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Day 2 Debates: Tough Competition in AUSA Elections

Updated: Mar 14

Student Officer Candidates Struggle to Stand Out in Crowded Race


By Fred Byrne


By Lara Nicolis


Ahead of Student Officer elections, contenders for Student President and VP Welfare gathered on Friday 8th March at Union Brew in front of a small audience, not unlike Thursday’s debates. Nirvan, Chair of Student Council, again moderated the debates telling The Gaudie, ‘‘All the positions have very strong candidates. It's going to be a difficult race.’’

 

Candidates for Student President discussed decolonisation, LGBTQ+ inclusion, counselling services, and funding for AUSA.

 

Christina Schmid highlighted her priorities: improving AUSA’s communication, leading a just transition to face the climate emergency, and re-imagining University governance. Implementing this, she continued, would involve putting students in seats of power in the University’s executive committees, communicating with unions, a reuseable cup system, £1 student bus tickets, and better bicycle infrastructure. The Politics and Spanish student, footballer, bike repair volunteer and socialist has helped lead efforts to support connections with UCU and to save modern languages.

 

Seye Abrahams, a petroleum engineering Master’s student, promised to build partnerships and create internship opportunities. Seye hopes a co-op can help financially struggling  students, but did not elaborate on how this would feed into existing support mechanisms. Responding to questions about decolonisation, racism and LGBTQ+ rights, Seye’s answer stood simple and clear: ‘‘Preach love.’’

 

Co-Editor-In-Chief of The Gaudie Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco called for an ‘‘Accountable Accessible Aberdeen.’’ Acknowledging the University’s [lack of accountability] to students in decisions to cut jobs, Josh also suggested that AUSA improve its outreach, especially on Qatar and Foresterhill campuses. He promised to hold weekly surgeries, to improve winter maintenance at St Machar Drive, to install lockers in the library, to open the old Starbucks as a community space, and to introduce a scheme to promote local businesses. The student journalist’s role in exposing various scandals at the University are likely to help his election prospects.

 

Palestinian Solidarity Society co-founder and a driving force behind AUSA’s calls for ceasefire, Emily McQuoid is known to many as a Union Brew barista. She wants to develop EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion), help decolonise the University and put Infohub in the same building as AUSA to act as a centre point for students. Asked to define decolonisation, Emily said it was the ‘‘need to acknowledge how the legacy of colonisation has played out in our educational institution.’’

 

Business School Convener Ankhita Sinha emphasised the need to improve Student Support, and communications around such services. Their queer identity, international student status, and experience with counselling services position them to identify problems that occur for students.

Anuj Giri highlighted his military background, but asserted an anti-war stance. Refusing questions about decolonisation, Anuj replied to a student's questions on transphobia saying there is no reason to be afraid of trans people.

 

Ali Ahmad Sadaat highlighted his experiences working on humanitarian issues in developing countries, promising to advocate for students on housing and cost-of-living issues, helping students focus on their careers.

 

Law School Convener Khalifa Yahaya Muhammad, consistently absent from Student Council meetings, spoke of his experiences as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and promised to increase engagement in AUSA by fostering diversity and unity.

 

Merris Abena Soah Ackon joined mid-way through the debate and emphasised housing and mental health needs, promising to ‘‘implement the change you want to see’’.

 

Most candidates would not say if they supported an independently-funded AUSA. Approached for comment, moderator Nirvan told The Gaudie he would like to see AUSA become financially independent through business endevaours, and plans to suggest the idea to winning candidates in a meeting.

 

Candidates for VP Welfare also took to the stage, discussing housing, cost of living and Palestine.

 

LLMVC School Convener and SaveUOALanguages campaigner Finn Abou El Magd outlined detailed plans to create a new hardship fund for international students, use the old Starbucks location to foster community, restructure society membership fees and provide free breakfast as a low-cost solution to help struggling students.

 

Having been the VP Welfare on the University’s sister campus in Qatar, Samer Fakhri was keen to take on the job in Aberdeen. He aims to develop the personal tutor system, and criticised Student Support for being ‘‘incapable of dealing’’ with issues involving mature students and sexual abuse. He also questioned why university catering prices continue to

rise despite SAAS payments remaining the same.

 

Ex-navy mature student Allie Glew argued for inclusive discretionary funds, free buses for all students, mental health first aid training, and said that while ‘‘cuts are shit for everyone’’ essential support services must be protected.

 

Filmmaking Society President Karim Hurtig vowed to campaign on behalf of students being turned into ‘‘machines without support’’ and agreed on providing free food to struggling students. He hoped to streamline communications between VP Welfare and Welfare officers of societies.

 

Another mature student Babu John argued that his wealth of experiences, including experience in NHS Grampian from 2008 onwards, will help him support students through mental health and housing issues. Babu pointed out the need to first identify welfare problems before going about solving them.

 

Baking Society President and 4th year psychology student Noah Smith argued for more AUSA oversight on societies to offer inclusivity training for welfare officers.

 

Discussing whether AUSA should support Palestine, Samer said AUSA needs a more active stance on Gaza, and solidarity should also be shown with those in Sudan, Tibet and Ukraine. Karim replied that he was disappointed by AUSA’s initial statement which he views as insufficient, while Babu noted that genocide is a crime. Finn emphasised that AUSA policy should be student-led and Allie said that the University should divest in line with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. Noah said he was not informed on Palestine, and did not read the news.

 

Voting for Student Officer Elections opens from Monday 11th March, 9am to Thursday 14 March, 5pm.

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