As voting opened for the four representative by-elections on Wednesday, the candidates answered questions from an unfortunately small audience, detailing their aims for the next year.
Disabled Students’ officer candidate, Reuben Kirkham, who is running unopposed, stated that he aims to make sure that disabled students receive the help they need and a good university experience regardless of what disability they have. When asked whether Kirkham would liaise with other groups at university he said he was “open to dialogue” pointing out how over half the charities that Karni raise money for are disabled charities.
Kirkham stated that national figures have dismissed NUS’s disability network as “a laughing stock”, Kirkham also said that the current disability officer is almost impossible to engage with and only really supports people with her disability, as opposed to the wider constituency, and that it is difficult to see anything constructive coming out of working with them. He said NUS have not been meeting requirements for disabled students for some time, leaving him with some cynicism about their current direction. However Kirkham remains optimistic that she will be replaced by a competent officer, who he can work with.
Prospective mature Student representative Alastair Anderson acknowledged that as the network hasn’t had an officer this term, some opportunities have been missed to publicise the network, but he still feels that he can drum up interest in the network as they have been meeting unofficially for some time.
Anderson stated that the biggest issue for mature students was the lack of summer care for children, and the lack of work and locker space for mature students. Anderson assured the audience that this was something he would remedy if elected.
The opening statements of the International Student Representatives all called for changes to the current system in order to make for a more united and better informed international student body. Candidate Layioye Okikade Fame further called for greater incentives, such as scholarships, for attracting more international students.
The difficulty in helping to create an international student body that feel both integrated with home students while maintaining a sense of solidarity with each other, was raised in a question as to the relevance of International Student Welcome Week. The accusation was that this prevents international students from mixing with the home student body, for by Fresher’s Week friendships have already been formed.
The candidates split two ways. Ipek Ergin and Anastasia Richmond were unable to make Welcome Week due to problems with their visas. They both argued that there should be more events for international students throughout the year, rather than emphasis on this first week, out of concern that those who were left out of Welcome Week were not presented with further opportunities for events with international students. By contrast, both Okikade Fame and Muhammad Hassan, who were at Welcome Week, argued that the week was designed as a starting point for international students, not where friendships are solidified. Hassan noted that international students study abroad in order to meet new people and broaden their circle of friends, so are unlikely to be resistant to mixing with home students after Welcome Week.
The issue of mixing with British students came up with regards to accommodation. When asked if it is better for international students to be living with British students or it is better for them to live with other internationals.
All the candidates agreed that the accommodation should be mixed. Hassan said that either extreme is bad so there should be more than one international student in a block, as a group of International Students are more likely to approach home students, than an individual. Richmond said there should be an option for those internationals who struggle with the language to move into a block with students from their country. While Ergin stated that in first year she was put into a block with only international students, which meant that she didn’t meet British students. She said this was unfair and made her feel segregated.
The other main contentious issue is the question of what the International Student Bureau (ISB) can provide that the individual cultural societies cannot. In other words, is it necessary to unite a disparate group of international students, when often there are specific societies, such as Pakistani Society, made up of students from their culture?
There was a broad consensus among the candidates that there should be a connection between these individual cultural societies that recognises the fact that there is an international student community. Moreover, Hassan argued that the ISB should play a greater role in recognising, for example, the International Students day on November 17th, which he claimed had been ignored or forgotten by the ISB. Fame urged for members of each cultural society to take part in a World International Conference. It is also evident that there are cultures not represented by any society at the University, the ISB should have a significant role in giving these international students a voice.
Voting runs until the 7th December. BME candidate Amina Parvin Vora and International candidates Emmanuel Sebijjo, Juozas Norvaisa, Mohammed Youssef and Neha Singh did not attend.
Emily Tripp and Daniel Fine