CUSU Education Officer candidates Howard Chae and Ali Hyde Bella Peng

The race for Education Officer is set to be one of the tightest in this year’s elections, with both candidates – Howard Chae and Ali Hyde – highly qualified for the role on paper and well-known student campaigners in Cambridge.

From their opening remarks at hustings, both sought to emphasise what set them apart from their rival. In his opening speech, Chae called on voters to closely consider the differences between his and Hyde’s extensive experiences of student campaigning, stating that “it’s not about whether you have experience sitting on committees and boards, but it’s about the sorts of experiences [you] have, and how you plan to use these experiences to accomplish specific policy goals.”

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From here, it became clear that the candidates were coming at the role from markedly different angles.

Hyde, who has served as co-chair of the Cambridge Universities’ Labour Club and President of the CUSU LGBT+ campaign, demonstrated an approach to the role which would put improving individual student experiences at the forefront of his work. Mental health emerged as his main campaign focus, with his most-emphasised policies focusing on tackling student imposter syndrome, particularly for first year undergraduates, and addressing the “disparity” in college and faculty provision for students’ mental health.

Chae, who is currently a CUSU Part-time Executive for Education and has served as an undergraduate student representative on the Faculty Board of History, positioned himself as the candidate who would look to tackle more politicised academic issues. These would range from decolonising the University to “rethinking our University’s relationship with the wider world”, including that Cambridge “divest, disarm, and decolonise”.

Both candidates, having served on their respective JCR committees, have the potential for JCR support – notoriously powerful in swinging tight CUSU races. Hyde’s approach might appeal to a more politically diverse group of voters, but the left-leaning politically-engaged demographic that make up CUSU’s most reliable core of voters will likely be drawn to Chae’s campaign.

Hyde quiet on Prevent and decolonisation

A crucial distinction between the two candidates lies in the focus Chae put upon Prevent, the University-based and national opposition of which he chose as the one thing he would achieve if he could only complete one thing during his time in office. Hyde, however, did not once mention Prevent during hustings. Likewise, Hyde did not mention decolonisation, something which Chae said he would prioritise during his tenure.

Hyde has, however, mentioned in his manifesto that he would “support student groups working on diversifying the curriculum, for example, ‘queering’ or with decolonisation”, and that he would work with colleges “to oppose the racialised aspects of Prevent”. Hyde’s silence on the issues during hustings, therefore, may have been in an attempt to differentiate himself from Chae.

A college-faculty divide

Hyde has the valuable experience of sitting on a variety of committees and is currently an NUS delegate, but what he does not have is faculty-based and education-specific experience. Chae has been involved in Cambridge Defend Education and the decolonisation network, all of which, he argues, made him aware of “the work that has been done and the work that needs to be done” to tackle issues such as Prevent and decolonisation. Chae already has a successful track record in academic campaigning: he was able to cite his work successfully campaigning alongside UCU for the History Faculty to ensure payment to postgraduates teaching a certain paper, which the Faculty agreed to in June last year.

Hyde had the edge over Chae, though, when it came to recognising the value of college-based approaches to the role. He noted that “colleges often have resources untapped in Academic Officers, who are often untrained”, and said that he would want to work with them on a regular basis if elected. JCR and MCR Academic Officers are able to lobby and liaise directly with colleges on issues such as reasonable adjustments. Lobbying colleges would also be crucial in addressing intermission policies, which remain a process left to the discretion of individual colleges and which both candidates listed as one of the most important academic issues facing disabled students. Chae did note that he would work to standardise guidelines “on double time degrees and academic adjustment across colleges”, despite his approach remaining heavily faculty-based.

However, both candidates promised to engage with CUSU’s new devolved academic forum. Hyde said that he would prioritise shaping the forum into something that could be “effective and useful” as a means of sharing best practice among academic reps, while Chae similarly said in his opening speech that he would proactively engage with it “as a space for joint organising and skill sharing”.

Chae UCU collaboration emphasis could prove divisive

While both candidates’ policies regarding the issues facing disabled students did not differ greatly – with lecture accessibility a priority for both – Chae emphasised how he would work alongside UCU in achieving his goals. This was a common thread across his policies, and echoed his opening statement that he would create change through “collaborative action”.


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His emphasis upon the importance of maintaining the links forged between students and the UCU during last year’s staff strikes is sure to be divisive for voter support. Even this term, discontent was voiced at CUSU Council regarding a motion to support the UCU should they vote to stage a second round of strikes, despite the motion ultimately passing.

Chae and Hyde put forward approaches to a tenure as Education Officer that were, for the most part, vastly different. Chae would bring more immediately relevant and pointed experience to the role and prioritise more political issues that are not guaranteed to win him the popular vote. Hyde, however, is tackling topics which have clear and pre-established student support, but lacks both the faculty-based experience which Chae offers, and the reliable left-wing activist vote.

  • Updated, March 2nd 2019: This article was amended to include reference to Howard Chae’s discussion of CUSU academic forum during hustings.
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