David Willetts Speech on UK & European Space

EU, human spaceflight, politics, science, SGAC

Yesterday, Wednesday 29th January at the Fifth Plenary session: European Commission – Brussels, the UK Minister for Universities and Science, the Rt Hon David Willetts MP gave the following speech. I reproduce this here via the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills page.

Let me know your take on the speech, whether critical or sceptical, positive, if you have any comments or thoughts or anything to add. For example, what are your thoughts on the relation between the EU and ESA? How can Europe make itself more competitive on the global scale?

I am keen to hear international perspectives of such a speech, especially as a UK National Point of Contact for SGAC. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

What are the new challenges and opportunities for Europe in Space?

It is a great pleasure to be here at this important and timely discussion about what lies ahead for Europe in space.

Let me begin, briefly, by looking back. Just over 50 years ago, in 1962, Britain became the third space-faring nation – and the first in Europe – when it took up NASA’s call to help build the first international satellite, Ariel-1. This mission, the first of six, was designed to study the very fringe of space and its interaction with our upper atmosphere. Back in those Cold War times this was critical to understanding whether nuclear missiles would work. But as is so often the case, the pursuit of knowledge leads us in directions we don’t expect. Those early missions also pinpointed unknown objects emitting high energy x-rays, which eventually confirmed the existence of black holes and colliding galaxies. Six months later Ariel-1, was regrettably destroyed in an atmospheric nuclear test.

In 1964 two new European space research organisations were created, marking Europe’s collective arrival on the space stage. The first, the European Space Research Organisation, was set up by the founding fathers of CERN, as an international treaty organisation. The second, the European Launch Development Organisation, was set up – with strong UK backing – to secure Europe’s independent access to space. At that time Britain was keen on launchers. Indeed, we had our own expertise in rocketry and were eager to share that knowledge with our European partners. These two organisations eventually merged in 1975 to form the European Space Agency. And we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its forerunners this year.

This anniversary, and the Ariel-1 mission, are a reminder of the necessity of international collaboration in space. And this is what I want to focus on today.

The EU’s involvement in space is more recent – dating back to the 1990s – with research and development work on space, followed closely by the Galileo satellite navigation initiative. In that time the Galileo programme has had its ups and downs, but I am very pleased that it is now delivering good results. I thank Vice President Tajani for his ambition and commitment. From this year, Galileo will provide early services, giving accurate local information anywhere on earth. The joint commitment and investment in the programme has been confirmed, and the first satellites show a high quality of signal. I am proud that the UK has been involved at every level of this important venture. We have contributed cutting edge technology to every Galileo satellite built and will do so for all the satellites under contract.

Lessons must be gleaned from the discussions and challenges of the last few years The EU has established a specialist delivery arm in the Galileo Agency, the GSA, based in Prague. The Commission is not designed to manage delivery of a multi-billion euro space programme. Specialists are needed.

Copernicus, which will allow huge leaps forward in climate change modelling, is making good progress on both the legal and technical fronts. And we have seen successful launches of some fantastic European Space Agency missions, including Swarm and Gaia, to continue to push the boundaries of human knowledge.

But the rest of the world has not been standing still. In December China’s lunar rover, the first to land on the moon in nearly 40 years, began sending back pictures. The latest reports suggest the ‘Jade Rabbit’ has run into serious problems. But this mission reminds us of the pace and scale of their programme. The next man or woman on the moon may well be Chinese. And at a similar time in the US, we are beginning to see commercial models of space activity emerge with the Falcon 9 rocket developed by SpaceX Ltd. And Virgin Galactic has recently completed further successful tests, making the launch of the world’s first commercial sub-orbital space service this year a very real possibility.

We are also seeing the development of competitive space sectors in the emerging powers, such as India and Brazil. There are now more space-faring nations, more space agencies, and more industrial players keen to have a slice of the market.

This reminds us that the challenge for us in Europe is to be as ambitious and active as these other major players – commercially-focused and joined up. There are massive opportunities – and we must seize them. Europe is winning contracts from customers around the world with our scientific and technical excellence. Last year I was privileged to attend the launch of Alphasat, the largest commercial communications satellite ever built – and built in Europe for a European customer. A new digital age requires a new generation of satellite: bigger, better and transnational. And we have shown we can deliver that.

This is why we have always sought to play a constructive role on space in the EU. We have also played an active part in ESA Ministerials and taken steps to forge bilateral links with other European countries. Only this week, I hosted Professor Johann-Dietrich Wörner of DLR on a visit to see the development in Britain of the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) – an engine which could transform the future of launch technology. And this Friday I will be welcoming the French Minister Genevieve Fioraso to the UK, when the French and British space agencies will make announcements on the future of their bilateral cooperation.

Our goal must be to make Europe the best place in the world to do space R&D, and the best place to establish a space-based business. This isn’t just about the level of government investment. We also need to develop a supportive European ecosystem for space. There are three areas where I think that the European Commission can make a positive contribution to support the ambitions of the Member States.

First, we must resolve the relationship between the EU and ESA. Each organisation needs to play to its own strengths so that Europe as a whole is stronger.

The EU’s role in space was made explicit in the Treaty of Lisbon. We have touched already on the Galileo and Copernicus, which must now be successfully delivered and exploited. The EU could also play a vital role in establishing a level playing field for the space exports that will drive growth. We need Commission support in ensuring that European space industries have fair access to major markets abroad. How can the Commission help us export much more?

Complementing the work of the European Commission, ESA is a hugely valuable organisation, and maintains a science base that is truly world class. From advancing our understanding of our changing planet and our solar system to major scientific and technological advances, its contribution is more than just as a research and development agency. As a layman I find it astonishing to think that since its launch before Christmas, Gaia has travelled 1.5 million kilometres to where it will measure the position and motion of a billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy. It is the largest digital camera in space and able to detect stars 400 times fainter than the human eye can see. This is an incredible technical achievement for Europe – and we are of course proud that the camera detector is British built.

It is clear that the EU and the ESA need each other, and must collaborate. Each is a great asset for the other. We cannot afford for them to be in competition. The UK Government does not support the Commission’s proposal to bring ESA into the EU. This suggestion has caused a lot of distraction and delay, while our competitors outside Europe focus on growth and make progress. I hope the Commission will rule out making ESA part of the EU decisively very soon.

Of course ESA needs to evolve as well. Where ESA acts as a delivery agent for an exclusively EU-funded programmes, there is a need for greater clarity on the rules that govern that relationship. And above all ESA must reinforce its reputation as the leading space R&D agency for Europe. As well as technical excellence it must ensure it delivers projects on-time and on-cost.

We cannot afford to split R&D efforts between the EU and ESA. Financially, each member state must be prudent and make cost-effective investments. To deliver best value for money, we need a commonly agreed roadmap for European space research and development. That roadmap needs to be a common endeavour incorporating EU and ESA funding and even Member State activities. It should be formally agreed between the EU and ESA under a joint EU / ESA Space Council. And we should always remember that there is not always a neat overlap between members of the EU and members of ESA.

The second big improvement we need to make is in promoting downstream applications. We have to make better use of satellite innovations and show that space can make a real difference to so many different sectors. I continue to badger my colleagues in Government to visit Harwell, the UK’s growing space innovation cluster, and see the potential for themselves. I am delighted that downstream applications will be supported under Horizon 2020, which I will be launching this Friday in the UK.

In the UK we are already working hard to raise awareness of the value of satellite data in a huge range of everyday activities that might not have been previously associated with space. Airports can stay open in bad weather. Fishing boats can be tracked to put a stop to illegal fishing. Broadband services can be brought to remote areas via satellite. Fully automated combine harvesters can monitor precisely which parts of the field are producing the most crop. Driverless vehicles are excitingly near. I push to the limit the tolerance of my fellow ministers in Government by asking: “Have you thought of how space can help solve your problem?” But that is a question all our governments and companies should be asking more.

However, it can be particularly frustrating if these space applications are hindered by European regulation and so my third request of the Commission, is to remove barriers to innovation in space.

For instance, the EU specifications for the European Rail Traffic Management System do not currently include requirements to use space-based technologies, including systems such as Galileo. The UK is about to build a new high speed train line, HS 2, and if we follow EU standards it won’t have signalling that uses Galileo. What a missed opportunity.

Similarly the Commission’s e-Call proposal could deliver a transformation in new cars, enabling connected vehicles that can communicate with each other and increase capacity on our busy roads. The UK has real doubts about the merits of e-Call but it if it does go ahead it must be in a way that allows maximum use of Galileo for cars. Without this sort of joined up thinking we will fail to exploit fully one of Europe’s most important recent investments in space.

The Commission is also considering a new directive regulating sale and transfer of high resolution space data. Evidence supporting such a move is very weak. There is a real danger that this new EU law could badly affect growing European space companies, and even force them out of Europe. I would strongly question whether we need this new layer of regulation. We must avoid the unhelpful situation of European countries having regulations in place where other competitors across the globe do not.

Meanwhile space tourism and commercial space are now just over the horizon. But as Sir Richard Branson pointed out at the London Space Solutions Conference, he invests where conditions are best for business – and he couldn’t operate Virgin Galactic in Europe. This is also a major problem for Reaction Engine’s Skylon space plane, which will use the SABRE engine I mentioned earlier. We are delighted that the Commission is considering how the law might be changed to remove these obstacles. We are also conducting our own review in Britain, with results to be published later this year. And the UK has a firm ambition to have a commercial spaceport in operation by 2018 to take advantage of the exciting opportunities that will soon open up.

Europe should not simply support today’s technologies. It must also have a plan for embracing disruptive new technologies to secure our role in their global future.

Finally, there is a very significant international collaboration in which many member states have participated and from which Britain has traditionally remained detached. We felt that the financial risks of participation were simply too great. I should say that I am not talking about the Euro! I am of course referring to the International Space Station.

Our stance on the International Space Station was part of a very distinctive British model in space. It meant no launchers and no astronauts, but excellence in small satellites and a lean national space agency which acts as a convener for industry, as well as promoting space research and developing key technologies. Now we are investing in an incredibly exciting next-generation launch vehicle. And we have invested in the International Space Station, with Major Tim Peake assigned to a six month mission on the Station in 2015. He will be the first British astronaut in Space for more than twenty years. The UK has made a strong investment in ESA, focusing on projects with clear benefits such as commercial telecommunications, and the new centre at Harwell near Oxford, named after Roy Gibson, the first Director General of ESA.

And in December last year my colleague, the Chancellor, announced an £80m fund for bilateral space cooperation in emerging markets. This will enable the UK Space Agency to develop projects in countries where we know there is a demand for space infrastructure and services.

This is a new era for UK space. We have reappraised things and we are forging ahead with confidence. We have ambition but we know that we need to cooperate with other countries to achieve our vision. In this anniversary year, this is the spirit in which Europe must now embrace its future in space.

– Rt Hon David Willetts MP

Let me know your comments here:

Newton’s Apple – An Introduction to Science Policy

politics, science, SGAC

On Thursday, I attended a meeting by Newton’s Apple at the House of Commons, kindly hosted by Dr Julian Huppert MP for Cambridge. It was a great chance to hear more how policy is made in the UK and how scientists can get involved to help shape the way of policy.

newtons-apple1“Newton’s Apple is a chance a charitable, non-partisan policy foundation. The organisation aims to act as a neutral bridge between science  and policy communities, thereby increasing that contribution that science, engineering and technology can bring to the development of policy issues for tackling issues faced by society.”

Newton's Apple material

Newton’s Apple material handed to us during the workshop

Speakers included:

  • Michael Elves – Chairman, Newton’s Apple (formerly Specialist Advisor to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee)
  • Dr Julian Huppert MP, MP for Cambridge, Member of the Home Affairs Select Committee
  • Dr Chris McFee – Head of Civil Contingencies, Government Office for Science.
  • Prof. Peter Main, Director of Education and Science, Institute of Physics

Chairman of Newton’s Apple, Michael Elves gave us “An Introduction to Science Policy” and kindly handed us some material shown above. Mr Elves explained how policy is made throughout government in the UK – how bills are born, move through parliament to the House of Lords. Bills that have been published, along with their explanatory notes can be accessed on the web at: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/

Passage of a Bill in UK. Credit: http://www.parliament.uk/

Passage of a Bill in UK. Credit: http://www.parliament.uk/

Dr Chris McFee explained about the Government of Science (“GO-Science”). The Office exists to support Government Chief Scientific Advisor (GCSA), Prof. Sir Mark Walpott FRS FMedSci @UKScienceChief.

“The key role of the GCSA and GO-Science is to ensure that all levels of government, including the Prime Minister and Cabinet, receive the best scientific advice possible, and to enable the many science-using departments across government to create policies that are supported by strong evidence and robust arguments.”

GO-Science operates with three units:

  • Science in Government Unit (SIG) – making use of Scientific Advisory Committees and Science Advisory Councils (SACs) who provide information which government uses it to make informed judgements based on the evidence and advice provided.
  • Foresight (within which is the Horizon Scanning Centre) – to help government think systematically about the future.
  • International Science and Innovation Unit (ISIU) – which supports GO-Science on international science, research and innovation issues

Dr McFee also described the role of other advisory groups, government departments and committees, I will summarise below:

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) – has a large and broad portfolio – to name but a few:

  • Science budget
  • Higher Education Council for England
  • Science and Society
  • Technology Strategy Board (and government links within NESTA) – an executive NDPB whose role is to stimulate technology-driven innovation to boost growth and productivity and to promote the bring of research to commercialisation
  • UK Space Agency – an executive agency “at the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space”.

Council for Science and Technology (CST) – A top-level, independent UK Government Agency, CST is chaired by the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Prof. Sir Mark Walpott FRS FMedSci and Prof. Dame Nancy Rothwell FRS FMedSci (President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester), The Council for Science and Technology advises the Prime Minister on strategic issues that cut across the responsibilities of individual government departments.

Research councils include, among others:

SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) –  A SAGE’s composition depends on the nature of the emergency, drawing in experts from Government, agencies, academia and industry as necessary.

Effective emergency management relies upon ministers having access to the best available advice in a timely fashion.

Science in Parliament

Within the House of Commons are its select committees, including the Science and Technology Select Committee. At the moment there are several enquiries, including the European and UK Space Agencies.

The European Commission has recently raised a number of issues it sees as “structural obstacles in the current EU/ESA relations” in a Communication to the European Council and Parliament (COM 2012 671).

Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology – exists to ensure that Government policy and decision-making are based on good scientific and engineering advice and evidence.

Parliamentary and Scientific Committee – provides a primary focus for scientific and technological issues and is a meeting ground for liaison between all those interested in science policy – parliamentarians, scientific bodies, learned societies, science-based industry, academia and interested individual members. It is the oldest organisation of its kind in the world – over 75 years in existence.

For my interest in space, there is a Parliamentary Space Committee – a cross-party group of MPs and Peers in the UK Parliament who come together to raise awareness of the huge benefits we all enjoy from Britain’s leading role in space.

Other organisations involved in science policy

Foundation for Science and Technology – The Foundation’s purpose is to provide a neutral platform for debate of policy issues that have a science, engineering or technology element.

Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK (CaSE) – is the leading independent advocate for science and engineering in the UK. CaSE’s mission is to raise the political profile of science and engineering.

Learned societies and chartered institutes – including (among others), the Institute of Physics, Royal Astronomical Society, and Institute of Engineering and Technology.

Dr Julian Huppert encouraged us to engage with your MPEarly Day Motions (EDMs) – formal motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons. EDMs allow MPs to draw attention to an event or cause. MPs register their support by signing individual motions.

Just as politicians ought to be more informed about science issues (which relies on input from scientists), it is as important that scientists understand society’s needs.

If scientists and industry lack the capacity, or the incentive, to understand society’s needs, we will all be less able to use science to help improve our lives.

Dr Huppert encouraged us to provide views to MPs. For instance, the debate on open access was a struggle for parliament to gain an informed public opinion. Also, the House of Commons have few scientists to represent scientific views; whereas the House of Lords is “stuffed” with great scientists. In fact, he noted that some politicians appear to “fear” science and disregard it.

Prof. Peter Main told us about his role in the Institute of Physics and noted SCORE (SCience COmmunity Representing Education) – a partnership of organisations, which aims to improve science education in UK schools and colleges by supporting the development and implementation of effective education policy. The partnership is currently chaired by Professor Julia Buckingham and comprises the Association for Science Education, Institute of Physics, Royal Society, Royal Society of Chemistry and Society of Biology.

He spoke of how learned societies such as the Institute of Physics are a fantastic way in to making your voice heard in shaping the way of science policy. Many produce consultations and reports, which often are used and quoted throughout government. The Institute of Physics has web pages dedicated to physics policy and runs a Physics Advocacy Programme where its members can be involved in helping to influence physics policy.

Throughout the workshop, many useful links were highlighted, including:

The workshop was very informative and gave a clear introduction to science policy, how us as scientists can get involved and can shape the way of government policy. I highly recommend it. It has made me much more aware of how government operates for science and what each of the functions do.

It gears me to seek to play a more active role within my own learned societies and help with my expertise in physics and astronomy. I hope also that I can encourage my own generation of scientists to help shape they way of the future.

Save the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)

politics, science

I was alarmed this morning to read that “Manchester’s most popular visitor attraction could close in order to keep the London Science Museum open.” I urge you to please sign this petition! http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/petition-save-museum-science-industry-4050167

Science and industry are at the forefront of global news headlines with ground-breaking technology and scientific possibilities being explore unlike ever before. Science covers an incredibly wide range of topics, many of which are relevant to our everyday lives as well as the Universe beyond.

The continuance of amazing scientific discoveries will depend on intellectual talents of the generations rising to the challenge of developing the innovative and revolutionary methods and technology required.

My field of study at University was inspired by amazing physics teachers, my fascination with physics and space, and numerous visits to sites such as the National Space Centre, National Science Museum, Royal Greenwich Observatory and Manchester’s MOSI.

Manchester, in particular, has achieved great success in the field of physics, with the electron (J. J. Thomson, 1897), proton (Rutherford, 1917), neutron (James Chadwick, 1934) all being discovered by scientists educated (Chadwick and Rutherford) or born (Thomson) in Manchester. Most recently the Nobel Prize in Physics 2010 was awarded jointly to Prof. Andre Geim and Prof. Konstantin Novoselov “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene”. http://www.graphene.manchester.ac.uk/research/nobel-prize/

We should not hold all museums in London and it would be hugely disappointing to close MOSI which has been a home to many of the great breakthroughs in science and could further inspire generations to come.

With a greater investment in science and technology, it would be a great shame to close a museum of this nature – be it MOSI or the National Science Museum in London. It would be unthinkable that at a crucial time of investment in science projects and industry (such as £1.2bn for space) that the museums which inspired us would be forced to close.

Audio by @ScienceMuseum Director, Ian Blatchford, on possible museum closure on The World at One, @BBCRadio4— http://bit.ly/18NYCUI

Useful article about the crisis facing the Science Museum Group on the Museums Journal website here: http://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/news/05062013-science-museum-group-would-close-museum?utm_source=ma&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=05062013

Are student unions a waste of time?

politics, university

From Kent Union:

On 19 Jan 2012, at 12:01, Elections wrote:

  • You can be a leader of a ten million pound plus organisation
  • You can be a political leader of an organisation that makes positive change for almost 20,000 people
  • You can be one of approximately 700 out of 300,000 students who leave University each year who can say they have hands-on strategic, political and financial experience of running a charitable organisation

As long as you are a current University of Kent student who hasn’t opted out of being a member of Kent Union then you can run to be one of the five leaders of Kent Union for the 2012/13 academic year. It doesn’t matter if you’re involvement to date has been voting – we have a number of support mechanisms in place to offer you all the support you need to run an excellent campaign.

The role is full time, you get an annual allowance of circa £18,000, training and support from the organisation in helping you meet your own personal objectives as well as helping you gain useful skills for prospective employees and the opportunity for a once in a lifetime experience. You will gain skills that other people may not obtain for decades.

For more information about the roles or to put yourself forward go to: www.kentunion.co.uk/elections before the 16 February 2012 5pm.

Or come join us for some Coffee & Cake at one of the below Interested Candidates Meeting:

  • Friday 20th January @ Woody’s, 12pm to 2pm
  • Tuesday 24th January @ Woolf College Common Room, 5pm to 7pm
  • Monday 30th January @ Rutherford Bar, 12pm to 2pm
  • Friday 8th February @ The Library Café, 1pm to 3pm

Also if you know someone who you think could be good at one of the roles we’ll email them. Just let us know who they are at: http://www.kentunion.co.uk/elections/recommend/

If you have any questions then please contact the Kent Union Elections Team at elections@kent.ac.uk

 — To stop receiving messages from Elections by email, click the link below. You can still read the message in the Message Centre, and change your preferences in the Contact Options area.

http://www.kentunion.co.uk/unsubscribe/a4a9755c-32c4-47f9-bd1e-f4fb91d8279b/66a4ecae-97f0-40aa-a013-034523005269/

 —–

My response:

Dear Kent Union,

When will you stop flooding my inbox with annoying e-mails?

How about becoming a candidate, you ask? Why should I bother? Well…

Nationwide, on average, only 12% of students vote in student union elections. If only we could abolish these absurd institutions and use the money more usefully instead– perhaps for scholarships for smart applicants. Kent Union “makes a positive change for almost 20,000 people” you say? I think you really need to get over your egos.

The fact that so few people vote should tell us that frankly, most students are HAPPY. They’re not persecuted. They don’t get abused. They might be a bit miserable about the level of work, but that’s it.

The general standard of political commentary on the Kent Union website is so bad that even *I* could do better (and I am a scientist). It reads like a B-grade A Level politics. 12%, though? Hardly a mandate.

Tell me, what DO student unions do that couldn’t be done just as effectively by either:

a) The university

b) Volunteer students?

I could even forgive the Unions in all the stupidity I described, if they didn’t insist on talking as if they REPRESENTED the students.

Whatever silly child is supposedly in charge of the Union here for this year certainly doesn’t speak for me. I don’t care about him/her, or what she does. They are welcome to give me their opinion, but I’ll probably reject it– frankly, I imagine I know more than them and can make a better decision. Arrogance, perhaps, but at least it’s my choice to be. Speaking for myself, you see.

You can’t claim to represent a group when only 12% of the group voted and perhaps half of them voted for you. 6% of a group supporting you does not give you the right to speak on the behalf of the group.

Frankly, I don’t see that there’s a need for student politicians. I CERTAINLY don’t see that there’s a need to pay some of them more than £18K/year. (Some) workers need unions… but students? Why on Earth do students need unions? A student is a cross between a schoolchild and a customer. Students unions should NOT have full-time employees. The wages of officers is outrageous, and is a complete waste of money. Each one of those officers, who sit around all year doing precisely shag all, costs far more than a PhD student for a full year’s stipend. Ridiculous! If people want to play around at pretend politics, and cry or moan about non-issues, then it should be on a purely voluntary basis.

There is no possible way in which a person can exaggerate when it comes to describing the magnitude of my dislike towards Kent Union. My thoughts towards it and its employees are unpleasant.

Two typical examples of non-issues:

1: The ‘Coke ban’. The union actually allowed a movement to be voted upon in an attempt to ban coka cola on campus (this actually got through, at one university – I don’t recall which, but I’d seen it with my own eyes). This would mean no coka cola products at all could be served on campus. Why? Because crazy hippies felt that coke is evil. Enough said, People actually get PAID a WAGE to deal with these issues. Why?

2: The worst I’ve ever heard of – the ‘gender non-specific toilet’. Kent Union paid for the installation of a gender non-specific toilet in the night club. What is this thing, you ask? It’s an extra toilet with neither a male or female label, for those on campus who wish not to be identified as being either male or female, as they don’t like to be labelled. Yes. I am serious. What is it used for? Well, it’s a disabled toilet in a night club, so, naturally, it was a waste of money because it’s simply used by people who want to sneak off and have a quicky in the toilet.

I wouldn’t mind Student Unions as much if they actually seemed to have any power as a Union. Certainly at Leicester, it seemed that the SU would automatically cave to anything the University itself said, might just as well have been part of the University itself.

If you had an “Abolish the Union and use the money for scholarships” box, I’d be all for ticking that. I’m sure many people would also be behind that.

Sure, I accept there’s a need to manage student feedback to courses, and so on, but course representatives exist for that (and, frankly, what students think of a course is mostly irrelevant). I accept there is a need to arrange entertainment and whatnot, for those that want it. There are plenty of club social secretaries who do that work as a volunteer basis, though. No need for a paid job there.

Campaigning for equal rights for <>? Well, it tends to be student NEWSPAPERS and not politicians that do the most of that.

Helping new students settle in? That’s all easily possible to do with volunteers. “Anyone willing to wear a brightly coloured T-shirt and help the new kids settle in?”. Job done.

There *is* a need for course representatives and social secretaries and whatnot. Fine. If you have them, you might as well elect them. Fine. It’s just a glorified “Form Captain” or “Head Girl” anyway. I’m just saying that that is the LIMIT of what student bodies need to do.

Beyond that, they’re just an excuse for irritation self-righteous cretins who enjoy the sound of their own voices far too much to feel self-important about things that don’t really matter– and do it by wasting money that could directly go to far better causes: Scholarships to ensure the worst-off can get through university.

So, please, please stop acting all self-important. Stop sending e-mails about non-issues. Do something constructive and start REPRESENTING your students. You say “We are the voice of all students at the University of Kent; we represent our members to the University, the communities in which they live and to wider society through our membership of the national student movement.” Start acting on this! 12% is hardly a significant percentage to claim you represent “all” students. Start to show you have some balls, assert your power as a Union and show you are using OUR money wisely.

Ryan Laird

I await Kent Union’s response.

Dark times, I feel…

EU, politics

We have a democracy (and rightly so) and it has spoken. Dark times I feel for the UK though.

As many of you will wake up to this morning the BNP have gained two seats in the European Parliament. We should not continue to talk about this, just strongly reflect on the way this can affect Britain! Many people that I know sadly are unaware of the responsibilities MEPs have and the implications they can have on the UK and our place in Europe. It has very important legislation. I’m no expert on that but I know people who know nothing about European politics but perhaps they should.

I think there is a real need to educate the public from school age in a compulsory manner to how politics works in the country. In particular we should have a more informed system of what we are voting for (or not voting for). This should not be done in a way of inflicting opinion on any party at all of course; the role there should be for the politicians to promote their party how they see fit.

I think first however, we majorly need to clean up politics and that will be the way to put the faith back in politics. With such a low turn out I think MPs who have falsely claimed expenses should be ashamed of how they have helped to create such this distrust in politics, so people don’t vote at all or they express anger by voting for an extreme party. We see the record decline in turnout for these elections. The turnout officially estimated at just over 43% was the lowest in the history of the elections. I think the expenses issues in the UK have helped overshadow the more important issues of the EU we face as a country, particularly with such a strong media coverage we have had.

The media I believe really needs to really consider its implications to the country as a whole, particularly with the ease of such worldwide communication and mass coverage, and particularly the BBC being what should be a “neutral” and fair source of news to this country. Last night’s coverage of the election results by the BBC, in my opinion was a completely biased agenda with no hint of objective, fair or reasoned analysis. You expect some media sources to be biased, but not the BBC given the code of conduct we pay for it to abide by.
It really angers me the state British politics is now in, especially given the results of the BNP gains. They have a right to exist unfortunately, as we live in (quite rightly) a free democracy. We need to work with parliament to help ensure the public understand various religious faiths and cultures including particularly the common principles we share; very much the key points in President Obama’s speech in Cairo in fact. I think we share these problems as a world and we need to do that fairly which is the big challenge we face.

Despite my feeling that there is no way a petition is going to shift a democratically elected party, I still recently supported the “HOPE Not Hate” campaign against the BNP by signing their petition I urge you to sign it here: http://www.hopenothate.org.uk !!!

People have voted for the BNP but if we are strong in our beliefs and are defiant, we can ensure we fix this ‘broken’ society and topple the BNP in future elections like this.