Academic experience debates: what they said

Image courtesy of: Kent Television

Campaigning period has started, and Thursday, 13 February saw the second round of debates leading up to the Kent Union Leadership Elections.

Andrea Cavallini, Gavin Knight, and incumbent Vicky Saward-Read debated on their positions and manifestos for the role of 2020-2021 VP Academic Experience.

Gavin Knight started his opening statement by listing his academic background. He highlighted that with his undergraduate and postgraduate courses, he has spent five years at the University of Kent, and hopes that this will give him a comprehensive knowledge of academic life at the university.

Vicky Saward-Read started her opening statement by highlighting that she is the incumbent for the role, and has spent eight months getting familiar with the position.

She mentioned wanting to embed sustainability in the curriculum, better office hours, and restructuring communication between Kent Union and schools as her key policies, were she re-elected.

Andrea Cavallini opened with his wish to focus on sustainability as well as diversifying the curriculum. He stated he wants to introduce a “Living Lab”, meaning using the campus as a real-life laboratory, according to him.

On sustainability, Vicky mentioned her experience working with Responsible Futures to try and embed sustainability within the curriculum, and on an extra-curricular basis as well, as a graduate attribute, for instance.

Gavin mentioned he does not think there is a need for extra modules on sustainability, but the University needs to do more. To him, the School of Anthropology and Conservation declaring a climate emergency and trying to reduce food waste should set an example.

Andrea highlighted that a change should be started within modules themselves, adding a sustainability perspective to the modules already on offer throughout different schools. His idea of a “Living Lab” would include a department to encourage cooperation between staff and students on sustainability.

The host then touched on the subject of the BAME attainment gap at Kent, and how the three candidates would work on dealing with this issue.

Vicky showed her knowledge on the subject by stating that the BAME attainment gap at Kent had been around 8% in the past two years. She mentioned having worked with schools to start a conversation around the issue, and the need for a representative staff for BAME students.

Gavin also acknowledged the issue of the lack of diverse representation at the university and the importance on setting a good example.

Andrea highlighted the importance of decolonising the curriculum and diversifying reading lists to address the problem.

When asked about how he would implement his innovative ideas about the university despite the recent issues with strikes and overworked staff, Andrea said that times of crisis were often times of change.

About academic support, Andrea said he would implement an app on students’ phones centralising possibilities for academic support (such as the Student Learning Advisory Service, MyFolio, and Academic Advisers).

Gavin agreed with this idea, and added that he wanted to popularise academic events within schools such as information sessions between students. He mentioned the importance of students helping students.

Vicky highlighted the importance of academic societies. She said that the idea of an app had been discussed in University meetings, and that it was a shame that it had never actually been implemented.

Gavin said that while a good idea, he feared that students might simply not bother getting the app. Vicky said that funding was the main issue.

The question then came up of strikes, and candidates’ personal opinions on strikes. Andrea said that he was less supportive of the current strike that he was of the first round of strikes he experienced in 2018.

Gavin stressed that most lecturers were striking in solidarity with postgraduate and postdoctoral people’s working conditions. He said that financial compensation should be given to students for missed classes.

Vicky personally supported the strikes, and also said it was important that students should get financial compensation.

For more coverage of each of the candidates, and of the other debates, visit or visit InQuire on Facebook.