VP Education incumbent Matt Adie talks to Brig about his re-election campaign

31 mins read


Matt Adie stands in an illustrious position this election.

Of the three sabbatical officers finishing off his first year in post, he is the only one who seems to like his job of VP Education enough to want to keep doing it.

Don’t get me wrong – this is no slight against Dave Keenan or Jess Logan. I’m sure they had they’re reasons for ABANDONING US, like the way rabbit mothers leave their baby bunnies to fend for themselves in the burrow after a month, or how harp seals leave their pups stranded on the ice without food or protection from predators after just 12 days.

We meet in Underground, but it’s so busy that we have to perch on those weird flat donut things near the back, which is a little precarious. Is it also a little precarious, I wondered, both still being in the job right now but also running for re-election? He has, after all, a competing bid for the post, in the form of Natalie Smith, whose Brig interview you can read here.

It’s busy, he told me. “It’s a lot busier than I thought it would be, especially because we’ve got so many events in learning and teaching coming up right after the elections.

“We’ve got (the RATE awards) closing, we’ve got learning and teaching to do, we’ve got Feedback Friday, all in that week. We’ve also got a lot of staffing changes happening in the Union as well so it’s a lot busier than I’d hoped it would be, but we’re managing it.

“I’m using my nights effectively, working until 2 or 3 in the morning to get stuff done, but yeah, doing well.”

I’ve heard this before about Matt – that he’s a bit of a workaholic. Indeed, the way I had it phrased to me is that he doesn’t have a girlfriend because he’s married to his job.

Newsflash, Matt: The job will never love you back – I’m just saying.

Running for re-election on your todd must be a bit odd, too? “It is quite weird, especially for the VP Ed role, because I think the last two-term VP Ed was about 2008 or something – it was years ago.

“I think, actually, it’s a really beneficial thing to have a two-term officer. We – I especially – have benefited so much from having Jess Morris as Sports President this year, because, coming in, she is that kind of figure that you can go to and you can ask questions like: ‘What’s the best way to go about doing this?’

“Or, you know, using the relationships she built up last year to get to know who the best folk are to go to in the university.

“Actually, you can’t really put a value on coming into a second term because I think it’s far more productive – I think she’d say that about her term as well. This year, really, she has hit the ground running and got some huge wins for students.

“So, to be an incumbent going for re-election is quite a scary prospect because you are putting yourself up and kind of looking for validation to everything you’ve done this year, but I think, if successful, there’s a lot to be gained from it.”

He explained the benefits of experience in dealing with the often frustrating nature of the university’s committee cycle, which doesn’t start up until August, saying that with the relationships across the Union, faculties and the university he has built up, he feels he would also be able to “hit the ground running” in the summer if re-elected, laying the groundwork before committees reconvene.

One of the big issues he would attempt to work on quickly is the ever-contentious issue of car parking. I put it to him that, yes, the rebate for students he won after last August’s alarming hike in parking permit prices was a good thing (although it’s a shame such a mitigating measure was needed in the first place) – but surely the equally, if not more, pressing issue is the consistent lack of parking spaces? What’s to be done about that? What has he done this year?

“The interesting thing about car parking is we all know it’s an issue, and it’s been an issue for a number of years, certainly in the time I’ve been here,” Matt said.

“But every election season you never find sabbaticals who put it down as an issue and work towards it, and I think that’s because previous candidates for any of these roles know that it’s very difficult to get any progress on that in one year.

“Coming into this role, the Union didn’t have the strongest relationship with Estates and Campus Services as we would with some of the other areas. Over this year we’ve really built that up.

“The amazing thing is the university is actually on board with it – they know car parking is an issue and they want to be doing something. But because of, as you would expect, governmental targets around carbon emissions, which are then fed down to local government level before it goes to the university, we are very restricted on what we can do.

“Looking forward to next year, what I want to do is ensure the rebate works for students; it is a huge win in terms of making sure the permit increase over the summer -which we did not want and we did not need, but came in just before we took office – that we offset the cost of that for students.

“It’s continuing to pinch and pull when it comes to spaces. The university has managed to get 36 extra spaces this year just by looking at where we could use parking more effectively.

“My hope is even if I’m not re-elected we’ll still increase on that 36 by May because I said we would work towards that. But going into next year what I really want is a long-term commitment from the university to develop a plan around this.”

He continued: “Student numbers are going to increase, in both the short and long term, particularly from students who are commuting because, as we know, there are a finite number of beds on campus, and although Stirling is a student town, there is again as we all know a shortage of decent-quality rented properties.

“So we’re then finding more and more students are commuting in, whether that’s from Glasgow or Edinburgh, and even some of the outlying areas like Clackmannanshire.

“We need to make sure that our facilities are able to handle that. I think it’s totally unrealistic to say that car parking will sort itself out – it won’t.”

What a lovely world that would be. In many ways the problem seems intractable, but maybe I’m just a pessimist. I think if miniaturisation technology ever kicks off and we can shrink cars into little borrower cars, then we might see some real progress.

But enough of my dreams. Back to Matt’s manifesto, and another of his key pledges – graduation costs. Now, I wasn’t meaning to be a dick, but I was wondering, given that Jess Logan as VP Communities has been working on this all year, what he has done to help given his now burning passion on the issue?

Also, how should the initiative to bring down those costs be divvied among sabbatical officers, given its recent historic attachment to the VP Communities remit?

“The reason why it’s in my manifesto this year is that, for me, the victory Jess Logan got  was fantastic – but it’s taken two years of Lauren Marriott working towards it, plus a year of Jess Logan, to get graduating in absentia sorted.

“I don’t want us to lose momentum on it and therefore, as the only incumbent, my argument is: Let’s make this a priority for the Union and we’ll work together on it.

“Whilst I’ve not been entirely involved in the process with Jess Logan, I know that there was work going on around it, and I know the people she’s been working with closely.

“Really, it’s about building on the work that she’s done, keeping the ball rolling, and whoever the next VP Communities is, whoever the next Union President is, pulling in together along with whoever is Sports President, and saying: ‘This is an issue for the whole Union, let’s work together on this.’

“Whether there’s one officer leading on it, or whether we take it in turns, it doesn’t matter, as long we’re getting some kind of win for students on it.”

Matt speaks alongside rival candidate Natalie Smith at Alt Hustings. Credit: Stuart Graham

At Alt-Hustings on Thursday – which, incidentally, happened after this interview took place – Matt was asked about the big rise in course rep numbers and in attendance of Education Zone and faculty meetings’ attendance he has presided over. The question was whether this constituted “quantity over quality”, and it may have been that our conversation here rather prepared him for answering it.

If you don’t know, course reps are those people who are always flapping their hands at the front of lectures at the end, trying to get you to give them feedback on the module as you blissfully pack your bag thinking only of lunch.

“We’ve built a really strong student rep system here that really values accreditation,” Matt said (I’ll say confidently rather than boastfully).

“It’s part of the enhanced academic transcripts we brought in a couple of years ago – we said course reps will get listed on their enhanced transcript if they meet the standards for recommendation.”

“It’s basically just ensuring that they aren’t just signing up and not doing anything and getting their transcripts,” he added. In other words, the uni experience in a nutshell.

He continued: “They’re going along to the Union meetings, they’re coming along to their student-staff meetings, et cetera et cetera.

“We’ve been better in the way we advertise that to students and we’ve been saying, ‘Come along to this, we’ll give you one of our open badges, if you get your four badges you get your accreditation for the year.’

“So I think having a really strong system, that rewards and recognises the contributions our course reps and faculty officers make to the whole student voice at Stirling, is really what’s driven that engagement.”

He even suggests that other student unions across Scotland are “well jel”. His words – OK, not his words, my words. His real words: “I don’t want to say we’re the envy of other unions, but people do ask us. When we present on this in conferences, they say: ‘Tell us, how do you get such good engagement? How are you getting your course reps to participate and getting so much information from them around what’s better? How are you getting the student voice to feed into the wider university developments?’”

They’re well jel.

Credit: succeed.stir.ac.uk

So, next hot topic. We’re finally going to get rid of big old lumbering Succeed. Hurray, right? Well, maybe. But it depends what we replace it with. “The lease that they’ve got for Succeed expires this year, so we were always going to have to replace it,” Matt explained.

“What we’ve done is the digital learning strategy I’m on began looking at how we replace Succeed, how we get a system that is better put-together.

“We know what the issues are with Succeed: it’s clunky, it’s old, it’s tired, it’s not user-friendly if you’re trying to use it on a mobile or laptop.

“So what we sought to do was pull out what students wanted and feed that into it.

“It’s clear that students want a system that is mobile-friendly, one that is user-intuitive, but still has about as much functionality.”

But he pointedly made clear that there is very little further information that can be given at this point, as the lease remains out to tender. However, there are “some fantastic systems out there”. He cited one system which uses virtual reality software.

As an example, Matt explained: “Students in nursing programs, who would usually attend a lab on doing, say, an intravenous drip, will then be able to go home and practise that on virtual reality as many times as they like to build up their skills.”

“There will be more on that as it develops,” he added. I would have said with a wink and tapping-of-nose, but that’s not really businesslike Mr Adie’s style.

We move onto his much-heralded “win” on ListenAgain being made mandatory in all courses. I wondered aloud if in the haste to congratulate ourselves, we have given adequate thought to our staff, already burdened with overflowing in-trays and stagnant wages, and how this might affect them, right down to issues like how they feel valued by students and even copyright concerns a number of staff have over the recording of lectures. Don’t they deserve an olive branch?

“It’s a difficult one because we all know that staff here are incredibly pushed,” he replied. “The conditions aren’t great and they do a huge amount for students.

“If we look at assessment and feedback as one example, I know a lot of students were frustrated in Spring because module marks weren’t uploaded as quickly as they could have been.

“But when I spoke to staff and they tell me they’ve been making over Christmas (because it’s the only way they can get 200/300 scripts in, marked, returned and moderated and get them turned around for students coming back in January) you do realise just how much pressure staff are under.

“In terms of ListenAgain, the difficulty around this is we simply have to do it, because under the Equality Act there is a requirement for those students with additional support needs – whether that’s care responsibilities, whether it’s specific learning difficulties, or a whole host of reasons – we have to be offering them this kind of service and putting in place this kind of support.”

Matt added: “The big push is on creating an inclusive learning environment.

“Yes, there are issues around copyright. But the bottom line is as an employee of the university, it is the copyright of the university and not of the individual staff member, and I totally get that for some staff that is a huge issue.

“I think it’s important to note that in some faculties ListenAgain is just standard – it’s just done and there’s not an issue. But in the faculties I’m from – Management is one of them – this is a hugely divisive issue.

“For years we had the policy that we have no policy, it was up to individual staff members. You could be in one module and have some of your lectures recorded but some of them not.

“In terms of an olive branch – whether my words count for much of an olive branch, I don’t know – reaffirming to staff that we are always there. Yes, we may be the Students’ Union but we have always got a consideration for the impact this stuff has on staff, and we always want to her from them.

“Especially on the education side of things, a lot of what we do relies on input from staff.”

As an example of how he has tried to accommodate staff and ease burdens on them, he discussed the introduction of new course rep video shown at the start of semester in courses this year. “They (lecturers) weren’t having to try and make up their own spiel about it – they just literally had to click play and you’d get my voice for two and a half minutes, and that, you know, eases the introductory lecture for them.”

That depends on what he said. Though to be fair, he doesn’t seem the type to use a video broadcast to students for evil purposes like, say, the Demon Headmaster. Does anyone remember that show or am I just showing my advanced age?

This is nearly over, I swear. We get into Brig’s usual rigmarole around this point in the interview, although I came up with a bit of a fresh spin.

At official Hustings on Tuesday, Matt’s rival Natalie Smith faced the claim from the audience that her manifesto was eerily similar to Matt’s when he ran for the first time the year before.

I asked Matt if he thought that was a fair or unfair characterisation. “The thing is,” he started diplomatically. “If you looked at last year’s election between me and Ashley (Cameron), there was a lot of points that were similar, because in education there is a relatively narrow remit compared to some of the other positions. Everyone knows what they’re going to be working on in teaching.”

At this point in the interview, a really loud trolley rumbled past in Underground, and I have no clue what he said – something about fighting unfair course changes. Bloody dinner lady Doris, clattering about. (*Turns to colleagues* “It is Doris, right?”)

Matt went on: “I don’t want to say it didn’t surprise me, but it could be argued that a lot of the stuff in my manifesto this year is also in Natalie’s, because we all know what the issues are.

“Natalie’s been a faculty officer for the last two years, I was a faculty officer for two years and been VP Ed this year, so she’s been, as a faculty officer, kept up to date on what the issues are.

“Maybe there are similarities that people can draw on. Whether that’s necessarily a bad thing, I don’t know – maybe it just means we’re both in tune on what the real issues are.”

I applaud him for his fair-minded response. Given that Natalie just seems really nice too, it’s a shame that they can’t both win. But then everything would end up like The Green Party.

He continued his line of effusive praise when asked about the quality of his opponent’s prospectus. manifesto. There’s “a lot of merit in Natalie’s manifesto,” he said, adding: “What we always do once we’ve got into post we sit down and look at both manifestos – both your manifesto and the manifesto of the candidate who wasn’t so lucky – and we identify key themes, and what we can start working towards.

“Natalie mentioned stuff around a change in communications, and how we communicate if there are going to be structural changes. That’s work that we’ve got commitment from the university this year to work towards.

“They are going to start developing their communications plan, so definitely we’re going to be working to shape that to make sure students are kept informed, and not just kept informed but consulted when the university considers major changes to their courses.

“I think definitely we need to be looking at an inclusive learning environment. There’s work been going on in that this year but next year that’s really going to get ramped up, and I would like to really push that and support it.”

“If I’m back,” he added hastily.

Finally, our usual bookender. What would Matt do in his first 100 days? “It would be over the summer, so that’s a time when committees are shut down on the education side of things.

“For me, that’s when we start working on student voice. We’d be pulling together academic and student reps from across the university to chat about how our student rep system is working this year, what more do we have to be doing and how can we better support faculties in doing this.

“That would give us a list of outcomes and we would start progressing on that, revamping our training, getting it ready for next year. We’d also be using that time, because we’d be keeping the ball rolling from last year, to make progression on issues like graduation costs, and starting to chat about, ‘Well, we’ve had this year’s ceremonies, what can we start putting in place for next year?’ Doing that kind of evaluation.

“Car parking will be the big one, because over the summer there is obviously less people coming onto campus, so that gives us a chance to drill down in the data we’re going to be getting from this survey that we’re launching in a couple of weeks’ time.

“But I think it will also be an ideal time for an efficiency review of the timetable. Partnering up with those other universities who have already ran this, and seeing what advice they can give us on how we do this, and identifying the appropriate areas in the university to do it and beginning work on that.

“I think having been in the role for a year now and looking back, for me that first 100 days which takes us up to about the middle of September, would be really really busy. Last year we came in and it was still a case of finding your feet. We had a lot of officer training to go to, not just within the Union but also national officer training and stuff like that.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t really get comfortable in this role until about October time, and that was when I got my head going and stuff was starting to start up again. I think coming back as a second term, the summer would be far more productive in terms of the work that we’re doing, and getting the ball rolling, because we’ve got those relationships, we’ve got those partnerships, and we’ve got that clear plan of work in mind.”

Mr Adie seems nothing if not a man with a plan. But whether he gets to try and carry it out is entirely up to you, the voters.

Voting opens at 9am on Monday, March 13, and closes at 6.15pm on the following day.

The results will be announced in Venue shortly after the polls close, which will see Matt either pull an Obama 2012 or a Trump 2020 (if he doesn’t get impeached first – Donald, I mean, not Matt).

If you don’t vote I will send Steve Bannon after you.

Featured Image Credit: Stirling Students Union

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