Skip to main content

9th May 2023

What have your SU execs been up to this year?

The Mancunion investigates whether each member of the 2022/23 Exec Team has fulfilled the promises in their manifesto, whilst looking into the structure of democracy at our SU more widely
What have your SU execs been up to this year?
Photo: University of Manchester Students’ Union

What was new this year?

As part of the SU’s restructuring of democratic roles, the former Education Officer was split into three faculty roles: Humanities Officer, Science and Engineering Officer, and Biology, Medicine and Health Officer. A City and Community officer was added to tackle issues such as sustainability and student housing. Whilst ten autonomous student Associations replaced the former part-time officer roles. These associations include an LGBTQ+ Chair, a Disabled Chair and a Multicultural and Diasporan Association Chair.

The Association Chair roles are currently voluntary positions. However, for the academic year 2023/24 and onwards, the SU is looking to make these paid student staff roles. The last few months have involved conducting research into how the SU reward and recognise student leaders, however, charity law and the Education Act have to be taken into account when looking into pay.

We asked the SU what the differences between the Faculty Association Chairs and paid Faculty Execs are. As there are Humanities, Science and Engineering and other Faculty Association Chairs. The Association Chairs are grassroots organisers of each Faculty, aiming to create community and make change. As opposed to the Execs who work at the highest level of the student voice pyramid, interacting with both the University and students as part of their full-time job.

The Scrutiny Committee

Until the academic year 2022-23, a scrutiny committee made up of three current students would conduct an investigation into the execs’ progress and efficiency. Formed in 2019, the committee would request a self-written report from each officer three times a year. This was then followed by an interview stage and report findings would be presented at the following student senate.

Officers would be scored out of four on three criteria: transparency and democracy, planning for impact, and communication and student engagement. Those who failed to submit a report would not be subject to the scrutiny process, receiving an NA on the scoring table. The last officer scrutiny report was in April of 2022, with the committee disbanded this academic year.

This disbandment, however, is not entirely clear to students. On the page listing the current execs, a tab containing previous scrutiny committee reports sits at the top of the page. Likewise, the ‘current structures’ page of the SU website details the outdated exec role structure, with roles such as Women’s Officer and Part-Time Officers still listed despite their removal. A news release or updated webpage explaining the changes to democratic structures at the SU is missing, although an informative write-up of the reasons for switching to the new structure written by the University of Manchester Students’ Union Campaigns and Democracy Manager can be found here.

No formal scrutiny process has replaced the scrutiny committee since its disbandment. All eight officers started posting blog posts on the SU news site, with Celina and Emily posting two. However, no exec has provided another blog update since November 2022. It appears there has been no formal process to hold officers accountable to their manifesto promises, run by or available to students, until this investigation.

The Students’ Union explained the Scrutiny Committee was disbanded due to a lack of student engagement with the process. Hence, the introduction of blog posts and increased social media activity forms part of diversifying the ways that students get to know their Exec officers.

Contacting and receiving updates from Execs

The Execs are meant to hold open meetings with the students and be open to any feedback that they might receive from students. Many on the current Exec board made pledges on their manifestos to take the contact between students and Execs further than what was previously seen.

Sam, Robbie and Celina have been the pioneers in this field. All three have had constant engagement on Instagram. Robbie can be seen almost every weekday on stories he posts interacting with the different societies and student groups. Meanwhile, Sam and Celina make posts and reels on their official pages on what changes they have brought in.

Even SU’s Instagram page has seen an increase in engagement. From the start of this Execs term until now, there have been 153 Instagram posts. This is 30 more posts than the Execs from last year, in the same time frame. This year the SU’s page also includes the “What’s on this week?” posts, which have helped students know what will be going on in the SU foyer. This according to Sarina, a second-year student, “Is a massive improvement. Last year, it was a complete shot in the dark to know if the foyer is empty or not. This year I can just open Instagram and know.”

However, the extent of communication with students might just be limited to Instagram. Aforementioned, the Execs have not kept up with their blogs since November 2022. Along with that, Ansab Ali and Tesnime Safarou, both of whom have been selected for next year, are yet to add a profile about themselves on the SU’s website. The profile is meant to be a brief introduction of who the Exec is, stating their roles and goals, with the aim being to inform students who may want to raise a question on who they should approach.

Meanwhile, on other social media apps such as Twitter, only Robbie and Sam have official accounts. On Facebook no one seems to have an official exec account, instead, personal accounts may be used for SU Exec information. Finally on TikTok Celina occasionally uses her account to share SU Exec information, while Robbie seems to have created an account for re-election.

Finally, on talking to Student Representatives from the three-different Faculties a clear pattern emerged. Emily was seen as someone reliable and Student Reps felt that in their conversations they could talk to her. The same cannot be said for Kiki and Shauna. A Rep from the School of Biology, Medicine and Health said, “Who is Kiki? Is she meant to be a part of our team?” In the School of Science and Engineering, a Rep exclaimed, “I have never heard Shauna talk. She has always been in meetings where she is needed, but I have never heard her voice.” However, Reps from both these schools did claim that they have talked to Ansab, and he has been there to listen to them when need be.

The big collective win: one-off £170 payment

The entire exec team collectively secured a £170 one-off payment for all students earlier this year, with a second payment round for targeted student groups. This involved securing £9 million altogether, constituting the most comprehensive support package offered by any University as a direct response to the cost-of-living crisis.

Each individual

Note: Robbie, Shauna and Tesnime campaigned for re-election in early March, so had a two week period away from the role.

The first request for comment was sent on March 1, with a reminder sent to those officers who hadn’t got back to us on April 21. 

Samantha Bronheim – Union Affairs

One of Sam’s primary goals was to improve career prospects. Originally intending to develop an alumnus mentoring scheme, once she came into the role Sam quickly realised there was a lot of opportunity to develop the SU’s JobShop. Sam has worked to offer more jobs on the site and also collaborated with the Careers Service to provide more opportunities for professional development as a student. This involved creating learning packages for career skills to improve confidence in the workplace once we graduate.

Sam delivered on her manifesto promise of better online resources by getting approval for the Flexible Learning Programme Project, which involved creating online resources to support lecturers and content. In terms of tackling antisemitism, Sam has had regular communication with the JSoc committee and members to discuss how to make the campus more inclusive for Jewish students, which has led to the introduction of Kosher food options at the SU and in university-run food outlets.

As Union Affairs Officer, Sam sits on the Board of Governors of the University, which is the highest decision-making body there is. Since her appointment to the role in August, she has submitted a paper that outlines the biggest issues challenging the student experience at that time, outlining both emerging and long-term issues. This was not something past presidents (formerly general secretaries) had done and has been received well by board members.

Robbie Beale – Activities and Culture 

Re-elected into the role for 2023/24

Robbie’s manifesto focused on society support, creativity and safety. Successfully, Robbie has secured 8x more funding for societies, 4x more money in the Access to Recreation Grant (with hopes to increase this next year), new access to University-owned spaces for societies free of charge, and new societies team focused student support.

One of Robbie’s priorities moving forward is to look into venue licensing in the city to improve student safety, admitting these kinds of manifesto commitments can become a big body of work. In collaboration with Tesnime, who has also been re-elected for 2023/24, the ‘Student City Strategy’ is in the works. Together – with other Manchester universities, SUs and the Combined Authority, they hope to create a student strategy at a city-wide level covering housing, transport, and safety.

The role of the new Activities and Culture Officer absorbed the responsibilities of the former International Officer and the well-being of international students. Robbie has not made many efforts to represent the concerns of international students, although he does post about specific international societies’ events on social media, while part of the responsibility has been taken up by Celina. However, it might be unfair to assume that Robbie has failed to meet his manifesto promises, as his manifesto did not include any reference to international students. Furthermore, Robbie has extended the boundaries of his role when looking at the work he has done with societies, so expecting any Activities and Culture Officer to also take on the responsibilities that constituted a whole formerly separate role would likely be a huge extension of their workload. Erin, a second-year student says, ‘Societies and international students’ wellbeing are two huge areas, it’s probably too much of a job for one role and means one will always be prioritised’.

Robbie is “confident we can become the best SU to run a society by the end of next year”. Known for taking to Instagram in a minion suit and jacket potato costume, continuing his student-focused work since setting up gigs and bands society last year, it’s safe to say Robbie has certainly brought visibility and a popular following to the exec roles that they didn’t have before. Likewise, Robbie’s work with the Students for Sensible Drug Policy has meant we’ve seen a consistent drug testing kit supply, vast steps taken towards ending fines for drug possession on campus and a commitment to harm reduction from the SU that we haven’t observed in previous years.

Celina Pereira – Wellbeing and Liberation

Celina’s manifesto focused on student well-being. Her main commitment was to remove barriers for students who may be otherwise termed as marginalised. The role includes a focus on mental health at the University and access to it. The role was also created by merging the roles of Women’s Officer and Liberation Officer; making a fight for Women’s, LGBTQ+, and ethnic minority students’ well-being a key focus of this role.

In her time, she has led this year’s Reclaim the Night, which covered topics of Gender Based Violence, Queer representation and a speech on the night of that March that talked about Iran’s anti-feminist policies. The Celina-led Reclaim was one of the most successful, garnering over £10,000 with the help of the founder of Parklife, Sacha Lord’s donations. It included speeches from the Leader of Manchester Council, Bev Craig, and among the 1,000 students who took part in the march, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, was also one of them.

Along with this, Celina’s team seemed to have listened to the criticism of the previous year’s Reclaim the Night, which said that the Blocs in March made the march too exclusionary. They did this by setting up a team of Associate Chairs and leaders of student activist groups to make the campaign more inclusive.

Similar to Robbie, Celina has had a wide presence on social media, especially on Reels. She uses her official SU exec account to interact with the students and notify them of the changes being made at the Students’ Union. She has also joined panels to discuss representation for international students, and she has been organising focus groups with the University’s EDI to “identify current issues and develop solutions.”

However, Celina’s goal was to make a mandatory consent module at the University. This innovation has not seen much success, as the consent module is still optional and often left incomplete by many students. However, Celina assures us she is currently working on a large policy paper to usher in a mandatory programme which has had input from students and SUs around the country. Her work around LGBTQ History Month has been criticised as well, with a student claiming, “We saw barely anything in the SU about LGBTQ history month. There were just some pictures on the TV screens at the SU, but the entire SU was decorated with LeadMCR promotions and LGBTQ history seemed like an afterthought.”

Emily Turvey – Humanities

Emily’s manifesto had several pledges that ranged from improving module enrolment, reducing additional costs for humanities students, increasing job opportunities for students, decolonising the syllabus and improving accessibility. In all these departments she has attempted to bring in some change.

Students experienced some challenges with module enrolment at the start of the 2022/23 academic year, leaving a resounding feeling that the system is massively outdated. Starting this year, there will be a new system in place, attempting to make the enrolment process much easier. While Emily agrees that this is still not the latest and most modern website, she has ensured that the University understands its importance and the need to introduce it. Along with this, Emily has also liaised between the IT departments and the SU and encouraged the need for the IT department to take ownership of their failures and the impacts it has on students.

Emily however, agrees that there are still changes that she hasn’t been able to implement. These include the introduction of course unit fairs for every course, and advocating for the course unit selection to start earlier in the summer break rather than August, as it is a time when most students are on vacation.

Emily has not been able to push for much individually in terms of helping students with additional costs. However, she has recently signed off on the £150,000 renovation of Blue 1 in the Main Library and helped with the cost of living payments. She believes that there is room for more improvement here.

Increasing work opportunities for students is a long-term goal for Emily. She wants to embed a culture of creating more opportunities for students within SU. Her work has primarily been based on supporting academic societies, which she thinks are core to the SU. Heads of the Politics Society, claimed, “We have often had conversations with Emily, and it has been really helpful… She’s made sure to become the backbone of our academic activities at the SU.”

In terms of decolonising the syllabus and improving accessibility, she is the first to agree that there is yet to be a direct impact. However, she claims that she has made some progress. She has made efforts to create a “Decol Toolkit,” and supported students’ campaigns like The Butterfly Effect to ensure racism in academics is taken seriously. It’s worth noting Emily responded to The Mancunion’s Investigation request with a tabulated version of her manifesto and improvements in each area, evidencing a real commitment to both accountability and accessibility.

Shauna Rogers – Science and Engineering

One of Shauna’s main priorities was increasing diversity and inclusion across the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE). She has taken steps here to become the first SU officer to sit on the EDI board within FSE. She further states that she has been working on the University Health Charter and linking it to EDI, with an emphasis on encouraging women in STEM.

However, FSE student Reps claim that while she might have sat on the EDI board, they haven’t seen any improvement across the faculty. A Rep stated, “I do not know what happens in those EDI board meetings. But we have had several complaints of racial and sexist abuse within this department, that are still taking extremely light-heartedly”.

Shauna has additionally tried to push for a coherent assignment feedback policy, and attempting to make sure that the students are made aware of how much time it would take for them to receive feedback on their assignments. She is sitting on a group called “Assessment for the Future” which attempts to redesign the framework of assessments to make it more relevant to today. However, she has claimed that the amount of improvements made here is minimal, and blames the lack of openness to change within the departments for this.

A different student rep that has been in meetings with Shauna said that they don’t believe Shauna is taking any action on the feedback that she has been receiving. They said, “Shauna starts surveys, and encourages us all to fill them out. But after filling them out we see no results of it… It surveys for the sake of surveys”.

Tesnime Safraou – City and Community

Re-elected into the role for 2023/24

The Mancunion did not receive a response from Tesnime.

Kiki Kang – Biology, Medicine and Health

The Mancunion did not receive a response from Kiki.

Ansab Ali – Research

Re-elected into the role for 2023/24

The Mancunion did not receive a response from Ansab.

Right of Reply

A University of Manchester Students’ Union spokesperson said:

“As the Students’ Union, we value transparency and accountability, and we recognize the importance of feedback from our members.

“Regarding the restructuring of democratic roles, which was overwhelmingly voted for by our members in 2021, we believe that the creation of new autonomous associations and the splitting of the former Education Officer into three separate faculty roles will allow us to better serve our members needs and academic interests. We acknowledge that this is the first year of these posts being active and that issues around parts of the structure’s effectiveness have arisen. We currently have an academic rep feedback survey live now, which has been sent to all academic reps, and we encourage everyone to provide their honest feedback on their experiences.
“Regarding the disbandment of the Scrutiny Committee, we acknowledge that our communication about this change could have been clearer. We will work on updating our website to ensure that all information is accurate and up to date. We are also exploring new ways for students to hold executive officers accountable, and we appreciate the Mancunion’s suggestions about creating a formal process.
“We are pleased to see that Executive Officers have been engaging with members on social media and increasing the SU’s Instagram overall engagement. However, we also acknowledge that officers have not been able to keep with regular public facing communication throughout the year. This is in-part due to the nature of their roles having a key focus on advocating and lobbying on our members behalf. Further support will be provided to Executive Officers to ensure that we uphold the importance of communication and transparency up with our members.
“We are encouraged that so many members have taken part in democracy this year with over 19k individual students voting in at least one election so far, this academic year. Overall, we appreciate this investigation, and we will take the feedback into account as we continue to improve the Students’ Union.”
Libby Elliott

Libby Elliott

Editor-in-Chief 2023-24 | Awarded Outstanding Contribution to The Mancunion and Fuse TV Presenter of the Year at the 2023 MMG Awards | Former Co-Investigations Editor | Shortlisted for the SPA2022 Rising Star Award |

More Coverage

Fallowfield’s 18.35%: Why are students not voting?

The recent narrative of student voter engagement has not been a particularly positive one, and Manchester’s students are no exception to this

“They decided they didn’t want a Nightline any longer”: Why did Manchester SU close Nightline? 

The University’s branch of the nationwide listening service closed in September to the surprise of the student community

Spot checks on international students attendance set to be introduced

The University plans to implement spot checks alongside in-person attendance checks for international students

Students fall victim to ticket scams on Manchester Students’ Group

Increasingly sophisticated ticket scammers have been operating in the popular Facebook group Manchester Students’ Group