Opinion: VP Academic Experience Debate 2020

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Image courtesy of KTV

You’d think that Andrea Cavallini, Gavin Knight and Vicky Saward- Read would be battling it out for the position of Vice-President for Academic Experience, ensuring their views were shouted from the rooftops and made clear to everyone watching the debate. Except this wasn’t really the case, and the debate itself wasn’t really a debate. This is not to say that the candidates didn’t have any good ideas, it’s just their overall enthusiasm did not seem to match what would usually be expected in an election debate.

Andrea’s biggest strength was showed through his addressment of diversity across campus, and BAME student experience. His urgency over the university’s need for change was compelling. In a similar way to Vicky and Gavin, he made clear that further representation in both staff and students was a current issue; an important factor to address. What was interesting was Andrea’s original comments on course subject matter. Insisting that the module readings should be changed to increase diversity brought an original and though-provoking argument into the debate.

Andrea was let down most strongly when he was asked his opinion on the strike action. He referred to the number of strikes he has experienced over the course of his degree – an issue that many students will have similarly dealt with. However, his stance came across as confusing. He stated that, on this occasion, he was less supportive of the strikes yet was still supportive of the lecturers that are striking – a comment that didn’t appear to be well thought out. His suggestion to students was to approach striking staff to ask them questions, with the perhaps naïve belief that staff would be more than happy to comply with this. This lack of solid opinion, on a topic so important in academic experience this year, meant that his answers came across superficially.

Over the course of the debate, Gavin seemed to be comfortable in most of his answers. However, sometimes comfortable isn’t really what is needed in an election debate. Yet, when asked about environmental issues, a different side to him seemed to emerge. The question of sustainability brought out innovative and insightful opinions on the problems of food waste, climate emergency and he put a lot of the blame on the university itself. He also came up with three solutions to the “ridiculous” amount of food waste the university produces. These brought a sense of practicality to go alongside his criticism; something that the other candidates did not entirely follow through with.

Throughout the debate it was clear which academic school Gavin belongs to - The School of Anthropology and Conservation. His constant references to his school, and the way it does things well, did not spark confidence in his ability to connect with the rest of the academic courses. It was clear that he meant to showcase the positive actions that he has done through his school, however it verged on isolating other groups. His plan for implementing feedback across the university also didn’t come across well. His first response to the question was that he hadn’t really thought about it. Although honest, this perhaps wasn’t the most solid way to confirm his dedication to the role.

As she was running for re-election, Vicky had her previous experience and knowledge to give her a different approach than the other candidates. She brought facts, statistics and stories of her time at Kent Union into the debate, which worked in her favour when dealing with questions about academic representatives and office hours. She also did well in addressing how courses could be more accessible to diverse students; making it clear that Kent wasn’t very good at being innovative in the way students are assessed.

Although her experience gave her a more confident stance in answering questions, it also seemed to hold her back in some areas. When answering about the strikes, she mentioned how the students voted for Kent Union to support them. Despite her compelling advocacy for student compensation, it didn’t feel like she was consistently giving her own opinion. Some of her answers felt as though she was speaking for Kent Union, not for herself. Her time in office was bound to set her apart from the other candidates, but on occasion it felt isolating and impersonal.

The election debate for the next vice president of academic experience brought out some interesting ideas, even if the candidates didn’t use their time to actually debate them. What was a disappointing trait throughout the debate was how the candidates’ views on the need for change were offered with little solid reasoning of how to go about it. I think the election will be close, and ultimately students will need to decide on which topics surrounding academic experience are most important to them, because the candidates’ strengths all lie in different areas.

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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