I have just returned from an NUS conference in Canterbury, Kent. Firstly, why a national conference was being held in a distant corner of the country I dont know, but it gave me a valuable opportunity to explore a University (University of Kent -www.kent.ac.uk) that I wouldn’t normally have.
Two of us were sent down, myself and Mark (www.officerblogs.com/president) for a four day course in how to develop as a student leader and affect change for your organisation, leading from the front. I know Mark will at some point be posting a very detailed blog about his week, but I’d like to take the opportunity to offer a few reflections on the course from my own perspective.
It very quickly became apparent that a lot of material being covered, and advice being given was aimed at much smaller student unions. We were the largest union in attendance, closely followed by Cardiff and UCL. There is a second course next week in Lancaster which the traditional big unions such as Leeds and Sheffield will be attending, in case you were wondering. This slant towards smaller unions meant a lot of teaching wasn’t strictly relevant to the Guild, but there were moments of interest and information which I felt were valuable on top of what was a great opportunity to network and share best practice with Sabbatical officers from around the UK.
An evening plenary entitled ‘Students Unions are rubbish, discuss’ challenged my conceptions of how unions run and operate as a whole. The gist being the way we do things isn’t always right. Now, I’m not talking about the procedural and bureaucratic issues that annoy a fair amount of you, but the governance structure from the top down. This can be anything from the traditional make up of Sabb teams, the composition of student councils to financial reliance on bar revenue. While there were no conclusions, we were encouraged to challenge the merit of modern day student union set ups.
Furthermore, a ‘Masterclass’ on Democracy served to emphasise how truly ridiculous and drawn out the process of getting your voice heard is when it comes to student councils. The time delay, procedural jargon and often ruthless personal agendas all serve as barriers to non-engaged students who want to change things about their union and university. Anyone who has attended Guild Council will be able to relate to this, but thankfully this is something that has partly been addressed already with advent of Open Forums. Direct contact with your Officer team in an informal environment is a step in the right direction, and I feel tackling the obstructive jargon in Guild Council meetings is the next.
I must emphasise however that the issues outlined here are not just Guild issues, they are nationwide. This brings me on to my final observation. We have, and I say this with as much bias removed as possible, one of the best student unions in the country. While we are far from perfect, other Sabbs and NUS staff could not be more complimentary when it came to our Guild. Those who have visited us love the building redevelopment, marvel at our election turnout and seethe over the opportunities we are able to offer our students. What’s more, our positive relationship with the University is something that is not enjoyed up and down the country and we must be thankful to past Sabbatical teams who have helped to cultivate such a productive working relationship.
We can always do more, and we will strive to do more, but sometimes its worth taking a step back to appreciate how lucky we are.
Other than the wonderful world of NUS, your VPDR has been up to various other undertakings. An Employability Enhancement fair (it will have a sexier name than that I promise) is looking odds on for October. We’re hoping to provide students with volunteering and work experience opportunities to boost any identified gaps in their CVs. More on this to follow.
Along with the President, I am working on a loyalty card scheme for Joes Bar in order to get better value for students, a big manifesto promise from us both. With any luck this will be up and running for September, I promise to keep you informed!
Due to the Vice-Chancellor giving a welcome talk to all freshers during Welcome Week, 1/3 of registration (where you get your Uni card) will be held in the Guild. This will all take place on the first floor and cause minimum disruption to everything else going on during the busiest week of the year! The other destinations are the Avon room and the Hub on the Vale.
Guild Councillor and RA elections have already been discussed for October and December respectively. Accountability and constituency links for Guild Councillors is something I’d like to improve over the coming year so if you have any suggestions yourself feel free to contact me.
Other than that we’ve had a visit from the wonderful Sabbs at Cardiff SU, I’ve sat on the interview panel for a new Representation Co-ordinator and arranged meetings for getting Guild publicity out onto campus.
Sorry to go on a bit, but thank you for reading and well done for getting this far!