The Students’ Union referendum on Prevent has been extended after “a technical glitch” that meant the referendum question was not actually displayed on the voting page.
Prevent, part of the UK government’s counter-terrorism and security policy, creates a duty for universities to “prevent people being drawn into terrorism”, including giving staff counter-terrorism training and reporting students who are acting suspiciously.
While student unions are not obliged to do anything more than give staff training, the issue has caused uproar throughout the student community, with opposition from unions at King’s College London and Goldsmiths University, as well as the National Union of Students (NUS) and the ‘Students Not Suspects’ campaign.
At its student council earlier this month, the University of Lincoln Students’ Union decided to follow suit, opting to create a campus-wide referendum on whether it should oppose the Prevent strategy.
However, the referendum has been beset by a number of issues, not least the question itself, which asks about the NUS’ position rather than the opposition:
Should Lincoln SU support the NUS Position on opposing and campaigning against the PREVENT strategy of the UK Government?
Michael Daniell, who attended the student council meeting, proposed another question for the referendum, he told The Linc: “Originally I proposed the question ‘should the SU support or oppose the PREVENT strategy put forward by the UK government?’
“I preferred it over both ones suggested by SU officers as it removes any references to aligning ourselves with other groups, is short, and is easy to understand. The current one in particular is reliant on the idea we would automatically be supporting the NUS stance on it just through opposition.”
However, Michael’s question was rejected – not on the basis of the question itself, but because he’s not a voting member of the council.
“As a non-member of Student Council I am not allowed to put forward a question for a referendum,” he explained, “even though I am able to suggest the actual idea for a referendum in the first place.”
Even with the question decided, the referendum process hasn’t been smooth, with a mixture of confusing decisions and what the SU have described as “technical glitches”.
Under SU bye-laws, it’s the job of the President “to enable Student Members to debate the policy or motion before the beginning of voting”, while the Union’s returning officer must give “notice of the Referendum […] a minimum of five (5) working days [beforehand] by means of a news story on the Union’s website”.
However, the referendum announcement on lincolnsu.com was published just hours before voting was set to open, with no actual link to the voting form.
Hayley Jayne Wilkinson, Lincoln SU President, denied that the announcement was published late, contrary to the timestamp on the SU’s own website.
“The news story was published on the Monday, not the morning of the referendum, thus leaving adequate time for debate and discussion prior to the commencement of voting on the referendum,” she alleged.
She continued: “The news story on the website, which is the only thing we are required to do under bye-law 8.8, is the standard format we use for such processes. However, Volunteer Officers (members of Council) were also asked to push the referendum to their networks of students. There was also a web banner for the referendum used as the main banner on the lincolnsu.com website.”
Additionally, at the time of writing, no publicity regarding the referendum has been published on Lincoln SU’s Facebook pages or Twitter accounts.
Yet Hayley Jayne believes she has already promoted “sufficient debate”: “As the discussion in Council was clearly leading to a preferred side of the argument, it was decided that this was an adequate discussion.
“As all students are able to attend Student Council meetings and are able to participate in debate, the Union felt that that this was sufficient debate, and the Union’s resources were better spent elsewhere at a time when we are placing a heavy focus on things to improve the Union for students.”
Finally, a “technical glitch” has been blamed for the failure to show the referendum question on the voting page.
“Unfortunately, due to a technical glitch, the question to be voted on did not appear on the voting page,” Hayley Jayne told The Linc.
“This was resolved, and the referendum was extended for a further 48 hours to allow more students to vote on the referendum. Due to this, the referendum remains ongoing and will close tomorrow at 5pm.”
Yet Michael Daniell thinks the Students’ Union just haven’t done enough to get an appropriate grasp on student opinion.
“If it was me, I would’ve emailed every member of the SU in the week leading up to the start of voting to inform them there was a referendum and what it was about.
“I’d have also made sure the SU’s social media pages actually contained links to information about the referendum and made sure that people were aware it was even taking place.
“The SU has decided to do neither yet is clearly able to do so as I have received emails about other events they have, and their social media is full of information about said events.”
Hayley Jayne said: “In accordance with by-law 8.4 which states that ‘The quorum for a Referendum is 10% of Student Members who are eligible to vote’, if the quoracy is not met, the motion, policy or appeal will fall. In this situation, no action will immediately occur, and it will be taken back to council for review.”
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