We’ve got 4 candidates: 1 independent and 3 from the major slates. And dear old Re-Open Nominations.
Greg Auger, St. John’s, has served as JCR Academic Affairs Officer, as well as working as a Student Ambassador and on the UNIQ summer schools for prospective applicants. He is running as an independent. His policies include an investigation into the causes of students taking intermissions in their degrees, making departmental student representatives more visible and accountable, and making departments respond to student feedback. On the Access front he proposes changing how the Alternative Prospectus is published online, so that it’s more accessible. It will also be enhanced with the addition of comparative data on colleges. Greg says he will make a section where applicants can ask questions of current students online, expand the online list of past interview questions, and publish more open day videos. In a bolder move, he promises to lobby the Department of Education to allow access schemes to directly contact outstanding students in schools.
On the whole his manifesto is well thought through and achievable. His commitment to researching suspended status is to be commended, continuing the strong history of well-respected student led research. Greg’s Departmental Rep proposals are a little wishy-washy – people have been promising things like this for years, and with the new OUSU staff working in this area, it will probably be done by the end of the academic year anyway. But his heart is in the right place on the issue.
Eden Bailey is running with the Right to Education slate, is from Magdalen, and currently serves as the Humanities Undergraduate Divisional Board Representative. She opens her manifesto by talking about how Oxford should be more accessible, only for the entire page to be littered with inaccessible language like FHS (Final Honours Schools), Athena SWAN (A Charter developed to encourage commitment to combating underrepresentation of women in academia), CRAE (Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality), and STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths). It shows she knows about all these important things, but leads to a document not so engaging for the wider student body.
Highlighting an issue I haven’t seen in a manifesto before, Eden commits more support to those applicants from the most underrepresented backgrounds who secure a place, but then drop out before the start of First Year. It is fresh perspectives like this that are what this election period is all about. There are also commitments to a central maillist for those interesting in access work, termly JCR access representative meetings, termly meetings of the Divisional and Departmental representatives, and much like the For Oxford slate, drop-in sessions to allow students to express their concerns.
A large chunk of the manifesto is used to discuss underrepresentation of specific groups, both within academia, and the taught curriculum itself. The data Eden presents is very convincing and certainly evidence enough that more needs to be done, especially for women and Black and Minority Ethnic students. However I fear the face value figure may mask deeper issues, such as preference in course selection. While too much to express in a manifesto, it is the ability to dig deeper and realise the wider contexts of an issue that will make someone a formidable student voice at the University table. I look forward to hearing more about this issue as the election progresses.
Cat Jones has served as Pembroke JCR Access Rep, and is running as part of the teamABC slate. She commits to increased JCR Access Rep support and meetings, to support colleges to expand the number of Access RoadTrips, and a University wide database for access volunteers. There are promises to work with the Vice President (Graduates) on concerns around graduate supervisors, to work on the issues of vacation residence availability and suspended student status, and to expand the student shadowing scheme. Cat also commits to a report on best practice for student feedback.
Cat has certainly promised a lot, including the annually reoccurring campaigns for increased library opening hours, and recorded lectures. These things have been promised so many times now, the commitment seems a little hollow without some explanation of how it will be done differently this time. In many ways this is something that covers her whole manifesto – I would have liked to hear fewer commitments, but more about how each one will actually be achieved. Cat is certainly talking about many of the right issues, but I certainly don’t think she will have time to achieve all of them.
Flora Sheldon has served as St. John’s JCR Access and Equal Opportunities Officer, and is running with the For Oxford slate. As with the rest of the slate there is a commitment to the Out of Hours pledge – a pointless waste of precious manifesto words that will neither secure votes, nor engage students in victory. However, in keeping with the slates more strategic and long term policies, she commits to a review of academic representation policy. This could go down very well with the University and help us no end, but I want to hear more about it (however I doubt most students will want to hear more about it). Her values are made clear with pledges to negotiate the best possible value for fee paying students, including extended library opening hours, recorded lectures, better academic feedback, minimum standards of training for DPhil tutors, and a commitment to lobby against a fees increase.
She promises to continue the work on suspended student status and make student disciplinary processes more transparent. On Access issues, she commits to support Target Schools, get more colleges to send students on Access Roadshows, have more online presentations to reach those applicants who can’t get to Oxford itself; and evaluate which access schemes actually work, lobbying the University to put their money behind them.
Flora’s ideas are much the same as Cat’s, but the ones that stick out are the review of academic representation, and review of access schemes – both of which have the potential to change University policy for the better. However, much like Cat, I think she promises too much, and gives too little detail. She also suffers from the same issues as the rest of For Oxford – a poorly designed manifesto that comprises large blocks on easily forgettable text.
Greg has a tough battle on his hands as an independent candidate, but has established a decent social media presence. Whether he can convert this into activists is another thing. Eden has some bright new ideas, and pulls people in by establishing with facts that the issues she seeks to solve are important. However her choice of language may not help – it reads like something more suited to a room of activists (like NUS Conference) rather than a campus wide election – the impact of fellow slate member James Elliott perhaps? Cat’s manifesto is well designed, and easily memorable, but as I previously mentioned, would benefit from a little more detail on what the problems actually are, and how they will be solved. Flora’s manifesto doesn't adequately get her key points across, though those that venture through the swamp of text may discover some interesting policies – if only they had a little more explanation.
There’s one big issue that we have not covered. The Vice President (Access and Academic Affairs) sits on at least 30 University Committees, probably more than any of the other sabbatical officers. On these committees sit people like Prof. Sally Mapstone, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education; a formidable woman who, though a friend of OUSU, will not respond well to poorly articulated arguments. We need the very best in representation. People who stay abreast of the issues, know the facts, and can present a logical case for the student point of view. This is what I’m looking for in the next week.