The Portland Presidential Question Time was, unfortunately, another election event where the audience was mainly made up of close friends of the candidates, SU Executive members and media SRS members. The lack of regular students was a reminder of challenge faced in getting students engaged and involved in SU politics.
This issue was brought up in the very first question, with an audience member asking the two remaining Presidential candidates Ngoc Tran and Alex Corck-Adelman what they considered to be the main thing stopping the Union from progressing. To Corck-Adelman “ the lack of student involvement is the major challenge for the SU”. He went on to explain how he believes the SU is seen as an “old fashioned system that has little relevance to students”. Tran, however, explained how she believed the SU was “well organised” and stressed that “all the tools were in place but it needs somebody to manage it well to progress”.
Continuing on the issue of getting students more involved in SU politics, the candidates were asked why they thought the attendance of SU Council is so poor. Both agreed that the low attendance is disappointing. Corck-Adelman gave a blunt answer, blaming the low attendance on the simple fact that council is “too long and too boring. It takes at least 10minutes to do anything”. He stressed how a “big change is needed” to update the system and to make students feel like it is relevant to them and their university experience. Tran’s answer was less focused on the question and she did not give a direct view as to why attendance was so low, instead she implied that attendance is vital to get decisions made, stressing that “a fight is not a fight unless there is someone fighting”.
Tuitions fees have rightly been a recurring theme throughout this year’s SU elections and once again this came up in the Presidential Debate. When asked why the ‘fight’ against higher tuition fees was lost, Tran replied that the fight “has not been lost. It is long term”. She also pointed out that tuition fees were not the only thing cut. Corck-Adelman disagreed, saying that the fight had been lost but that it had “been closer than anyone expected”. Ultimately, he claimed, the decision was made as the government realised that “universities would not collapse” by the rise in fees.
Both candidates were united in their view that increased fees did not threaten to ruin higher education. Corck-Adelman remarked that, “certain courses will be lost, which will be a shame”. Tran explained how the “Government had no choice over the tuition fee increase due to the economic climate”. She also went onto explain how she hoped that “when the economic climate returns to ‘normal’ the government will lower fees back” – something that the audience didn’t particularly seem to agree with.
The final question from the floor on the topic of Higher Education funding concerned the NUS and whether the candidates believed the £50,000 fee the University pays represents ‘value for money’ for current Nottingham students? This was another question where Tran failed to give a complete direct response stating that “we are all in this together “suggesting the importance of Nottingham and its students in a wider, national community of universities and students. Corck-Adelman provided a more direct answer stating that “the NUS has been heavily criticised and, to the average student, has been quite quiet in the last few months.”
Both candidates agreed that the University of Nottingham was one of the best value for money in the country while stating they believed that as fees are raised, contact hours should increase with them. The issue of a discounted bus from Lenton to the University reared its head again, with both candidates saying they would attempt to get a £1 bus service, such as the Y36, to run.
Both Tran and Corck-Adelman expressed the desire to make students more employable through encouraging part-time jobs and disagreed with making compulsory foreign language modules. As Corck-Adelman admitted, “I wish I spoke another language” but it would be “unfair to impose” in this way. Corck-Adelman also vowed to get more employees advertising part-time jobs on the Student Union’s website.
From online, the candidates were asked how they planned to represent the LGBT network; this question was raised in light of Tran’s suggestion at the Sutton Bonington Question Time that “being LGBT is a choice.” Tran replied to this by pledging to “be there for them”. Her comment that “it’s not my job to force people to be straight” raised some surprised looks from the audience. Corck-Adelman told of how he is aware that “the LGBT officer position is only a part-time role and therefore we need to provide them with as much support as possible to do their job effectively.” He prioritised the issue raised at Sutton Bonington last week of there being confusion about who the LGBT rep was and claimed that it was top of his agenda.
Vickers later asked Tran to clarify what she said as he was concerned that she had suggested that sexuality was a choice. Tran seemed to show some confusion over the SU’s role and responsibility with the LGBT network, stating that, “it is not our job to force someone to be straight”. She later expanded on this by saying that, as long as “you don’t go rape some person”, she doesn’t care about sexuality. The Students’ Union has since released a statement on its website, quoting Tran as saying “that she was ‘sorry for such a statement’ and had been ‘totally ignorant’ whilst accepting that being LGBT was not a choice.”
Unlike the other Candidate Question Times, the Presidential Candidates were given the chance to question each other regarding policies listed on their manifestos and the opposing candidate was able to respond. In terms of support of employability, Tran had mentioned that personal tutors “only give out results”, Corck-Adelman quizzed her on this, claiming; his personal tutor does in fact give advice, references, and support in both academic progression and general welfare.
In response to this, Tran highlighted Corck-Adelman’s suitability for the role of Presidency, claiming he is “very active” but other “students are not like that. Furthermore, she claimed that “tutors should be more senior and open up conversation” because other students are not “as active and confident as Corck- Adelman”. However, Corck-Adelman managed to identify that Tran had in fact merged ideas of student confidence and student motivation. Corck-Adelman furthered this, claiming students should go to their tutors and seek support. He asserted that the issue was not about confidence but about attendance.
Tran later voiced her concern that she believed that, every year, candidates pledge to “go out and talk to students” but once elected they fail to fulfil this. She challenged Corck-Adelman as to how he was going to fulfil this pledge. In response, he said that he realised how this is a problem but thinks he reinforced how he would fulfil his pledge. He stressed that the SU need to take a different approach when communicating with students, “they need to work outside the set office hours going to dinner halls and lecture shout outs.” Corck-Adelman then turned the question back on Tran asking whether her question meant that going out and talking to students was not one of her priorities. She replied, “I didn’t say I wouldn’t go out, but there are other individuals that students can communicate with as well, like Course and School Reps.”
There was a general agreement among the candidates as to the specific role of the Students’ Union President. However, Corck-Adelman was able to express this with more clarity than Tran, claiming that the President’s role can be split into two parts. Firstly, the President is the “mouth piece of the Union”, and secondly, the President is needed “to ensure the Union is heading in the right direction in line with the bigger picture” by working with other members of the Exec. Tran similarly identified the necessity to collaborate with other Exec members, claiming she needs to “listen to all officers” and find “what is the problem and a solution for these problems”.
Corck-Adelman claimed that many students “don’t think the Union can do much… especially second and third years who don’t think anything will change”. However, much like in many of her other answers, Tran failed to address the question directly and instead portrayed a generalized view, she claimed that “every single student is unique”. She went on to ask the current SU President, Will Vickers, to provide clarification on the seemingly simple question he had asked regarding the student perception of the Union. Tran claimed she was unable to answer a question like this, as he himself told her that “every student is unique” at a prior meeting. She remained oblivious to the fact that Vickers had in fact mentioned that it was a ‘trick question’, due to this reason, when addressing the candidates.
To round off the afternoon’s questions the candidates were given 30 seconds to address the audience. Tran asserted that the job is “what my skills match” with Corck-Adelman expressing a similar sentiment, stating that “this is what my experience was heading towards”. Corck-Adelman also encouraged the Student Body to vote, “even if it’s not for me, go onto the Portal and vote”.
The debate was very entertaining, producing some heated discussions as well as some interesting quotes. It seems, particularly now that many of Sam O’Flaherty’s supporters have vowed to vote RON in protest at his withdrawal, that the race is shaping up to be more interesting than ever.
Daniel Fine, Helen Trimm and Priyal Dadhania