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No Confidence Referendum at Surrey – The Bigger Picture

Source: @surreyunion
Students at the University of Surrey are holding a referendum on the performance of the governing bodies

Incite reports on the context of the current referendum to indicate students’ confidence in the governing bodies, and gets the opinion of two spokespeople from the ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ campaigns.

Remember, Surrey students can vote until 7pm 17/5/19 at ussu.co.uk

Report

On 21st March the Students’ Union Executive Committee voted unanimously to hold a referendum to establish whether or not the student body have confidence in the Max Lu, Vice Chancellor of the University, and his leadership team.

The exact wording of the Vote of No Confidence is: ‘Is the performance and leadership of the governing bodies of the University of Surrey satisfactory?’. The thoughts of the voters is thus divided into “yes” in support of senior management, and “no” in opposition to them.

The vote was passed after extensive debate from both the Exec committee and those attending the meeting, including non-Exec union officers and liberation representatives. Within the room, students’ opinions on the performance of the senior management team were varied. Whether they were founded on discontent over funding cuts to courses, fear of departments being closed, or even occasional twinges of sympathy for Max Lu, it is clear that the current climate within the student body of the University of Surrey is calling out for change, or at least debate.

As of publication, we’re right in the middle of the campaign season where both the Yes and the No campaign are battling for the support of the student body. The Yes campaign is run predominantly by Marco Conticini, with his campaign focusing on the University’s effort to maximise study space, improve feedback, broaden the housing options and improve wellbeing services. The No campaign, in contrast, is encouraging people to vote against University management for reasons including staff cuts, cuts to support services, a lack of focus on sustainability, and pay rises for senior staff alongside drops in the league tables.

The Question Time debate – headed by Monique Botha-Kite for the No campaign and Marco Conticini for the Yes campaign – was rather heated and showed the concerns students had extending beyond the scope of the referendum question, with issues of accessibility, teaching quality, and GP services being referenced.

A significant facet of the debate was the discussion around executive pay alongside Surrey’s sharp declines in the league tables, with some contradictory statistics being tossed around to back up either side. The debate ended with many questions unanswered, but both representatives agreed on the need for accountability on the part of the University.

With similar action at the University of Bath leading to the stepping-down of their Vice Chancellor in recent years, the outcome of the referendum will be both an interesting and could possibly lead to a change in structure.

Voting for the referendum closes at 7pm Friday 17th May 2019 and you can vote at ussu.co.uk or via the link sent to your Surrey email account. The results will be announced on the Students’ Union social media channels shortly after.

Analysis

Bethany Dawson – The No Campaign

Simply, we’re tired of an unaccountable and undemocratic executive board, positioned at the top of the University, who are failing in their management. As the University of Surrey has been slipping drastically in the league tables, in tandem with student satisfaction on a steep decline, the Executive Board have rewarded themselves with a 7% pay rise.

In 2011, the University set themselves the target of a 34% cut in emissions by 2020; this target will not be reached, in 2016 the emissions reduction was only at 9.8%. This failure is one of many. The University is currently cutting hundreds of staff whilst increasing student numbers, cutting courses without adequate justification, failing to make campus accessible for all students, and feedback to courses is being returned far after the deadline for teachers.

We are working to mobilise the student body to vote “no” in the vote of confidence of the Executive board to show that the students are no longer standing for a managerial body who do not have the needs of the students as their primary concern. We know that direct action against this University works. In March of 2018 ten students occupied the office of the Vice Chancellor in support of our lecturers during the UCU Strikes, and this 24-hour protest caused wide-reaching policy change.

This movement represents the nation-wide fight against the marketisation of education, wherein students are treated as consumers, and education the product. The problems faced by students at the University of Surrey are those that can be seen by students in Higher Education across the country. Staff are striking at the University of Winchester over proposed staff cuts, the University of Reading are proposing a voluntary redundancy scheme to balance their financial losses, and students at the University of Bristol held a successful rent strike to combat an exploitative private rented sector.

The problems that our campaign is highlighting are not localised to only our University, but we hope that our display of direct action is enough to show students at other Universities that they do not have to passively accept the poor deal they are offered as consumers within an institution that cannot provide adequately.

Marco Conticini – The Yes Campaign

Lectures in the Odeon. Not a thing anymore. Why? The university learnt a lesson and won’t ever let that happen again. Mismanagement? Not quite, let’s look at what people aren’t telling you.

Staff make up half the costs of the University. Every year, staff pay grows (around 2%) plus an annual pay grade rise. The University wants to pay all its staff but fees have remained virtually the same. The University is like a household, you need to have money so you can pay for the essentials. This year, the pensions contribution skyrocketed by £6 million a year and there is a risk that the government may drop student fees, leaving the university with an even bigger shortfall.

Nevertheless, funding for additional learning support has doubled since 2015. The University provides students with a state-of-the-art sports park at less than half the price offered to the public and a Guildford-wide bus service at a quarter of the price that the public pay. Hardship funds and bursaries have been kept as a priority and cuts are being made with a focus on reducing the size of management.

Universities such as Kent and Sheffield are forcing staff out – at Surrey we’re offering staff the option to leave with a bonus package on top. There are things the University can improve, but things are moving in the right direction, and hindering our University’s ability to face these huge issues is the last thing Surrey needs! If you’re annoyed about something, let people know and things will change.

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