The Students’ Union — who needs it?

Besma Ayari, just one of thousands who didn't vote in the Student Union elections. Photo: Mike Hodges

Last Friday saw the culmination of a week-long period of voting for the University of Lincoln’s Students’ Union. Full details of the results can be seen here.

The total turnout was 16% of the student electorate — an increase on the year before of 3%. So out of a student population of roughly 10,000, the Students’ Union elections managed to attract approximately 1,600 voters. Hardly representative of the student body.

The first question that begs to be asked is why the apparent lack of interest amongst the student body? Especially when you consider that four of the roles being voted on attract an annual salary, almost £18k a year.

I spoke to a first year student, Besma Ayari (20), to find out why she didn’t vote. She said: “I had read about people campaigning for the Students’ Union. Read some of their manifestos, which I thought were pretty good. Andreas Zacharia’s campaign was brilliant.” But when it came down to the actually process of voting Besma said: “I had other things on my mind.”

Perhaps this failure to vote was related to the Students’ Union being perceived as lacking in relevance? Perhaps the reason why roughly 8,400 students didn’t vote in the Student Union elections was that they saw no reason to do so.

The second question that needs to be asked is do we really need a Students’ Union as currently constituted? In my mind, a Students’ Union should be run much like a conventional union. For the protection and support of its members during times of crisis. Do we really need a Vice President of Activities, a Vice President of Welfare and Diversity or even a Liberation Officer? Should anyone be paid for their work, apart from covering expenses? When I was as a union representative (UNISON) I did not receive payment but was expected to work for nothing.

Is it time for the Students’ Union at this university to take a good look at itself? Ask some hard questions concerning its organisation and its relevance to the student body? Possibly consider cutting itself down to a streamlined organisation, staffed purely by volunteers, who concentrate on acting as advocates for those students in need of help?

3 Responses to The Students’ Union — who needs it?

  1. Adam Smith says:

    My tupence: As a rep for my course, I’ve not had any contact from them; is it in the SU’s remit to contact us and help if necessary? Reps (theoretically) have the most direct access to the student body, as people know that they are directly REPresenting them, in whatever capacity. It sort of feels like the SU are relatively passive until election times.

    On the elections, a lot of it felt ‘schooly’ – how many banners stated specific manifestos? Most people are walking when they see them: they have the time to read more than a hastily spray painted ‘VOTE 4 JO BLOGGS’. Some people would consider and compare manifestos as opposed to disregarding the whole thing as some amateurish side project. This would persuade those who are only mildly apathetic.

    Bravo to those who stated what they were doing intending to do specifically and less qualitatively, I voted for you because you seemed focused.

    On a side note, are there any measurements of effective SUs around the UK? How do they work? How do they empower students?

  2. @Adam

    If you’re a course rep, and this has been registered by your faculty office on the student records database, then you would have received invites to training sessions, regular e-newsletter updates and ad-hoc emails on specific issues, as 450+ other reps have done. Also – if you attended training, you would have hard copies of resources to help you in your role.

    Your concerns lead me to believe that you have not been registered as a rep, in which case I would suggest you talk with the faculty officer who looks after your course, or your programme leader.

    Dan Derricott
    ULSU Student Officer

  3. Jonathan Holmes says:

    @Adam, if you need any help from the SU, drop them an email and they’d be glad to help out. I’m not to well up on the specifics of the course rep system, try Dan Derricott for that.

    As for the poster issue, as a candidate I quickly became aware of how “poster blindness” hits you. Considering many chose to use A4 as a poster medium, any significant manifesto points which you try to cram onto a poster along with your photo and “Vote for X” would be too easy to miss.

    The manifestos were up, but I’d venture to say that nobody read them because they were a block of text which looked uninviting – especially when everyone’s manifestos were published together. The brain simply switches off unless you have an active interest in it.