The role of Undergraduate President is contested by four candidates, with two candidates running for Postgraduate PresidentCiara Aberdeen, Amy Bottomley, Anjum Nahar, Allison O'Malley Graham, Zak Coleman, Jenny Ward George

CN: This article contains brief mention of domestic abuse

With voting due to begin tomorrow (01/03), Varsity takes a look at this year’s presidential candidates and their vision for the Cambridge Student Union (SU) for the coming year.

As in previous years, the race for Undergraduate President is the most hotly contested, with a total of four candidates: Allison O’Malley Graham, Amy Bottomley, Ciara Aberdeen, and Zak Coleman. Last year, five candidates ran for the role, whereas there were just two in 2019.

The candidates raised some of the expected issues in their manifestos, with student welfare and climate action being among the most popular issues for candidates to discuss.

On student welfare, Allison, who was the 2019-20 JCR President at Murray Edwards, will campaign for “a Cambridge for all”, stating that “our university doesn’t work for everyone, and that hurts all of us.” Allison will also promote BAME-specific welfare aids, including BAME councillors.

Amy, who has been both President and Chair of SU Class Act Campaign, highlights in their manifesto that the “burden of self-advocating...weighs heavily on students” and will aim to improve student support, alongside emphasising the importance of “physical and virtual” accessibility to the SU.

Zak will campaign for at least one dedicated counsellor for all Colleges and increased funding for the Disability Resource Centre (DRC) and University Counselling Service (UCS.)

With the launch of the rent strike campaign during Michaelmas term, presidential candidates have emphasised rent in their manifestos. There was a similar show of support from presidential candidates for Cambridge Cut the Rent during the 2020 elections.

Zak, if elected, will establish a ‘SU Fair Rent Campaign’ to lobby Colleges with “excessive” rents to reduce accommodation fees. Similarly Allison, who proposed the motion for the SU to support the rent strike campaign which successfully passed earlier this term, promises to lobby for “fairer rent and [...] student consultation on rent and kitchen charges.”

Another area that has featured heavily in this year’s manifestos is the proposal by Ben Margolis, the current Undergraduate President, to restructure the Cambridge term.

Under this proposal, the SU will lobby for the start of each academic week to be moved from Thursday to Monday, and add a reading week in the middle of term, which the SU hopes will benefit student wellbeing.

Both Allison and Zak supported the motion. However, Ciara’s manifesto does not support the proposal. Their manifesto points out that “multiple Council members [stated] that this [proposal] would negatively affect many students” as it would concentrate “their work into a shorter time frame.”

They added that Margolis “spent 7 months on an idea which negatively affects half of his constituents, and didn’t even know there was an issue.”

Ciara, a member of the Cambridge University Digital Gaming Society’s (CUDGS) overwatch team, provided a manifesto which broadly focuses on their perceived issues with the SU rather than issues with which the SU deals: “no one can claim to have a mandate to represent students when they were elected by only 20% of those students,” they state.

Similarly, Amy suggests that “decisions taken by the SU should be made following adequate consultation of the groups affected by the decisions. Transparency and open communication is key.”

Climate Change and the University’s ethics were also key themes in this year’s manifestos, with Zak, who is currently part of the SU Ethical Affairs campaign, having co-founded the Jesus College Climate Justice Campaign, promising to establish a SU Climate Action Campaign and act to further promote divestment and net-zero commitments. He has also worked on the recently launched ‘Cambridge Colleges Divest Now’ campaign.

Allison will promote “an ethical University,” focusing on divestment campaigns and secure working contracts, as well as working with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) on “local Cambridge issues” such as homelessness. Similarly, Amy will “scrutinise the University’s links to systems of oppression, including but not limited to slavery, racism and unethical financial sources.”

Meanwhile, the two candidates vying for Postgraduate President are running on manifestos with few unexpected ideas. However, while there is some overlap between their concrete policy proposals, the candidates present distinct visions with emphasis on a range of areas.

Anjum Nahar is an English MPhil student at Murray Edwards, while Jenny Ward George is a 3rd year PhD Engineer at Peterhouse. Addressing the pandemic features prominently in their proposals, and both have pledged to push for academic mitigations and adjustments, as well as helping postgraduates seek funding extensions.

Anjum goes further, pledging to lobby for visa fees and NHS surcharges for international students to be covered by the University. When contacted by Varsity, she stated that this will be among her top priorities, in addition to “lobbying the University” on behalf of students seeking funding extensions.

Jenny also listed pandemic mitigation as her top priority, and told Varsity she wants to ensure that “the fall-out of Covid-19 (be it social, pastoral, academic or financial) is fully investigated from the postgraduate perspective.”

She presents a number of issues through the lens of Covid-19 – mental health resources, outdoor spaces, and alumni outreach – all of which she argues must be adequately provided for in the wake of the pandemic. In her SU website candidate profile, she also states that the University should “do more for the students who are victims and survivors” of domestic abuse, citing the rise of abuse seen nation-wide during lockdown.


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Her other welfare commitments include developing “minimum standards of care for student-supervisor relationships”, similar to Anjum’s pledge to continue the current SU’s work “assessing” these relationships.

Anjum also addresses mental health, pledging to “reform college pastoral support” so that postgraduates “receive proper mental health support”. Her other welfare pledges include working with the BME officer to “secure prayer spaces for students of faith.”

This year, Anjum is pledging to work with liberation campaigns to “build an anti-racist university” and “decolonise curriculums”. Her candidate Youtube video begins by praising the rent strike campaign, as well as Trinity’s recent divestment announcement.

Both candidates are coming to the campaign with plenty of experience under their belts. Jenny, the current Peterhouse MCR President, told Varsity how she has already lobbied at the student Council for funding extensions for PhD students. Anjum, meanwhile, is the current co-Chair of the SU’s Ethical Affairs Campaign, and told Varsity that her experience in the role reversed her prior scepticism about the SU’s “ability to create real material change”.

Ultimately, Anjum’s manifesto centres socially-conscious campaigns, her three pillars being: “Finances and Fair Wages”, “Student Life and Wellbeing” and “Social and Environmental Justice.” Jenny, meanwhile, places more emphasis on the financial and housing situation of postgraduates, with a manifesto divided into: “Covid-19”, “Housing Provision & Financial Support”, and “Student Welfare”, of which a key proposal is “limiting rent increases” and improving access to affordable housing.