Monday, 14 January 2008

Socialist Students Statement on Student Union Reform

Reform, What Reform?

Currently, Bangor University Students Union is in the process of conducting a consultation period on a review of the Student Union’s Constitution. This is being done, we are told, because we haven’t had a thorough revision for a while and because of changes to charity law. We are also told that it is necessary to make it easier for ordinary students to get things done. Socialist Students supports the idea of involving more students in the activities of the Students Union, and recognise the need to revise constitutions to enable this as well as revisions caused by legal changes.
However, such important decisions deserve an ample amount of time whereby as many students as possible can input into the process. Furthermore, we should have full proposals for any consultation and the right to put forward amendments or alternatives to be voted on by a full general meeting. We do not believe the current consultation exercise (during an exam period) meets this criteria.

Lessons of NUS Reform

At the present time the National Union of Students (NUS) is undergoing its own governance review. Similarly to Bangor, the review is being rushed through by NUS. Last month, an emergency conference was held to pass the changes before ratification at NUS national conference later this year. Its proponents argue that it will be more accessible to students and will be able to campaign better, but amongst its proposals includes the option for student unions to drop elections to NUS conference, as well as creating a new board to govern NUS including unelected persons who could veto any campaigns (due to ‘lack of funds’ etc.). Many students do not even know about this (although a pro-reform report was published in the last issue of Seren), and even less actually had any input into the process, particularly as most of the consultation for this was carried out during the summer, so much for involving more students!

For A Campaigning, Democratic Student Union

In a circular posted to the intranet, three ways are suggested of how students can use the union. Two of them are “starting a campaign” and “tackling a problem with your accommodation or course”. We agree that the way the student union is currently operating means it hasn’t been able to do either of these successfully, however, the failure is not to be found in the unions structures, rather in the political leadership of the students union.
As we have commented before in relation to the cuts in ocean sciences, students looked to the union for a campaigning leadership to oppose cuts and did not receive this. The effects of these cuts are still being felt (again see the last issue of Seren), and the question of how a more effective campaign could have been organised needs to be addressed.
This will be further compounded by the suggestion to enshrine ‘core campaigns’, a way of deciding a priori what issues will be most important to students during years ahead, decisions that should be made by the democratic bodies of the union.
The organisation of a campaigns collective, to promote activities of the various campaigning societies within the Students Union, as well as organising campaigning on issues that affect students, we think would be a massive step towards a Student Union that can campaign effectively on issues affecting students, as well as a means by which the student unions own campaigns committee could be rejuvenated. Of course, the mass of students should be involved in deciding the campaigning priorities of the students union. This is why Socialist Students is calling on the Students Union to organise a general meeting that is well publicised and built for across campus, that any student or group can make proposals in the form of motions for campaigns to this meeting with are then voted on mandating the student union to run those campaigns.

Stop the current review! For any consultation to feature a series of well publicised, built for meetings around all structures of the student union and allow a period when proposals can be made from any student or group. For all proposals to be democratically discussed and voted on at a general meeting
For a general meeting to be organised which is well publicised and built for across campus, that any student or group can make proposals in the form of motions for campaigns to this meeting with are then voted on mandating the student union to run those campaigns.
No attacks on democratic structures of the Students Union
For a campaigning fighting democratic students union that campaigns against fees, cuts and privatisation and for free publicly funded education as well as on other issues affecting students.


Carolan said...

See you tomorrow about that affiliation meeting Iain!

Ah no, in all seriousness though, we are doing all those things you've asked for, and we already have a campaigns collective, it's called the Campaigns Committee and nobody has wanted to lead it or get involved in it for several years. Hence the call for change.

Also, under the current structures you can't bring policy to a GM. Which is again why we're proposing change.

We're not attacking the democratic structures, we've made it very clear all along that democracy is at the core of everything we do, and the new structures enable more students to get involved and make it easier for students to get action taken on causes that they care about.

And if you want anti-NUS articles in Seren all you have to do is write one, that's all I did!

Renegade Eye said...

Professional politicians start at student government.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

@ Carolan

On the article in Seren, I was saying that it's probably all most student here will have heard about governance reviews

It is good that the SU is holding 17 meetings about the review and has e-mailed all students and put stuff up on the SU website, however this isn't good enough really.
The consultation should have been announced by at leats december with an article and dates in seren. Posters should be up about the consultation events all around campus. There should have been an open meeting at every halls site. The SU should have done some kind of stunts/stalls around campus to publicise it too. Most importantly it shouldn't have been done during an exam period!

As for the campaigns committee, you're missing what we're suggesting. We know there's a campaigns committee that no-one is involved in. What we're suggesting is that campaigning su societies try and support each others activities and re-build the campaigns committee through that.

Finally, we're not saying throw out the baby with the bath water - some of things oyou've suggested could and should be incorporated into the present union structure ie. bringing policy to general meetings

@ renegade eye - yes, new labour is a very good example of that - there a quite a few ex-NUS presidents on labour benches