From time to time, you’ll notice them.
Occasionally they might run official union nights, spam you with incessant slogans, manifestos and event invites during the election hoo-hah and urge you to give feedback on your student experience but on the whole, the general consensus is that your students’ union won’t affect you very much. Therein lies the problem.
Students don’t care about what the students’ unions claim their student body cares about which is clearly marked by the appalling turnout figures in the elections, the referenda and the general meetings about how the unions should be run. Student politics are often referred to with more than often disparaging remarks, such as being the greasy pole of student politics and an easy route to Downing Street. However, whilst very few have actually followed the path to Downing Street after a university politics stint – Margaret Thatcher and William Hague for instance – more than often many sign up for different reasons. Simply viewing student politics as purely for ambitious means is far fetched. I attempt to tackle this dire stereotype of student politics and just show how much YOU could get out of it.
It is agreed that the general perception is that most students see their student union simply as a provider of services and have little interest in the machinations of the small number of ‘politicians’ who debate union policy. This means that unions have become a fiefdom for campaigners who claim the legitimacy of being elected officers but in actual fact hold views dangerously far from being representative of the entire student body.
No matter the view you hold about those ‘Big Names On Campus’, networking their way through societies and socials, student politics actually hold the key to make a change. I’m not talking about a change for the better or for ambition, but a change in enriching your student experience. Without a doubt, you meet the friends you will have for life, learn how build up those work required skills and generally be part of a close knit team that will support each other through the years of your degree.
Students who involve themselves in their union’s work also learn how to represent their generation’s interests whilst studying and so have a higher success rate of providing quality leadership and skills for the future, something which is evident in the recent University of London protests. The occupation is a clear example of students uniting to support their principles and values they hold dearly. All the while, students were clearly not doing this for ambitious purpose but to make a momentous change and prevent the future generation from being victims of educational injustice.
Shockingly, thousands of you CHOOSE to ignore the work your union set out to do and by distancing yourself from them and therein a bigger divide is formed, one which is unable to be restored as the majority become disillusioned. It’s a common enough judgement that unions should fare better in communicating with its students and students should take more than a fleeting interest in the next email that arrives in their inbox marked union related.
The next time you have an issue or wish to see something different, try a different approach and perhaps you will see your union is more than a barrage of ambition wielding, stiff upper lipped, out of touch people. Take a chance on them, attend the next general meeting, try a few hustings, talk to a few of the officers and you’ll realise by getting involved it’s a lot different to what you may expect.
By actively getting involved, you will be part of the most exciting, tumultuous, benefit reaping experience of your student life to come. Just take a chance on your student union, don’t turn a blind eye because they’ll keep claiming they represent you and you’ll keep failing to notice.
Featured image by Jim Reynolds.