Sunday, 31 May 2009

Candidate Comment: Phillipe Chiarella

Phillipe Giovanni Chiarella stood as candidate for the role of Student Council member, for which he was ultimately successful. Here he shares his thoughts on the elections.

So, I am elected. I am not sure quite how to take the results however.

I obviously feel happy, and am looking forward to getting students views heard at London Met over the next year. I am looking forward to working with a group of people, most of which I don’t know.

I am not however using the short space to talk about that. I am using this to talk about what I think HAS to happen over the next year and what we need to do as a Union.

The first thing is that we need to do is engage with students, meaningfully! We need to be doing campaigns students want, helping societies in partnership with the Student Office, offering advice and have a real presence on campus. We need to restore the faith that you, the students, have lost in us.

The second thing is we need to start holding engaging elections. First of all, we need elections that get more than 1.5% of students voting. Secondly, we need a cross campus ballot for NUS elections – the NUS can run it so why not let them! Thirdly we need to change when elections happen – May is way too late and it is when we all have coursework and exams. I want to see February/March elections.

The final thing that needs to happen is that the University and Union needs to start working together. At the end of the day we both need to have students interests at heart!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Candidate Comment: Yeashir Ahmed

Yeashir Ahmed stood as candidate for the role of President, for which he was ultimately successful. Here he shares his thoughts on the elections.

My election Champaign had a very slow start. I did not have enough supports, and many of my friends told me not to go for it as I was not very much known by the vast majority of the students at our university. But it grew strength from the support of many young students as I run in every campus and personally talk to each and every student about the benefit of Student union and their role to create an effective student union that benefit all of us. During the Champaign I have spent hours after hours sitting with student at MET CafĂ©’s. Many students complained about the inactive role of past student Union with great angers and denied to vote for the Student Union. It was very difficult to deal with upset and angry students. But the experiences that I have gained while dealing with such situation are extensive and will help to design and create a faire and effective student union where all of us will stand together to revive the true nature of a union. I will always be honest about the challenges we face. I will listen to each and every student and with the best of my ability try to solve their problem in an effective that can create a very positive and harmonious relationship among us all.

Finally I congratulate all other elected METSU officers, and also look forward to working with them to renew this Union promise in the months ahead. Thank you. God bless you.

Yeashir Ahmed

METSU President (elect)

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Candidate Comment: Amir Ramin

Amir Ramin stood as candidate for the role of Vice President (City) for which he was ultimately successful. Here he shares his thoughts on the elections.

Fraud in voting which led to the cancellation of the election results last year disappointed many students who had taken part to build an actively engaging Union for the students. Prior to that and even until this moment, the Student Union (SU) remain a body whose activities and locations are unknown to many students in the University.

‘Where is Student Union? What does it do? Where is it located and how can it help the students?’ are questions that many students deserve to know and it is the responsibility of the SU to constantly engage with them to increase their awareness and also to help. Likewise, the University authorities will also need to provide the necessary means and support for the SU to reach those goals.

Fortunately, we have now succeeded to have an elected body who must understand the importance and enormity of their responsibility. There are challenges to be met and effectively dealt with in order to be able to make a difference. I am hopeful and optimistic that with the support of the students and the University we will make that difference.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank my dearest friends and classmates from the button of my heart who supported me to win this election. Let me also thank those who took part in organising this election. I very much look forward to working with the students and the University.

Vice President (city)-elect, Amir Ramin
Student Union, London Metropolitan University
14 May 2009

Monday, 11 May 2009

Candidate Comment: Steve Gray

Steve Gray stood as candidate for the role of Participation and Development Officer, for which he was ultimately unsuccessful. Here he shares his thoughts on the elections.

The first thing I’d like to do is thank everyone who supported me in the election campaign. To come so close (10 votes in the end) to getting the spot given the situation was testament to the faith they had in me, so thank you all.

The one thing struck me when I was read the results of the elections and that was the turnout. 459? That’s pitifully low. Depressingly so, even. That is why we needed people with experience and drive to take the positions on offer and, unfortunately, we only have a couple of people who fit that bill actually elected into office.

I am still astounded that people who don’t put any posters up and show no visible signs of campaigning can get elected into office. This occurs through what I like to call the ‘society effect’, or in laymen’s terms, a popularity contest. It’s more to do with who you know than what you have to offer and that’s a factor as to how the people with competition actually won.

I wish Tarequl all the best with his role as Participation and Development Officer because it isn’t going to be a stroll in the park, as is evident from the election turnout. Students just don’t care about the Union and he has to work to counter that. We shall find out whether he can fulfil his commitments and hopefully make more time for the job he is going to be paid to do than he did talking to students or attending hustings.

I shall deal with this setback by concentrating on the continuing development of the student magazine and shall come back even stronger for next year’s elections.

Student Union Elections: The Responses

With the elections over, we have invited the candidates (both successful and unsuccessful) to share their thoughts on the event.

We look forward to bringing them to you over the next few days.

Those Results In Full

The Student Union (SU) election results are out and can be found here.

The highlights are as follows:
  • Out of 30,381 voters, only 459 voted.

  • This is a 1.5% turnout, a new low.
The successful candidates were:

Presidential Officers:
  • President: Yeashir Ahmed.
  • Vice President (North): Richi Sethi.
  • Vice President (City): Amir Ramin.
Other Officers:
  • Communications & Campaigns Officer: Rishi Pancholi.
  • Participation & Development Officer: Tarequl Islam Khan.
  • Welfare Officer: Elliot Agbon Adu.
  • Postgraduate Student Officer: Adikwu Lawrence Adoli.
  • Diversity and Equality Officer: MD Aman Ullah
Student Councillors (City):
  • Phillipe Giovanni Chiarella.
  • Adikwu Lawrence Adoli.
Congratulations to the successful candidates and commiserations to the unsuccessful ones.

However even those successful the candidates have a great deal of work ahead of them.

The SU must now face the issue of whether or not it can survive in the face of clear disinterest and disconnection from the students. A 1.5% participation rate is phenomenally low and well below the 5% rate at which the university can elect to de-recognise and withdraw funds from the Student Union body.

Assuming that the SU continues in some form, the participation rate makes it clear that the student body is on life support. It will have to work hard at building up recognition and trust. Hopefully it will be given the time and resources to do so.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

A Little History

The London Metropolitan University Student Union suffers from a blighted history of elections. Very little data appears to exist, but we have tried to create a timeline based on what we have uncovered.

We have asked the Student's Union office for details of previous elections, but were told that they do not retain any data. We also contacted the NUS to ask about their relationship to the university, but they did not get back to us.

Before 2006
  • No data found.
  • Only 1367 ballots were cast for the candidates.
  • According to a university spokesperson, this amounted to a mere 3% participation in the 2006 elections.
  • We had calculated a 4% participation rate based on the 2008 student population (34,000) as we could not find details of the 2006 student population, although this would suggest that student population was higher in 2006 than 2008.
  • In addition, control of Student Union functions was handed over to the university.

EDIT: We have received a spreadsheet breaking down the 2007 vote and so have updated this section.
  • 3,632 ballots were cast in this election.
  • The 2008 elections, conducted in the Spring semester, were voided due to election fraud.
  • Some 700 votes were tampered with.
  • If the voting level remained around that of 2006, over 50% of the votes would have been tampered with.
  • The 2008 elections were suspended until the Autumn semester of 2008, but then had to be taken into 2009, due to a lack of nominations.
  • The current elections (2009) have still not attracted a full lineup. One position (International Students Officer) has not attracted any nominations, while 5 positions have only one candidate.
Although data is extremely limited, what there is suggests a serious problem. This correspondent has talked to various figures, one of whom talked in apocalyptic terms about low turnout and low overall interest could destroy the Student Union as a functioning entity. Certainly, the Student Constitution, recently ratified in 2008 (even though we understand the ratifying body, the Student Council, to be currently disbanded) states that:
In the event that the % vote is less than 5% the University will not be bound to recognise the Union or to fund it.
In addition:
Recognition and funding shall be at the discretion of the University through approval by its Board of Governors and confirmed or otherwise at each Board meeting during the year.
As such, all that's left to say is: vote - it matters.

Candidate Interview: Steve Gray

Steve Gray is candidate for the position of Participation and Development Officer and kindly agreed to be interviewed by our correspondent Charlotte Sundberg.

For the ongoing London Met Student Union elections, Steve Gray is running for Participation and Development Officer. He is the current editor of the Vervezine. One of his challenges, if he gets elected, is to encourage the students to participate more in the life of the Student Union (SU).

“We need more people, more involved in more events around the university,” Steve explained. The attendance for the events organized by the Student Union has been poor this year and they haven’t been promoted well enough.
"They [previous SU officers] sat in their offices at lunchtime, even though students needed to see them"
“Right now the web site isn’t very visible,” Steve commented on the state of the Student Union’s web site. “We need to make sure we’re our own entity rather than a link,” he continued. “Visibility will have more people looking at the site and more people will know about events that happen.” The goal is that a more visible and up to date website, sending out e-mails and messages will help promote the events.

“The events are the same sort of thing week in and week out,” Steve commented. The idea is to have more varied events in the future, so the concepts don’t go stale.

The new administration of the SU needs to engage more with the students. “One of the problems we’ve had with previous administrations in the SU is that they haven’t engaged with students. They sat in their offices at lunchtime, even though students needed to see them for advocacy stuff,” he explained, wanting to change that for next year.
“We say we’re an independent body, we’re not that independent".
The Student Union has struggled with a lack from the students and the University this year, as the last election was subject to fraud. The constitution of the Student Union was also ratified a while ago, so that every decision has to be run through a body of the University.

“We need to work with the University to show that we can be trusted.” “That’s what the SU needs; trust,” Steve commented. He wants to show that they can get a good turn-out, be self-sufficient and a body that the University to trust.

“We say we’re an independent body, we’re not that independent,” he comments on the current situation of the Student Union. The Student Union is being run through the Student Services and the Student Office.

The student magazine has had issues of censorship from the University over the past year as they have been the body that has checked the magazine, especially when it comes to the ongoing process due to the economic difficulties the University faces. “That won’t be an issue next year because we’ll be held accountable to the Student Council rather than the University,” Steve explained.

“If I were elected, I would definitely relinquish the editorship given that there was someone interested in taking over,” he said, seeing the potential conflict of interest of being the editor of the student magazine and having a position as Officer.

Mr. Gray has an election blog here, with additional details about himself and his campaign.

Voting ends at midday on May 8th and the editor urges everybody to vote for the candidate of their choice or to vote Re-Open Nominations if they cannot find a candidate of their choice.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Candidate Interview: Phillipe Giovanni Chiarella

Phillipe Giovanni Chiarella is candiate for one of the three Independent Student Council Members for the City Campus and kindly agreed to be interviewed by one of our correspondents.

As a council member what would be your overall vision for the Student Union ?

My vision is of an effective, representative and accountable Students union and Student Council. Being effective will be about doing what the student wants and moreover doing it well as to respect the budget.
"Being effective will be about doing what the student wants and moreover doing it well."
We haven’t got large budget but we are trying to get as many students involve as possible and hopefully increase not just the volunteers but also decision makers within the union. I think that is a really powerful challenge, and I will make sure as a member I will be able to push that agenda forward.

You have been unusual in that you discussed the financial crisis as an election issue. What is your take on the whole situation and how can you and the Student Union help to resolve it ?

I think my take on the issue is that this a really unfortunate situation that we’re in and there have been miscommunication between the University and Higher education founding council.

Whatever your views, one view is that the University purposely lied and one view is that the university had a arrangement with the funding council, so it’s a bit difficult to get to the bottom of that issue, but the issue is the management at this university had failed the students and failed the staff to a certain degree and should be hold accountable for that.
"The job of the students union should be to organize the students to have their say about the funding difficulties the university is in."
What the students Union can do is to push the student attendance to the top and to the forefront at the debates. For example when the lecturers go on strike during a certain period, the Students Union should have been there - if there was a Student Union – saying that they shouldn't strike because we need our lecturers for advice and information during that period.

For me that’s the difference, though, the Student Union is there to put its members first and its member are students, so during this financial crisis if we had a Students Union there would have been no doubt there would have been talks about the new financial crisis in the new semester.

The job of the students union should be to organize the students to have their say about the funding difficulties the university is in.

You mentioned that the National Union of Students and the Met Student Union do not get on. Can you give us more detail about this and what you would do about the situation?

It’s not about getting on, it’s more about the fact that the MetSU hasn't been very representative of the Students really... There’s has been a lot of “Love and Hate” conflicts, the MetsSU has not really wanted to get NUS involved, not really caring about NUS but they really want to help us to represent the Union.

I think that’s the key thing and hopefully that relationship can be fixed and then we can actually say that the NUS can be more representative and more effective so hopefully if I am elected – and if everyone else get elected - we will be able to push that agenda forward and get the NUS involved and actually make the university as effective as possible.

I think the main effect is that we are already affiliated to NUS, we already pay them to do stuff for us, so its about taking advantage of that.
"MetSU hasn't been very representative of the Students really."
The NUS put some training courses on for us, we should go to those training courses, the university pays a lot of money (over £20,000 a year) so we should be claiming that money back or we should using the facilities they give us and the resources they gave us.

We have been going to the training courses but we haven’t been using their resources in term of making the University sensitive, getting involved but that’s what we need to do.

Another issue is the structure of the Student Union and the imbalance of power between the Student Union and the university. What specifically would you do to the Student Union structure and to make the Student Union's relationship with the university more equal ?

First thing is the Student council needs to recognize the student Union. The people who don’t know what’s about, the student council is group of 60 students who are elected for various constistuency.
"The board of government of this University shouldn't have any say on what our Union does."
The student council actually is the policy making body of the Union and has the power to dismiss officers. It’s a really powerful and influent body and that body need take on more responsibility and recognize that it has got that responsibility, it has got that power and within the past why the relationship has been so bad, it’s because the executive were free-ride.

I think another issue we need to address is the fact that the Union policy has to be ratified by the board of the government which is appalling, that unless it’s a financial or legal matter, the board of government of this University shouldn't have any say on what our Union does, this a student union not a university Union and we, students, need to recognize that or make campaign.

You also talked about a lack of community spirit. Why do you think this is so, and do you have specific plans to deal with this problem?

There are three reasons. The first reason is that the university is so large, that is very difficult to foster a community spirit. The second is the fact that it spreads towards campuses and over 20 buildings, there is no focal point for student activity and I think the third thing is the bar is very low standard.
"We will never get every one involved, but hopefully we can build up some sort of atmosphere."
The centre of most community spirit whether it would be a village, a university or a town centre tends to be the bars and where the entertainment are and that is where people get to know each other, we need to make sure the bar is doing stuff we are meant to do and hopefully we can get people.

We will never get every one involved, but hopefully we can build up some sort of atmosphere where people are actually proud to be at London Met.

You talked in your manifesto about the creation of focus groups and face to face consultancy?

Well, in terms of consultation we need to recognize that there is a lack of face to face consultation and not enough sitting down to discuss what students want for the union and we really need to challenge that, be out there and kind of say we gonna engage with students and yet there was the husting, a community organized as well, but it’s a skill to do that and I do believe it’s a skill that I have got.
"We need to recognize that there is a lack of face to face consultation."
The whole point of community organization is to get to the point where we have a good relationship with students and the way you do that is by being face to face and say “okay, this what we do for you what do you want from us.” We do really need to encourage that.

What do you think about the husting that started after the beginning of the voting session ?

I think personally that the hustings and the election should have been earlier. I think that’s ridiculous. Having an election period during exam is appalling. We should be holding elections in February at the latest on the end February, beginning of march.
"What shouldn't be happening is the university secretary being involved in the election."
That’s when the election should take place and that should be the matter of the university to realize that, because student are not going to get involved.

I was writing essay during the husting; they got finished but that’s not the point, I shouldn't be in that situation because it’s the university that call the election, it should be the union’s job to call for the election.

The NUS should be running our election as they would have free service. What shouldn't be happening is the university secretary being involved in the election. The university secretary does a really good job but you have to question whether or not a union is made to defend the student from the university; if their relations are free and fair, where in that case a university manager is in charge of those election.

For me that’s not really independent at all. I’m not saying, in any way, the university secretary is biased. He conducts himself very fairly and openly. The fact the university runs our election is for me a bit of a contentious point.

You have talked about RONs (Re-Open Nominations) and encouraged people to use them, which I think is unique so far. Aren't you worried that other candidates may take offense, or that people may re-opened your nomination ?

First of all, what I say is unique, because I am fairly unique with my experience to election. I’m not worried that someone would re-opened the nomination to me if students have no confidence on me.

It’s democracy and that’s what happens in democracy.

The other candidates should be worried, the candidates who don’t really care about students issues, they are the ones who should be worrying. The reason I am encouraging the open nomination is because most people won’t vote as a protest and actually that doesn't get recorded.
"What I want to do is to have a special edition of the student magazine, because people don’t know how the election works."
If you vote re-open the nomination your vote is recorded and you can actually claim "no one in this election represents me". That’s really important.

If enough people re-open nominations the university has to re-open that position and we have to have another election and I think this really positive. That is called democracy and competitors need to deal with it. It allows student to say they want somebody else to do this job.

If it upsets the candidates, so be it. I am willing to have my place re-opened and fight again for this position and I will hope the other candidates will agree on this democratic side effect.

What I want to do is to have a special edition of the student magazine, because people don’t know how the election works. Ideally I would like to publish all the details about the candidates, their manifestos, giving to the students the access to that information is vital to the democratic process.

Has the student union been threatened by the financial crisis?


Have you heard about the next year’s module reductions?

I will admit not knowing all of the details but I personally think that it is a bit shocking. If we had an active students union we would have been focused against that. I think if they are reducing staff it make sense to reduce modules but they should not be doing it either. Particular not without consulting students that will lead to a loss of students.

Thank you for your time.

Mr. Chiarelli has an additional website here, with additional details about himself and his campaign.

Voting ends at midday on May 8th and the editor urges everybody to vote for the candidate of their choice or to vote Re-Open Nominations if they cannot find a candidate of their choice.

The Snark: Vote For RON!

Editor's Note: The Snark is, and always will be, responsible for his own rantings, which do not necessarily represent those of the management.

So, not only do most students not care about the Student Union elections, but neither do many of the candidates. Out of the 14 people wanting a job, only four turned up for the first hustings event and only six for the second. (Apparently hustings doesn't mean 'badly attended', like I'd thought. I think the confusion is understandable though )

It's good to know where we stand with these no-shows, because I was starting to think they cared or something. Glad they set me right before I did something stupid, like vote for them.

That said, some of those who turned up needn't have made the journey. Really, your idea to deal with low participation is to have a 'freeze' day, where a signal sounds and you have to hold a silly pose? But how will you get people to join in and not, for example, go to their lessons or try to kick you in the nuts for coming up with this idea as the SU falls further into irrelevance?

Fear not though, for the Snark has a solution and that solution is...

Vote for RON!

Re-Open Nominations is the not-candidate guaranteed to not-solve your problems - just like most of the no-shows on Wednesday and Thursday's hustings, or the people with sod-all useful to say beyond 'I'm lovely!'

RON won't rip you off; full-time staff get £18,200 for the year and that's a lot to pay for someone who shouldn't ordinarily be allowed to use a teatowel without supervision, while elections are estimated to cost around £15,000 a year. I think that's a fair price to not elect a bunch of paid, useless people, don't you?

OK, so it still costs for run-on elections, but the uni you are paying for stumps up for that, and you know what they say about paying for what you get - better to spend the money now and not end up with something that'll go down on you six months later (sorry - I think I'm still thinking of uniform girl from the last Snark. Obviously I mean 'break down on you').

Every position has an option to 'Re-Open Nominations' which is basically a 'none of the above' voting option, which means that there has to be another election cycle for those positions where there either isn't a candidate or the voters can't stand the one there is.

And if that doesn't convince you, here's also another reason for wanting the elections to go on: Currently no-one seems to know or care that this is even happening, thanks to the genius idea of running it during holidays and exam season.

Those who do care, and do want to make things better really deserve a chance to put out their arguments and be heard by all the student population, not just their friends and whoever happens to be in the bar at the same time.

After all, if you flip a coin often enough, it'll come up heads pretty soon. Hopefully the elections will work on the same principle and we'll get some new talent.

I'm far too sober to suggest much else right now.