As part of The Stag’s coverage of Surrey Decides, candidates running for President were offered an in-person interview or an alternative option of responding to questions via email. Lizzie was able to fit us into her busy campaign schedule and have this interview. For more information about Lizzie’s campaign you can see her manifesto here and watch her Question Time performance tonight (Tuesday 3rd March) at Rubix or on livestream.
When did you decide to run for President? Was it as a zone officer, a VP, or have you always wanted to?
I’d probably say as a VP, it was probably around Freshers. I started seeing what Gemma (current SU President) was doing, and as you start to get into the swing of activity, you start to see that there’s a lot more that you can do. I deal directly with sports and societies, but actually they’ve got a lot more that they want to happen in their academic lives, in their personal lives, and as VP Activity you’ve got such a responsibility to over 200 groups of students that it’s hard to find time to try and do other things.
I thought Gemma’s role as President is perfect to have a really broad range across all zones. I’m very activity focused from being on the zone, and being a VP. I thought it was time to branch out, and try to listen to the students I’ve been engaging with for the past two years about what else they want from student life.
How are you feeling about running against the Ajay this year?
I’m nervous. Every year I was just as nervous. Obviously it’s only one other candidate this year. When I was running as a zone officer, I was running against 11 other students. VP, I was running against two others, and now I’m running against one. As the calibre of the job increases, as your responsibility with the job increases, it doesn’t matter how many people you’re running against, there’s still going to be that pressure. Ajay is a strong candidate, and I've worked with her for the past year, and she is showing what she can do. I’m nervous but I’m going to put my all into it. The students have seen my manifesto, and if they agree with it, they’ll vote. They’ll choose who will be the best person to do it.
In your manifesto, what would you say would be your legacy policy?
I would say it’s probably two, prioritising digital assessments, and around late feedback. So something that has come up every year is students are fed up with late feedback, and prioritising digital assessments will help with this. A multiple choice exam can get marked so much quicker than a hand written exam that a lecturer physically has to write it all out and go through. Also, for students that may have particular disabilities, a digital assessment might be a lot easier for them. Obviously we get students with the DNS team, and all their assessments are digitised anyway. This makes sure they can be with the rest of their cohort; they’re not separated into different rooms, we can incorporate them as much as we can.
Also, incorporating a SurreyLearn late feedback flag system. Students have to submit their coursework at a certain time, on a certain day. Students get penalised for that if they don’t meet their deadlines. Why don’t lecturers have the same? Why do lecturers have the potential to submit feedback a week late? If students did that, they’d fail. Why is it fair that there’s one standard for students and one standard for staff? The flag system will pick up specific lecturers in specific departments that are struggling. It is not there to turn around and go “you’re not doing very well.” It’s more of a “if we look at that department and we look at those lectures, are students struggling more? Is the student to staff ratio wrong?” Then take that case to the university, and say “FHMS is struggling, we need to support them more.”
The second one is scrapping warden fines across the university. This is something that has been quite controversial for a couple of years. Wardens have the authority to do on the spot fines of between £20-£120. It is up to their discretion what they charge you. As a students union, as a university, we’re meant to be here to support students. We know that for students, money can be tight. So, we’re going to students, whether it’s £20, whether it’s £120 and saying, “you’ve done this wrong, we’re going to give you a financial penalty.” We take the money off them. That money then goes into the hardship fund, but then if they start to struggle we say “go and get your money back out the hardship fund that we’ve just taken off you.” For some students, £20 isn’t much, and won’t affect them, will it deter them from doing whatever it was again? For some students, £20 is a hell of a lot of money and we shouldn’t be taking that money off students.
You haven’t got holding senior management to account on your manifesto. In light of last year's referendum, with students and staff clearly saying they have no confidence in management, how are you going to hold management to account? How are you going to challenge the university?
The vote of no confidence was about a year ago, so it’s having that conversation with students again. Yes, we had that referendum, but that has been and gone. We haven’t since had an update on how students are feeling. As a SABB team we do have regular meetings with EB ( the Executive Board of the University), and we’re working a lot closer with the student officer who is really engaged. The President currently has fortnightly meetings with the chief student officer. We have two weekly meetings with EB as well. I think it does link in with safeguarding students ratios. This is something that EB will need to deal with. We’ve got nursing students who as soon as the bursaries are taken away, their cohort went from 40 to 80, and no new staff were taken on. The late feedback system will affect lecturers which will affect EB, and will turn around and say “the lecturers are doing this, it might not necessarily be their fault. If you’re not bringing on new staff, then they’re going to be overworked and overwhelmed, so this feedback will be late.”
In general I think we need more of a student conversation. Max Lu comes to the odd student voice forum, or stuff like that. Why isn’t there a constant flow of conversation? There’s the student voice forums, there’s SABB fortnightly meetings. The President’s role spans a lot more than just the manifesto. So whether before every EB meeting the SABBs have, we put out something to students. Whether that’s through the newsletter, or through social media, and say “we’re meeting them this day, this week, what do you want to ask them? What do you want to hear from them? What do you want us to bring up with them?” And then we can feed that back to students.
Do you think then that the student’s opinion has potentially changed on whether they have confidence in senior management? And more importantly, do you have confidence in senior management and the executive board?
That’s a big question. I can’t comment on whether the students’ opinion has changed. The only way that we would know, is if we were to ask students again. Last year there was an overwhelming vote that students didn’t have confidence in senior management. It has been a year since this vote, and we have had a cohort leave and a new one come in. The majority of students that voted last year are still here this year, so I guess I’d probably say students don’t have much confidence in senior management.
In terms of my opinion, I think the executive board and senior management have started to engage with the union a little bit more, but there is still a lot more that can be done. Fortnightly meetings with the executive board is great, but that’s five of the SABBs elected based on their opinions, sitting in a room for an hour. There’s no conversation directly with students. It’s the students that have said they don’t have confidence, so the students need to be able to hold senior management to account at the end of the day, and that will only happen through a conversation.
Would you vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ given the referendum again?
That is a really good question. I would say being a SABB gives you a completely different perspective. I have confidence that they are starting to make the right steps, but I don’t have confidence that they are fully encapsulating what students want at the moment. When they’re asked a question, they answer it. That’s it. There’s no carry on from there, and that’s what needs to improve.
So does that mean you don’t have confidence?
The other important issue I’ve noticed is missing from your manifesto is sustainability, and the environment. I’m not sure if you’re up to date with People and Planet’s campaign. They are an active society on campus, and they’re currently trying to get the university to affiliate to Electronics Watch, which will essentially monitor their technological supply chain to make sure they’re not using sweatshops, or slave labour, and it costs 3000 euros. Do you think sustainability is important? If it is, why is it not on your manifesto, and would you support this campaign?
Do I think sustainability is important? 100%. On a personal level, yes. It showed through our priority campaign this year, student’s are massively supportive of sustainability. Behind the scenes this year, in terms of my role at the moment, we met with Julia from sustainability in the university department to look at how we can make societies and sports clubs engage in sustainability, looking at incorporating it into some of the awards, and the award criteria of them working with the sustainability department.
In a way, sustainability is linked into my manifesto, with prioritising digital assessments. We’ve got 17,000 students. If there are all taking paper assessments, that is a hell of a lot of paper. Prioritising digital assessments will take that off, and put that on the system as well as saving staff time.
I don’t think it’s primarily on my manifesto as the students voted for their priority campaign. That conversation needs to be had with them, what do you want? It’s more of an empowerment thing. I want to be able to stand there to empower students to be able to lead their own campaigns, their own workshops, their own seminars or lectures or whatever they want to do. It’s more of an empowerment thing. Just because it’s not a core focus on my manifesto, doesn’t mean it’s not part of what I believe in. I’ve sat in meetings with SU management about what companies we’ve had links with. I’ve sat there and questioned “why do we have links with this? That’s not a particularly sustainable company.” So those challenges are being made, they just tend to be behind the scenes.
People and Planet society are currently trying to get the university to affiliate to Electronics Watch, which will monitor their technological supply chain to make sure they’re not using sweatshops, or slave labour, and it costs 3000 euros. Do you support this campaign?
If this is a campaign that students are really passionate about, it’s something we need to be advocating for. Sweatshops are still such a big thing in some countries especially, and consumers are fuelling those sweatshops. So if, as a university, we take away that we’re one of those consumers, it will begin to empower other universities to start taking that action. The less consumers that use sweatshops, the more standing there is to start getting rid of them eventually.
How would you describe the spirit of your campaign?
It’s very pink! I think I try to be as positive as I can. The essence of the campaign is to try to give it back to students. There’s a lot of issues that come up mid-year, and people recognise it’s not necessarily the current president’s main aims that needs to be picked up. I don’t think we are as positive as we can be. That’s not necessarily about the senior management stuff like that, but one of the main points is celebrating the achievements of our students, celebrating the cultures we have on campus, through cultural calendars and stuff like that. We have PhD students, we have masters students, we have researching students that do so much but we never hear about it. We have students that are going to conferences that are winning awards, but where is that heard? Students do so many amazing things at Surrey, but we don’t hear about it. I like to think I’m quite approachable, I want students to be able to come forward, however big or small. Something I’ve learnt this year is that students think SABBs are only there for massive issues, but actually if you come up and say “I really want this type of sandwich at Simply Fresh,” that’s OK! We’re here to change that. We have links with Simply Fresh, we can bring you in on these meetings. If you want to discuss it with Simply Fresh. I don’t think students understand that. So a much better student SU relationship (though I know that’s probably said every year) but I think with the kind of lightheartedness and celebration will open up those conversations. That will make students think that they’re happy to celebrate them, and they’re celebrating individual achievements, so they can help with individual grievances too.
Voting opens after the third night of Question Time finishes on Tuesday 3rd March 2020 and will close on Saturday 7th March 2020 at 18:00. Voting can be done via a unique link that will be sent to your university email or via the USSU website.