1. A wider variety of events decided by students
2. Direct dialogue between students and university management.
3. Fight unnecessary cuts at the university.
4. Campaign for cheaper and wider variety of food on campus.
5. Student control of Guild budgets.
6. Set up a Democracy and Engagement Permanant Working Group.
7. Annual “Listening Programme”
8. Free water dispensers on campus.
9. Make Guild Councillors accountable.
10. Better prayer facilities
11. More printers in the Guild.
I believe that students do not have enough of a say over what happens at the University or in the Guild. The Guild for most people is an irrelevancy: they do not benefit from what it has to offer; its decisions do not seem to affect them; and (through no fault of their own) many don’t even know what it does. Even for those who do get involved, the Guild is an overly-bureaucratic and undemocratic institution in which students ultimately have very little control over many issues – from budget allocation, to its relationship with the University, to what services it provides, to what entertainment it offers, etc.. I want a Guild that does WHAT STUDENTS ACTUALLY WANT, rather than what it thinks they want!
Finding out what students want:
- Annual “Listening” Programme
This is designed to find out exactly what students want from their Guild and University that are currently not being delivered. I myself did a preliminary survey last year as Community Action Officer, although I was doing this alone and was not given many resources as a non-Sabb, and so was not able to do much. However even among the small group of people I spoke to I learned that many were disillusioned with the Guild and had several things they would like changing about their Uni life. It should be the Guild’s responsibility to put its resources into a wide-reaching structured listening programme every year to find out what the real concerns and desires of the majority of students (and excluded minorities) are. The details of planning this will be the responsibility of the VPDR and the Democracy and Engagement working group (details below).
Student control over what the Guild does:
- Student Control over Guild Budgets
Students currently have no say over where the vast resources of the Guild are spent. This power currently lies with a few unelected managers and a majority unelected trustee board. These unelected non-students have made many unpopular decisions in the past, without any student consultation. For example in the last couple of months they replaced the student housing association (SHAC) with the Santander bank, while they also have contracted Costa Coffee to open in the building when students were calling for a Guild-run and student-run coffee shop, in the ilk of Joe’s bar. I think this is a shocking state of affairs. IT IS OUR STUDENT UNION, and so we should be in charge of it!
- A wider variety of events at the Guild, decided by students
Wouldn’t it be great if students could hold big events of their choosing. The Guild has potential to do so much more in this regard. We could have famous bands, high-profile comedy acts, drum & bass and dub nights, film showings, non-alcoholic evenings, meet-and-greets, or whatever students want really…. You can decide! This could be done potentially through the creation of an events management group at the Guild which has a responsibility to collect votes on events and organised them etc.
Improving the democratic structures of the Guild:
- Make Guild Councillors More Accountable
Guild councillors are not accountable enough – they essentially are able to do what they want in Guild Council without any reference to their democratic mandate or the wishes of their constituents. There are a number of ways they could be made more accountable, such as making departmental Guild Councillors answerable to their Departmental Associations, open voting in Guild council (as opposed to secret voting now), an easier and clearer process of dismissal and replacement of Councillors that are not doing their job properly, etc.. The exact details of how this is done should be decided on democratically through the Democracy and Engagement working group I plan to set up.
- Support the Reclaim the Guild Campaign
I am a founding member of this campaign, which has been running now for a couple of months. It aims primarily for the trustee board (the most powerful body in the Guild) to be made up of a majority of elected students rather than unelected and unaccountable managers managers, and for an Annual General Meeting in which all students would be given the opportunity to decide on Guild policy directly. I will facilitate this process. More details can be found here: www.reclaimtheguild.com
- Make the process of democratisation democratic
Set up a Democracy and Engagement Permanent Working Group to constantly review and improve the Guild’s democratic structures and methods of student engagement
This would be a permanent group chaired by the VPDR which would be open to all to attend (although perhaps it could have elected coordinators – like a new committee of Guild Council?). It would periodically review the Guild’s democratic structures as well as review and come up with new ways the Guild could engage the student body. It would also oversee the democracy project I intend to start in the Guild.
Improving the student experience (these are policies which from talking to students seem to be in greatest demand):
- More Printers in the Guild
This is self-explanatory really. It is a massive pain having to queue all the time.
- Campaign for cheaper and a wider variety of food on campus: vegan, vegetarian, Kosher, Halal, and more… Plus cheap tea and coffee
The food on campus is an absolute rip-off. Many of the shops and cafes abuse their monopolistic position on campus and charge extortionate prices, which students accept because they are the only readily accessible shops. Moreover, the actual choice is limited, and people with special dietary requirements and preferences find it difficult to find appropriate food. Lastly, tea and coffee are very cheap to make, and these easy refreshments should be provided at a much lower price. (How much nicer would the rainy Birmingham days be with 10/20p cups of tea ).
I will establish a Guild campaign for cheaper, and a wider variety of, food on Campus. This would involve the Guild pressuring the shops in the University to lower their prices. It would also entail pressuring the University to let their spaces out to cheaper and more diverse food establishments. Lastly, it would also mean the provision of a wider variety of food in Joes – including more Vegetarian and Vegan options.
- More free water dispensers on campus
Again, water should be free and easily accessible to everyone. People shouldn’t be forced to buy the expensive drinks from campus shops.
- Better prayer facilities
Members of religious groups have complained to me about the prayer facilities available to them. One of the most frequent problems cited was the lack of space.
- Work with the VPE to establish a direct dialogue between students and university management, and to fight unnecessary cuts at the university to courses, staff etc.
Many cuts are still being made to departments, staff, courses, contact hours etc., which will all be massively detrimental to students; and all in the name of saving money for the University to implement its ridiculous, pointless and massively harmful changes it plans to make. I outlined the details of what is going on in a speech I gave at a protest in November on campus:
It is vital moreover that a dialogue is established between students and the University management, if we are to protect democracy on this campus. The management have already suppressed particular forms of protest through a court injunction,
- a move which has been condemned by human rights organisations like Liberty and Amnesty International.
And here is a speech I made at that protest about the importance of free speech and how the university are violating it:
Additionally, this move must be viewed within a wider context in which students have no say over what the university management decides to do. We need to be consulted about changes which could fundamentally affect students, and the decisions made by management should be transparent. We need democracy, we need a voice!