On Monday 26 January, a packed studio audience inside the Student Media Centre witnessed the Kent Union Election debate between vice-presidential candidates for Welfare. The debate was broadcast live on KTV, and was moderated by Jake Peach of CSR FM whilst being presented by Ogo Anokwuru of KTV.
This year’s candidates for VP Welfare are Omalade Adedapo, Abbie Harris, Anna Meares and Jake Pitt.
Read their manifestos here.
Watch the full KTV debate from last night here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcM9u8qpWEc&t=1s
I had hoped that, after watching the debate, it would become clear to me who I wanted to vote for, but I did not expect to be so impressed with the candidates. During a debate, you expect for someone to come out on top with the best manifesto, demonstrate significant involvement during the debate, as well as exhibit personal characteristics suited to fit the position and appeal to voters. However, after listening to their ideas, I thought that the debate was a pretty even playing field, and I would be happy if any of them were elected to be next year’s Vice-President.
The debate began by reminding candidates how the position of VP Welfare is often viewed by many to be the most attainable, and somewhat leftover, role for those who do not fit the other committee positions. They were asked their opinions on why this is the case, and why they had chosen to go for the role. All four of the candidates identified how they believe Welfare to be the most important position, and came to a consensus on how most issues regarding student life can be traced back to a welfare issue: it can have the most impact on a student’s life.
Issues regarding LGBT+, hidden disabilities, and the representation of BAME students were put forward throughout the night.
Ms Harris avoided making any detailed promises about how she intends to increase inclusivity for LGBT+ students, instead stressing the importance of it being at the heart of everything the Union does, rather than covering specific points. Some may be a little disappointed that she had nothing particular in mind for the LBGT community. The other candidates suggested concrete ideas such as specific counselors and advisers, with Mr Pitt standing out from the candidates with his knowledge and research. He highlighted that 45% of LGBT+ students identified as having a mental health condition which is higher than the wider UK average.
Both Meares and Pitt suggested an LGBT night at Venue, with Mr Pitt seemly coming out on top once more, as he identified how this could also raise money to support student services. Mears added how easy it is to make toilets gender-free, highlighting how it has been done in the past by other institutions.
The debate then moved on to supporting students with hidden disabilities, where it was Adedapo and Harris who stood out on this issue. Ms Adedapo raised the issue of making study spaces more accessible, and Ms Harris built on this adding that they should be more varied; suggesting a nap room for individuals who those who wish to have a study break. All candidates highlighted the importance of working with students and services to make them more accessible.
When asked about BAME student attainment, all four of the candidates came across as very knowledgeable regarding the attainment gap. They all seemed to have thought through how they were going to work on lessening this. All the candidates were in consensus about raising representation, not only on campus but also in their individual courses – positing the possibility for more external speakers, as well as taking more time to listen to BAME and support them when needed.
The topic of employability and wages was particularly a heated section of the debate. Introducing a living wage on campus is a major point in both Harris’ and Pitts’ manifesto’s, where both highlight the need for wages to meet not only what the government consider a living wage, but what is realistic in Canterbury. Meares challenged this idea, highlighting that although it was something she had considered, she failed to see the practicality of it and where they would take the money from. However, it was clear that the two candidates had thought this through. Harris explained that she would be seeking support from the university and if she went to them with data highlighting how students are struggling, then they should step in. Jake built on this, expressing how achieving a real living wage for student staff at both the University and Union was one of his top priorities. He explained how the university had a surplus of £6.1 million last year from tuition fees, and that they could easily afford it by standardising rates of pay, adding that more money could mean that students need to work fewer hours, leading to more jobs and more flexible hours for students busy with their course. Improving overall employability, including Jobshop facilities, seemed to be an important issue for the candidates, where it was agreed that adding jobs both on and off campus is vital to student life.