The State of our Union
Ask most average Swansea students about their Students’ Union and I can almost guarantee they will have very little idea what it does or who is involved.
Political apathy is rife.
…..so what DOES the Union do and who IS involved?
The answer to the latter point should be every student. We are all automatically a part of our Students’ Union and decisions made by it should benefit every student. Alas at the Student Forums held roughly every 3 weeks attendance is low and, in my opinion, far from represents the average student body; consisting mostly of political society committees, full-time (aka sabbatical) and part-time executive officers and wannabe executive officers (many attendees ticking more than one of these boxes).
A great supporter of widening participation within the SU, as it stands now I am not wholly surprised by the disinterest from students in Union goings on.
-Why is this? Do students really not care?-
Overheard on campus are various complaints; be it on the timing of their exams, the library, the prices in JCs and stock on offer - all of which could be raised to the Students’ Union. To the more alert the Union appears to only exist for two weeks a year when the Sabbatical elections are in full swing and the walk from Singleton Park to Fulton house leaves the average student with a fistful of flyers, an awkwardly placed badge and let’s face it; a hell of a lot of confusion.
To outsiders “Union people” are seen as a separate body- those who can be bothered to become involved as well as those who fancy themselves a career in politics and see the Students’ Union as a good CV filler and practise for campaigning. From an inside perspective, it’s much worse. What I had naively hoped was a collective of passionate activists genuinely wanting change for the better for students is instead a power struggle of aspirant politicians, complete with jargon and less than transparent policy.
Of course amongst this there are the few individuals with genuine concern for the Union and students’ well-being, but their views are unfortunately overshadowed by the petty squabbles of political egoists and party activists. Motions at Student Forums are not understandable by the majority of students and generally passed easily based on the small turnout at meetings.
Campaigns on occasion are successful (the likes of 2011’s Save Modern Foreign Languages campaign saw good student involvement and triumphed) yet the current academic years “Students not Consumers” rally failed to engage the student body with an unclear cause and target. The Living Wage Campaign (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Swansea-University-Campaign-For-The-Living-Wage/313709175312287) led by Labour Students sports a small committee and is yet to be launched to gain student interest, yet has great potential; only 202 members of staff are paid below Living Wage (what is deemed to be the minimum amount in order to provide a basic living, which based on a report by Loughborough University is around £7.20 and hour) and University of Kent and Manchester University have already successfully implemented this, but I already fear that the clear party politics behind this campaign will hinder its progress in a Union with openly party affiliated executive members.
Blog articles (eg. the recent by Labour Student, John Bayliss “http://johncbayliss.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/faking-and-hating-on-twitter/”)
and the numerous fake twitter accounts created mocking various students involved in the Students’ Union (@fudgeucation, @thebeccafront, @johncbaylols to name but a few) scatter my newsfeeds. Such accounts are unknown to the majority of students, but for those starting to become involved with the Union are enough to deter involvement. Speaking up for your views (whether left, right or centre) will inevitably face some criticism, but this is not political debate; this is personal disagreements and their online presence tarnishes the name of student politics and activism.
My message to the “Union”:
Focus on your ideas. We have the potential to do so much and progress can be made if what is focused on is what is best for students.
Be remembered for what you have done and the changes you make, not forgotten as soon as the rumours and gossip become dull, as frankly we’re all getting bored.
Apathetic, in fact.
I considered submitting this blog anonymously for fear of the inevitable backlash. No views in this blog are directed at any individual and thus any offence caused to any individual I apologise for. This is merely a summary of my personal experience concerning the SU.
My message to students: Participate. Make your Union represent YOU. The next Student Forum is on Thursday 9th February and motions can still be submitted towards it. Come along, become familiar with your elected officers who represent you, ask the questions you want answered- that is what it is for! As cliché as it sounds; the power to change the Union is in your hands.