Guild election week has begun with the debate between the three candidates for VP Education. Hosted by current VP Education Penny Dinh, the candidates (Bella Enoizi, Sira Charbel and Taylor Watson), answered questions on academic representation, accessibility and ILPs and decolonizing the curriculum, among other topics.
The candidates spoke of what the most important aims of their manifestos were. Watson cited getting rid of cuts to education and ensuring that students get their money’s worth as the most important aim in his manifesto, ensuring a high standard of education, Charbel focused on finding the root causes of inequity and Enoizi prioritised problem-solving around COVID-19.
When an audience member asked what made each of the candidate’s campaigns unique, Enoizi stated that all of her policies were inspired by real conversations she had with students. Charbel again mentioned her focus on “causes and symptoms of inequity” and Watson emphasised the importance of “a compassionate campus”.
As transitioning out of the pandemic looks to be one of the primary challenges facing the next VP Education, Dinh asked candidates what they thought the University’s number one priority should be post-COVID. The candidates all touched on their thoughts about how the university should plan the transition out of the pandemic, before moving onto a topic that sits high on the list of priorities for all three candidates: decolonizing the curriculum, with Charbel in particular acknowledging the existing efforts and campaigns of students.
Dinh then asked about the role of academic representatives and student engagement with their reps, Enoizi praised the current structure, stating that it “works well” and Charbel recognised that academic representation has had both good and bad feedback. Meanwhile, Watson argued that the system needs to better engage students “right at the start of the year”. All candidates aim to support college officers and subject chairs in their roles, working on accessibility and equality.
The topic of wellbeing was prevalent during the debate, as Dinh asked the candidates about how they would improve the wellbeing system. Charbel mentioned her desire to “destigmatize how we get help with pastoral support and cultural awareness” while Enoizi suggested improving feedback systems. Watson quoted a statistic – “44 per cent of students don’t feel that their Individual Learning Plan [ILP] is followed”.
44 per cent of students don’t feel that their Individual Learning Plan is followed.Watson
On the topic of ILPs, Watson mentioned two issues: academics not knowing about ILPs and academics simply not following them. Enoizi said, “ILPs are there for a reason, students deserve them and should feel empowered” while Charbel drew attention to the idea of education being “accessible by design” rather than alienating students who require adjustments.
The topic of the disability attainment gap also featured in the debate. Both Charbel and Watson mentioned “accessibility by design” while Enoizi expressed a need for blended learning. All candidates also drew attention to the fact that there are very few accessible study rooms on campus, and that there is a need to assess whether they’re up to standard. Watson suggested consulting students of all backgrounds on big accessibility decisions while Charbel made specific suggestions like creating sensory-friendly rooms with adjustments such as keyboards with larger letters on them.
All three candidates highlighted the importance of communication in terms of PGR students and staff unions. Charbel and Watson both stated that for PGR students, who tend to be both UCU workers and students, “their working conditions are our learning conditions”. They stressed the importance of feedback. Enoizi emphasised her experience in dealing with UCU and stated that “collaboration is possible”.
Collaboration is possibleEniozi
Dinh then asked what she described as a more “difficult question” about UKRI and financial continuity during the pandemic. Enoizi suggested that the uni should be working closely with students, Charbel said, “we need to hold UKRI accountable” and make sure students are protected. Watson appeared to agree with both of these points while stressing that unis across the country should be coming together to improve student experiences. Also on the topic of finance, all candidates expressed a desire for tuition fee refunds or reductions.
We need to hold UKRI accountableCharbel
All candidates pledged to improve the Guild’s presence at St Lukes, with Enoizi suggesting drop-in sessions, Watson proposing regular Guild activities and Charbel stressing the importance of analysing the differences in demographics between campuses.
The candidates finished with closing statements. Watson said “It’s time that the university gave us the education we deserve […] It’s time for a strong leader and I can be that leader”, Charbel reinforced that “symptoms and causes need to be addressed” and Enoizi emphasised the need to “fairly represent students”. Dinh ended the debate by praising the candidates for their “impressive” answers. The election results will be announced Friday 16 March, 6:30pm.