Autumn Referenda 2020/21


The results are in: Autumn Referenda 2020/21 >>

If you are an active student at Sussex University, you're automatically a member of the Students' Union. And that means you are able to shape the union, ensuring that it is student-led. Participating in referenda is one way of doing that. Cast your vote to accept or reject proposals of change.

In Autumn 2020/21, we had three referenda. For each of them we'll provide you with the background, the policy aim, the objective and the arguments. For neutrality, we will give an argument 'For' and 'Against' each referenda.

  1. First Generation Scholar scholarships
  2. No beef or lamb on campus
  3. Support rent strikes by students in university accommodation

View the results


Referenda 1 | Referenda 2 | Referenda 3

Referendum 1


Should the Students’ Union lobby the University to reinstate and expand the First Generation Scholar scholarships/bursaries to all students including Masters students?


Background:

“First Generation Scholar” is defined by the University as someone who is the first in their family to attend university or if their total household income is below £42,875 per year (in 2019). The scheme offered financial support to eligible Undergraduates; a payment of £1,000 paid directly to the student, plus a £2,000 rent or fee reduction with £1,000 direct payments for subsequent years. First Generation Scholars are also offered opportunities via the Careers Centre such as work shadowing, internships and summer schools. This scheme exists to support those from low income families to access higher education and other opportunities they might not have been able to.

For 2020, Sussex replaced this scheme with the Sussex bursary, reducing the income threshold to £25,000 with reduced payments of £1,000 in the first year and subsequent payments of £500.

In the past 4 years, the university has slowly withdrawn financial support from the First Generation Scholars scheme, from £5000 in 2017 (3 year course) to £2000 in 2020. They have also made it harder to receive the scholarship, reducing the required household income from £42875 to £25000, much lower than the average household income of £37100 (office for national statistics).

Policy aim:

To widen the University scholarships offered for First Generation Students to help them achieve their academic goals and participate fully in student life.

Policy objectives:

  • To secure a firm commitment and undertaking from the University to instate a First Generation students scholarship programme for both undergraduates and postgraduates
  • Work with the university’s Widening Participation team to ensure there is a good offer for First Generation Scholars
  • To widen the debate on what constitutes first generation student, which can be an unhelpful term
  • Look at intersectionality with other marginalised cohorts of students - BAME, single parents, LGBTQ, those living with a disability etc

Arguments


Argument For

First generation college students (FGCS) face many obstacles which affect enrollment and graduation rates. Some barriers include lack of college readiness, familial support, financial stability, racial under representation, low academic self-esteem, and difficulty adjusting to college.

In recent years, colleges have become aware that students with sparse financial resources and thin networks of adult support can struggle to adjust to campus life, with many failing to earn a degree.

First-generation students may feel uncomfortable in the University atmosphere. They may come from a different cultural background or have different levels of college preparation than their peers. These differences contribute to low levels of academic self-esteem and difficulty adjusting to the college setting.

In terms of people wanting to become postgrads it's a sad fact that many graduating students are faced with deciding whether to continue their education or enter the workforce. When I graduated I faced incredible pressure from family and peers to leave education and get a “real job in the real world” ( their words not mine). If it was not for a scholarship to go to Sheffield University I would not be where I am today in terms of academic achievement , career progression and self-confidence.

By opening the pathways for students from first degree to Masters degrees to potentially PHD to academia we can improve social mobility in academia. The hope is people going on to take Masters, PhD s and then getting academic jobs will mean a wider divergence of lived experience amongst academics

To achieve this we have to implement methods to enable progression for those who feel excluded for whatever reason.

Its Catch 22 - if you do not have a divergence of lived experience amongst academics then there will inevitably be a group of students who are doing their undergrad and Masters and feel not part of the picture - if we have a more diverse background for people in the University - then hopefully everyone in the student body can say they are like me and means that I can do it too!!!

Hopefully this widening of participation would have a cross over for BAME students too, assisting people from many different backgrounds to go on and progress to the next stage of their education

There is another intersectional element in terms of potential female masters students as well who often are not able to prioritise their further study at the expense of family commitments


Argument Against

While I do not disagree with there being a FG scholarship, I do not believe that lobbying on this issue is a reasonable way to spend SU time and resources. The number of students who will directly benefit from this referendum policy is so limited that it is hard to justify. Would it not be better for the First Generation Society to lobby with the support of the SU?

If the term ‘First Generation Scholar’ is unhelpful and could be broadened, how is it possible to lobby the university for adequate funds. This privileges one group of students over many others who are marginalised in similar ways, yet do not get access to any scholarship funds. Should we not be lobbying for broad support for all students, not for the redistribution of funds that students are paying for. This policy fails to account for the broader system that is marginalising students which is fees and variation in maintenance loans that does not account for student needs in a nuanced way. Lobbying in these ways would be a better use of union time and resources.

  • This argument was written by staff in the Students’ Union for balance

Referenda 1 | Referenda 2 | Referenda 3

Referendum 2


Should the Students' Union initiate a no beef or lamb on campus initiative and lobby the university to do so as well, to fight against the climate crisis?


Background:

The University of Sussex declared a climate emergency on the 1st of August 2019. Since then they have taken some small steps forward to try and tackle this overwhelming crisis.

Taking beef and lamb off the menu in bars, cafes, and Eat Central would make a huge difference to the carbon footprint of the university.

Swapping beef and lamb, to chicken or pork will save 40,000 litres of water, 2 tonnes of CO2 and 1150 square meters of land if just one person makes the change for a year. It’s one of the easiest and biggest impacts an individual can make.

Moreover, reducing beef and lamb is profitable too, as seen at Cambridge University who has implemented this change. They saw a 3% increase in profit and a 9% increase in sales without receiving a single complaint. Furthermore reducing or cutting out red meat all together has been shown to reduce the chances of heart disease, certain cancers and even diabetes.

Policy Aim:

Reducing the carbon footprint of the university and the union while maintaining or increasing profit by the removal of beef and lamb products from campus.

Policy objectives:

  • See beef and lamb products removed for the Students' Union Shop.
  • Work with Blend (the food provider for all campus bars) to phase out beef and lamb products on their menu.
  • Lobby eat central to reduce and eventually completely remove all beef and lamb products from their menu.
  • Lobby the university to take on board and implement this initiative in any current or further food outlets.

Resources:

Shifting Diets” by the World Resources Institute


Arguments


Argument For

University of Sussex declared a climate emergency on the 1st of August 2019. Since then they have taken some small steps forward to try and tackle this overwhelming crisis. Lobbying the university to take beef and lamb off the menu in bars, cafes, and Eat Central would make a huge difference to the carbon footprint of the university.

Swapping beef and lamb, to chicken or pork will save 40,000 litres of water, 2 tonnes of CO2 and 1150 square meters of land if just one person makes the change for a year.

  • Beef and lamb make up 75% of the greenhouse gasses from global meat consumption.
  • 70% of the land in the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil was cleared for animal pastures - mostly cattle ranching.
  • 85% of the world’s soy is fed to farm animals (mainly cows) when it could instead be used to feed those who need it most.
  • Every time you don’t eat a steak you save enough water for 45 showers.
  • There have also been shown to be links between high intake of red and processed meats and a higher risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature death. Studies indicate that you can reduce your risk of dying from a heart or circulatory condition by 24% by eating more fruit and vegetables, and cutting out red meat and dairy.

It’s one of the easiest and biggest impacts an individual can make. Moreover, reducing beef and lamb is profitable too, as seen at Cambridge University where this change has been implemented already. They saw a 3% increase in profit, a 16% reduction in cost per kg of meat purchased and a 9% increase in sales without receiving a single complaint. By removing beef and lamb from menus, the safety risks of handling these raw red meats are also eliminated. As students, we need to ensure that the university fulfils their responsibilities after declaring a climate emergency. This would be a vital step in the right direction. So please vote FOR lobbying the university to remove beef and lamb from our campus food outlets.

PLEASE NOTE: As this is a commercial referenda affecting the Unions trading company and this referenda requires a turnout of 10% of the student body to be passed.


Argument Against

The pandemic has been particularly hard for students on campus and Union Outlets. For students who have been stuck on campus with limited options as to where they can shop and meet their immediate food needs, the outlets have been essential. When shopping from a small shop, the range of choice there is essential. Beef and beef products are found in a broad range of products, including imported ones that allow students to have familiar foods in an unfamiliar environment. The value that comfort offers can not be understated.

The impact this has on diets is not the union’s place to decide. Who are we to police how people eat? The comments about the impact this has on health is not the union’s position to decide. Organisations should not be arbitrating people’s diets rather they should be allowing students to make informed decisions and give them the space to buy the products they want. The money they spend on these products gets reinvested into students and shifting away from a central product seems inappropriate.

This issue does not exist in a vacuum, by cutting products from the lineup there is no guarantee that replaced products would be more environmentally friendly. Surely it is better to rally for buying local, supporting small businesses etc. than to wipe a category of food from the selection. Can it be justified diverting investment from the businesses we buy from. After all, Soya products are notoriously bad for the environment, different is not necessarily better.

  • This argument was written by staff in the Students’ Union for balance

Referenda 1 | Referenda 2 | Referenda 3

Referendum 3


Should the Students’ Union always publicly support rent strikes by students in university accommodation, about experiences the university has control over?


Background:

Rent striking is the withholding of rent by a large group of tenants against a large landlord. It’s a method of protest used to press a landlord to meet specific demands to rectify the unacceptable experiences they are directly responsible for. In this case, the SU would be publicly supporting rent strikes organised by a substantial number of students striking against unacceptable experiences they’re dealing with, whilst resident in university-managed accommodation. Whilst student ‘experiences’ are subjective, they are valid if it can reasonably be argued that the university has control over them. The meaning of ‘Publicly supporting rent strikes’ simply means that the SU will, by default, publicly back a strike so long as it doesn't go against the values and principles of the union. Supporting could also include things such as the SU providing impartial info/advice on what rent strike is and the effective strategies for a successful strike. Other support could include the SU acting as a mediator between strikers and university management, and performing a broader representative function (which it does for all its members). The extent of any other support however, apart from publicly backing the strike, will always be the decision of the SU at the time.

Policy aims:

The Students’ Union to publicly support students living in university accommodation who choose to rent strike.

Policy objectives:

  • For the Students’ Union to publicise rent strikes on their communication channels showing support
  • For the Students’ Union to educate students about their rights when choosing to go on rent strike
  • For the Students’ Union to support striking students in their negotiations with the university.

Arguments


Argument For

The Students' Union has an obligation to represent student voices and interests and so should always publicly support rent strikes so long as they don’t go against the principles and values of the union. Students who are dissatisfied with how university management have treated them, in terms of their educational experience or experience in accommodation, may feel the only power they have is to use a rent strike against the uni. Other support, such as providing information and advice on rent strikes or aiding in the communication between strikes and management, may also be given by the union if appropriate and at the discretion of the SU at the time.

By always publicly backing rent strikes, so long as they don’t go against the principles and values of the SU, this referenda will make sure that the union is always representing the demands of students and not being swayed by hostility they may be receiving from the university management. With recent incidents since September, of management not engaging with the SU, the passing of this would also then reaffirm and give mandate to the Students' Union’s demands for an ongoing transparent and constructive dialogue with the university management. Indeed, the need for student voices to be represented has never been more pressing than now; during a period of time, where, despite the serious impact caused by a pandemic, the business model of the university has nevertheless continued prioritising profits over people, a trend which we’re likely to see increase with the inevitable financial fallout of the pandemic. Therefore, by committing to always back students taking the most serious action against the university, the SU would show itself to be a truly independent and representative organisation which can no longer be ignored or sidelined by the university.


Argument Against

To implement a blanket policy for rent strikes places the Union in a precarious position. Binding the Union to rent strikes as a default position could place it in serious legal difficulty. There is no guarantee that a rent strike will be the most effective method to address an issue and yet the Union would be forced to support one, no questions asked. Striking is risky and does not come without the risk of legal repercussions, as an organisation, would they be best supporting students?

As an organisation, the Union is meant to represent the interests of the majority of students. While a strike would not necessarily go against Union values, it would not necessarily represent the beliefs and needs of the majority of students in the best way. The risk of alienating students who wish to take a more moderate stance, is high and is that a risk worth taking?

Moreover, this policy is too broad and unspecific, it fails to define what a ‘substantial’ number of students means and the arbitrary nature of many of its terms leaves room for dangerous interpretation that could damage the organisation. Just because a rent strike aligns with Union values in one capacity, does not mean it aligns in entirety. To commit to such broad remits of blanket support places the SU in uncertain territory, something they cannot afford to be in.

  • This argument was written by staff in the Students’ Union for balance

View the results >>

Jump to Referenda 1 | Referenda 2 | Referenda 3 or find out more about Referenda at the Union