Interview with Jamie Biltcliffe: VP Education and Democracy Candidate


Wessex Scene were able to interview Jamie Biltcliffe about their campaign to be the next VP Education and Democracy.

Jamie elected to answer these questions during an interview.


Why did you apply for the role of VP Education and Democracy?

Representation of students is something I’m really passionate about. Over the last few years with COVID and everything, and being here as a disabled student as well, I’ve seen how there’s lots of different aspects of education here that you don’t necessarily think of. There’s all these different things that you need to sometimes do that can be quite difficult, like special considerations – people had trouble with that. The way it’s changed with COVID, and then after, it inspired me really to go for this because I just want to – this is what everyone says – but I want to make change, I want to make the education here as consistent and accessible for everyone as it can possibly be. As well, the petition recently on exams, that sort of inspired me on the democracy front of it, because I saw that and as it didn’t really have any impact on the university and with the overwhelming support it had, the outcome just seemed wrong. I wanted to try and do something about that.


If you got elected, what would be the three main areas that would be your focus in your campaign?

Firstly, with the consistency of education, making sure that lectures are always recorded. In higher education, 13% of students have a disability, I think people don’t really realize that. There are so many students who are struggling and I think it’s not even just disabled students, uni is hard for everyone. We all need to have the best access we can, so that we can do as well as we can. If there are things that some departments do, that helps students that other departments don’t, it needs to be spread out equally. It needs to be fair for everyone.

In terms of accessibility, as we’re sort of moving forward, it would be good to have for first-year students, guides on stuff like academic integrity. I’ve talked to my friends in final year, and often you’re suddenly being told by lecturers marking assignments: ‘You’re doing this, this and this wrong with your footnotes’ and there seems to be quite a lot of stuff that people feel should have been taught in first year that weren’t. I think that’s not even just with academic integrity but all sorts of different things.

In first year, you’re overwhelmed, there’s so much going on, you’re often in a new city living away from home for the first time. There is so much more that could be taught to you so you’re better prepared for your later years. With the way education has changed now, post-COVID, I think in the future it’ll be important for digital skills to be taught in first year. I know Lottie the current VP is working hard on introducing digital skills and life skills. Workshops are something that are going to happen soon, so it will be good to build on that, and expand.


What is something that SUSU is providing that you like, and what is something that you would change compared to what’s currently being done?

Things such as petitions and You Make Change – they’re great. It’s really good to have ways that students can as an individual make a real change to what’s going on at the university. I think the facilities are great, you’ve got such a good range of places. I was just in The Bridge, it’s very nice and then the Plant Pot, that’s also really good at how it’s catering to a different market with vegan options on campus with a big focus on sustainability. For the SU, sustainability is at the heart of what they do, but it should be guaranteed that they’re always as sustainable as possible.

I’d improve the ways you can get involved, making change through petitions and through your course representatives. There is serious room for improvement, to make sure change happens. With the petitions, I think a good thing would be to do, as you see in Parliament, if you submit a petition to Parliament, if you get 10,000 signatures, the government has to provide an official response. If you get 100,000 signatures, they have to have a debate in Parliament. And obviously, if the debate goes one way, then you can move forward into legislation and so on. I think an important change to see there would be to give the petitions that we have here some binding authority, so if they had a high turnout, with the vast majority of students at the uni supporting it, that should have a binding impact on the authorities at the university to make the change that students want to see.


One of the things that you mentioned in your campaign was the idea of incentivizing voting to make sure that people do use their voices in situations like petitions. How would you go about doing that and ensuring that students do participate? 

In terms of how I would achieve that, I would say I think on the side of getting involved there needs to be a push on properly explaining to people what you get out of the role. So what actually is being a course rep, this needs to be explained. When you arrive as a first year you see, ‘I can get involved with this straightaway’ and realize that it’s not a huge commitment and it’s not going to make you behind on your work. Explain, as well, the advantages of it properly so that people want to do it. Such as how it looks good on your CV, you’re getting experience of sort of communication skills, and feeding that back to staff. 


Do you think it’s still a fair and effective method to get students involved in democracy if you’re incentivizing it?

It’s possible to misinterpret what I’m trying to say, yeah. You’re not trying to bribe people, but instead, you need to better explain why it’s good to vote. I’ve seen the memes on Instagram like ‘I don’t want to follow your VP account, why would I want to vote?’ It’s funny but it’s also missing the point, really, of why it is important. If you don’t want to get involved now, why are you going to want to get involved with democracy and politics, at any point in your life, if you don’t think it’s important here. There’s a danger that you’re not going to think it’s important generally in your life, and that’s not how the change you want to see is made.


A lot of your points of your campaign seem to be geared around ensuring that people who are coming in who haven’t sat an exam before, are being equipped with those skills. What would you do for students who might not necessarily receive the same support as first years and have already been at the University for a while? How would you equip them with the same skills? Or do you think there is a need for that?

Definitely. I was just talking about this to my friend and it’s definitely not something just for first years. Any year that’s been through what we’ve been through, I don’t think right now I could sit down and write an exam there in front of me, I don’t think I’m prepared for that right now. I think any student here at the university, they should have access to open workshops on all the essential exam skills; writing, time management, revising, all these different aspects. Everyone should be prepared for that. I don’t think at all that should be something just for first years, everyone should have access to that if they want it.


What would you do to hold the university accountable for things like this? And for the petitions, like you said, they didn’t really make much of an impact? What would you do as VP to make sure the university are held accountable in these situations?

Like I said on the petitions, I think the university would have to agree to giving it more power, but I don’t see how they could justify rejecting that. I think on the petitions it should be the accountability comes from that they should have more power. So they are sort of bound to the will of the people as it were.


Are there any specific problems that you can identify in the current VP Education and Democracy role? And is there anything that you feel would need to be improved in your tenure to make sure that you are better able to do the things you set out to do?

I think we need a better integration within the representation system, and the educational aspects of the universities, other departments, schools, faculties, etc. There can be a bit of a disconnect currently between these different branches of the university. One of my points in the manifesto is about how I think reps should be much better, much more accessible to the students. And I think a good way to do this would be at the beginning of each year, you are told who your reps are, how to contact them, what you can ask them about. They should be better connected to the department presidents, and school presidents and so on. They should all integrate better.


Do you think there’s a distance between the general student cohort and the course reps?

Yes, it’s almost like you have the students, the reps, and the university. And all three of these groups need to come closer together. It’s not that they don’t want to talk to each other, it’s that not there’s not necessarily the channel to do this. Obviously, there’s a limit to what the VP can do. There’s only one of them. If you go down all the layers, there’s hundreds of reps, so there is a limit on how far you can integrate. But I think there should be better channels of communication so the ideas from students aren’t lost in translation on their way up through the representation hierarchy.


Is that something you’ve experienced as a course rep or from other course reps?

Yes. I won’t go into specifics, but, speaking from experience and what I’ve heard from other people there is clearly a distance between the different levels of representation. You’re more likely for a course rep to have good communication between staff and your department than you do with the higher levels of representation. That needs to change really. If it’s better integrated, then you’re going to have better results.


Finally, are there any other points you’d like to add? 

Going back to consistency. I think something as well that people have brought up to me is about the peer-to-peer mentoring schemes or the buddy schemes. It’s an important example of where there is not good consistency within the university because I know of some departments where they have really good schemes that have been running for a long time that are very helpful. You can talk to them about your problems, and they can provide support. But there are some in which people who applied to have a buddy in their first year, never heard back. It may be because there weren’t enough people signed up, all sorts of reasons, but if some departments can do it, it needs to be other departments too. If they need the help, they should be able to get that so that they can implement a successful scheme so that you can have a consistent experiencesm, and there is a consistent experience across the university.


Wessex Scene attempted to contact Peerapat ‘James’ Sparks, Ruiya Wang, or Tomasz Duliban but unfortunately were not able to set up an interview.

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