With the US Presidential Election coming to a close with the main voting day today, it seemed only appropriate to mention politics in your student life.
A Brief Announcement for Americans
First off, to any students and parents reading this, I’m not an American nor a massive fan on national politics (check my Instagram account if you can find it for our British elections and EU Referendum polling days) but if you haven’t already voted over there – hit lock on your computer, go out to your nearest polling station AND VOTE (and then come back here when you’re done!) even if it’s the one thing you do to care about the campaign. Your voice decides your future for the next few years (and maybe longer for some changes).
And Back to the Stud
So throughout school you probably had the opportunity to be sat on various panels or to become an elected captain of something that allowed you to have a taste at making a small difference to your school for your year.
At University this is taken up just a notch. A school year becomes several thousand people, little things becomes anything from franchising or representing courses & causes all the way up to managing and spending a budget of a few million pounds. These positions often can enact changes for your social and academic life and possibly also your term-time home life. Whilst this article will focus mostly on UK student politics, some of these elements may also apply to universities around the world in different forms of student body (Fraternities and Sororities, Student Councils and Guilds etc) and I’d be excited to hear about differences and discussions about your university culture in the comments box below.
One simple form of representing your students is Course Representation. This can be found ran either by the University or a Guild/Union.
The role of a course rep, believe it or not is to represent their peers on their various courses programmes. Any issues arising with unfair assignments, poor support from a lecturer or an idea that you think can benefit your course can be sent to your course rep.
Meetings will be held between course leaders and reps and also with the governing body (University or Guild/Union staff) to discuss these issues and to vote on motions and discuss any feedback and changes that need to be enacted to benefit the students and staff for each department and programme.
If you don’t fancy going all out with politics, but like the feeling of having a voice and the ability to help drive change, have a look at your University website or speak to a a staff member or a Student Guild/Union member to see what your options are for signing up, or to find out who your course rep may already be.
Student Guilds & Unions
The most popular form of politics in British Universities is the Student Guild or Student Union. Whilst allowing you to have awesome free stuff, good student nights and the all famous shop where you can buy your university hoodies, your respective Union is an entity separate from the University representation itself that’s there to represent you as an individual whilst you study (a bit like a Trade Union for work, only you don’t usually have to pay for it).
At many universities you’re granted membership automatically when you enrol at university, with some taking a simple sign up procedure. Once you’re a member you’re able to gain the aforementioned benefits as well as represent and be represented on various issues and campaigns relating to student life. The work for this is usually done by “officers” whom are nominated and elected into the various councils and bodies by you, the students.
You can run for a variety of positions, complete with campaigns, hustings and a full election process. For example in Hull University Union we had the President of the Union for both of our campuses, several Vice Presidents of various slices of the Union (Community, Education, Sports, Campus one for Scarborough etc), Smaller officers that join comittees and meet as part of the Union council panel (whom met regularly to discuss union matters and was open to all members to attend – though voting is restricted to elected officers only), Union Trustees (that sat on a special board with other staff Trustees and the President), Executive Officers that sat under each VP – the list goes on. Some of these positions will be voluntary and some like the VPs and Presidents will be full time paid positions, sometimes deferring your studies for a year whilst you help to run the union.
As mentioned above, I’ve never really been bothered about politics day to day, even with a former partner studying it I just couldn’t get interested in the content itself. On getting an opportunity to look after the revival of our smaller campus radio station however, rolling me into the running for the position of the now defunct “Media Rep” as part of the volunteered & elected campus Executive team, then getting a job in the Union shop and supporting as a staff member as well as a continuing supporter of friends within the Executive and staff teams. As an honorary life member of HUU I continue to wholeheartedly support the union in my graduate life where I can and will always offer my support when needed.
So if an average Joe like me can help support the student experience, why can’t you? If you’re curious about how other student unions work, check out the links on HUU’s referendum page (under ‘What are other Students’ Unions doing?‘) and if you’re a current student, why not ask in your local SU building to see how you can be a part of changing and enhancing your student experience and representing your friends and peers during your time on and around campus.
If you’ve already started your journey to making your mark, how have you supported or represented your peers? How does it work in your institution. Feel free to let me know in the comments below.