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Given he is re-running for the position of VP (Education), naturally a lot of the debate will be placed on Joe O’Neill’s performance in office so far. This is something he embraces, pointing to his achievements with the 24 hour library, getting better careers advice and workshops for students and securing funding for a Union Conference in the next academic year, believing 2013/14 to be a “successful year.”
Indeed, O’Neill believes that his experience in the role would be an asset next year, particularly given the next General Election sits within the 2014/15 academic year. “I think it’s a case of making sure that we have a candidate who is experienced enough to know the big issues facing higher education,” O’Neill explains, giving the sale of the student loan book and tuition fees as areas which “need to be kept at the front of our mind.” O’Neill also believes that if he were re-elected he would be able to provide some continuity to the Union, at a time when LUSU are going through their strategic review.
In terms of what he would like to tackle next year, O’Neill believes cost of living will be the biggest issue and while “the University have taken the right decision in my view by awarding the highest amount they can in terms of scholarships and bursaries in the future of £2000… we also need to ensure that there are things like caps on rent inflation on campus, so that the £2000 students are going to get isn’t just swallowed as soon as it comes in on rent inflation.”
Policies O’Neill would like to implement in the future are centred on the provision of more learning and teaching space. “I think there is going to be a need to build bigger lecture theatres at the University – they plan on increasing numbers by around a thousand over the course of the next few years, so that’s going to put a real strain on what’s already an issue.” Another such space is a learning zone in town, which O’Neill believes can be achieved by using the University’s space at the Storey Institute. “My view is that it should be a learning zone available to all students, with printing facilities, but the University are pushing towards making it a postgraduate taught area. To me that doesn’t make sense – the majority of postgraduate taught students live on campus anyway.” Instead, O’Neill would like to see more postgraduate learning space on campus, such as a new reading room in the library.
Perhaps most of all, O’Neill is quite open about making controversial decisions. He has been quite outspoken in support of the strikes by the UCU, Unison and Unite unions, despite some student opinion to the contrary. “Taking decisions like supporting industrial action is a difficult one to take,” O’Neill believes. “There are postgraduate members who are affected by the issues brought up in the strike and we have to stand up for them. It’s not always politically convenient but morally right to stand up for a minority sometimes, even when it’s the majority that elect you in.”
And what would O’Neill have done differently in this past year of controversial decisions? “Taken a holiday. I’ve not taken one day off so far, and I’m exhausted, but it’s been a really rewarding experience.”