On Monday 26 January, a packed studio audience inside the Pavilion witnessed the first Kent Union Election debate between Vice-Presidential candidates for both Education and Activities.
The debate was broadcast live on KTV and was moderated by Jake Peach of CSR FM and presented by Noor Issa of KTV.
The candidates for this years role are:
Beth Matthews(Station manager of KTV)
Douglas Carr (Disabilities officer)
Emily Keast (President of Kent Dance)
Kristian DeVitto (Head of Canterbury Homeless Outreach)
Megan Hewitt (3rd year philosophy)
You can read all of the candidate’s full manifestos here.
The candidates began their debating accounts with an opening statement explaining their key campaign pledges and policies, and why they feel they are best suited to replace Aaron Thompson as the next VP for Activities.
Candidates were first questioned over club status and funding, to which Ms Matthews responded saying that ‘I would say that there’s a massive gap between sports and societies’ and that smaller clubs ‘Shouldn’t be any less appreciated on campus’. The rest of the participants agreed with the view that clubs should be treated equally, with Keast saying the clubs ‘Shouldn’t be based on proportion, as sports dominate those too’.
When asked ‘Do you see issues with controversies with societies?’ and how they planned to resolve them, all the candidates agreed that this is ‘A real issue’ facing students; With Ms Langfeldt saying that ‘there should a system in place for students to feel safe on campus’.
The debate also touched on issues regarding Medway students and societies, Postgraduate engagement and funding.
Questions were then put toward the audience, which brought one of the more shocking moments from the debate, when a question from an audience member from the Canterbury Homeless Society revealed they had received no funding from Kent Union, despite the fact that the Union charges no membership payment.
Reacting to the audience member’s remark, Ms Hewitt said that this news ‘really shocked me. Canterbury has massive a homeless problem’ and that the solution could be granting more funds to societies that do not receive membership fees.
The six candidates closed the debate with a final statement.
Analysis by George Knight
Unlike the Education debate prior to it, the Activities Election debate was considerably uniform and similar in its candidates’ views. At the centre of their agendas was the primary focus of inclusiveness, accessibility, funding and unity. Each candidate, in one form or another, essentially campaigned for the same points and made divisions between them to differentiate. However, their individual backgrounds would have a role within their decision making and lend to some diversity of opinion and in policy.
Each candidate had their own individual backgrounds and all had extensive experience within Kent societies, and some even within the Kent Union. To name a few: Douglas Carr has acted in several roles such as Ethics officers and Society representatives; Emily Keast not only works in the Library Café, but also runs Kent Dance society as President; and Megan Hewitt, who has worked with the Canterbury Homeless Outreach Society, Student Activities Centre and also led projects in special needs schools. The candidates are more than qualified for their roles.
The first question was the first to unite candidates. Surrounding the recent cancellation of the UKIP societies ‘944th Crusade Celebration’ pub crawl by the Kent Union, the first question asked the candidates what their stance on similar issues would be. This clearly placed each of the candidates in an immediate state of agreement, all collectively supporting the action. Kristian Devitto’s statement ‘Everyone should be safe at university’ and Emily Keast’s ‘no one should be nervous to go to a social or an event’ all echo the unified sentiment. Some, such as Sasha Langveldt, even went as to say: ‘I feel like there should be a system in place for students to feel safe on campus’, suggesting that the security service already in place on campus were below standards. Although it’s likely that this statement was not directed towards security, considering that this point was not followed up, it still raises some questions. Regardless, for the candidates it seems as though the recent controversy was a major issue which they all would address similarly.
Another major issue addressed was the increasing movement towards equality between societies, mainly in terms of funding and union representation. Megan Hewitt notes that ‘there’s a massive gap between sports and societies’, alluding to the Kent Union’s preference towards sports support rather than other societies. This is understandable, considering the size of the groups and their requirements, however an interesting point was raised by Emily Keast who argued that funding should not be ‘based on proportion, as sports dominate’ that as well. This was expanded on in greater depth by Sasha Langveldt who suggested that ‘cultural societies’ were severely less funded than societies such as ‘MUN’. She elaborates further, suggesting that societies should have increased funding due to their lack of ‘external sponsors’, of which sports clubs rely upon. Her point is valid, but the size and proportion of societies must still be considered. The candidate’s comparisons between smaller societies who have less funding, with larger societies such as ‘MUN’ who require funding to visit conferences and trips, is ridiculous. Sports and larger societies obviously have much greater obligations and requirements than small societies and so require greater funding to function.
However, the root of the funding issue was most thoroughly addressed by Douglas Carr when he presented his policy of fund transparency. Within his manifesto and from his experience as a society executive, he states that he wants ‘transparency between what sports get and societies get’, not only for funding, but also for treatment. It would seem as though Douglas Carr’s aims for his policy were perfectly designed as just moments later when questions were passed to the floor, an audience member made the shocking revelation that the ‘Canterbury Homeless Society’, for no given reason, were denied funding. As a society which does not charge for membership, the society runs entirely on funded money. This lack of funding, for a society clearly intending to achieve good, is a prime example of the flaws which candidates such as Douglas Carr and Sasha Langvedlt mean to address.
A final topic interwoven into the debate was also the activities accessibility and problems with unity within the Kent Union. This issue was spearheaded by both Beth Matthews and Sarah Langeveldt who noted that they had designed their manifesto quite ‘universally’, so that they applied to both part-time and full-time Canterbury and Medway campus students. They would both then go on to further highlight the issues within the activities system. Beth began with the point that it was increasingly ‘difficult to actually find out any information about what there is to get involved with’ and this was expanded further by Sasha who directed part of her ‘Society survival kit’ policy ‘inactive societies’ which still remain on the Kent Union website. The issue, as highlighted by both Beth and Sasha, is fundamental to help new students, both undergraduate and post-graduate, in getting involved within the university. If the system which is used to register and begin an individual student’s activity is inaccessible, it will limit them and this is nowhere more true than for part-time and post-graduate students who do not fulfill the majority’s undergraduate criteria.
With such rigid uniformity among their views, the elimination process for voters will be difficult. Although their manifestos layout unique points, the difference between policy is incredibly thin for each candidate, and votes may be swayed by other factors beyond their merit and good policy. As highly accomplished figures within the Kent community, all candidates are worthy of the role. However, whether their overarching policies can be implemented is debatable. Small reforms like making the website more accessible and monitoring the function of societies will be simple, but influencing the path of funding and applying universal principles across both campuses may pose increasingly difficult.