss what measures have been taken to improve the course. Rosie says “This already happens on some courses, however we need to make sure it becomes common practice within the university. I am also lobbying for unit survey results to be made available to student reps, so that they can use them to make sure students comments are listened to, and needs met.”

Study space remains a major issue for the Education Officer, Rosie described some of the actions she was taking “I am currently working with the library to change the furniture in the learning commons so that there is more space for individual study. The library have agreed to put in desk dividers, and put out more desks during exam time. This is just a temporary fix; we hope for something more permanent in the future.”

My take:

Broadly speaking the Exec have kept their word. That said, some lessons should be learnt, firstly the most extravagant sounding pledges are usually the hardest to implement (see discounted gig tickets and the student ambulance service. Secondly, a lot of the time the University will either already be managing projects on the very issues students are campaigning on.  Other times, there may be going in a different direction to the Union and will have paid commitments before the next Exec will take office. One remedy would be for candidates to research their policy ideas in more detail and ask the University to assist in this research, another aspect is to brief candidates in current university policy. Budget issues have been problematic this year, but candidates running in the next election should be given a realistic assessment of the financial situation by the current Exec.

The jury remains out on whether any of this will happen when candidates run to replace the exec in March. Students interested in standing for the exec can do so online on the Manchester Student’s Union website until February 27th.

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