The Union of UEA Students (UUEAS) is preparing to introduce a set of reforms to its democratic processes, including “Student Forums” where any student can attend and vote to guide the student union’s policy on a particular issue.
The changes, the details of which are set to be finalised in Welcome Week, will also include the creation of “Liberation Caucuses” along the lines of the Liberation Campaigns of the National Union of Students (NUS). According to union officers, such caucuses will be composed of members and representatives of marginalised groups like women, BME people, LGBT people and disabled people, and will be able to guide the student union’s policy on issues affecting those groups. There will also be campus-wide elections held for UEA’s delegates to the NUS Women’s Conference and NUS LGBT Conference.
In an interview with Concrete, Postgraduate Education Officer Liam McCafferty also revealed that there were plans for a “Graduate Assembly” where representatives of postgraduate students would guide the student union’s policy on issues affecting them.
Concrete understands that the proposed Student Forums would allow any student to attend and speak on the issue being discussed, and would likely be on only one significant topic. There would then be a vote which the union would take account of when reaching its decision on the issue. For example, the Sun boycott of 2013 would likely have been discussed at a Student Forum before going to Union Council. The Student Forum would run alongside the traditional Union Council meetings, where 200 members representing societies, courses and clubs meet to discuss a formal agenda of motions and reports. Student Forums are likely to occur twice a term.
Chris Jarvis, Campaigns & Democracy Officer at UUEAS, told Concrete:
“These reforms will make the student union more open and transparent, and give students more of a say over the decisions we make and the policies we implement. Student Forums will give every student a chance to feed into decision-making, while Liberation Caucuses will give marginalised students a chance to be listened to on the issues that affect them and guide policy on their liberation.
“I’m very excited about the potential of these reforms, and I urge every student to get involved at the first opportunity”.
Holly Staynor, Welfare, Community & Diversity Officer at UUEAS, said:
“I’m really happy that the new democratic changes happening throughout our union have such a strong focus on liberation groups and those who traditionally struggle to get their voices heard not only in the student movement, but remain repressed throughout society generally.
“Having official elections for liberation conferences will ensure our elected representatives will be better informed and prepared to represent UEA students on a national democratic level through proper training and guidance and delegations will be reflective of the diverse UEA student body, through specifically allocated seats for minority groups.
“We are also going to be leading the way amongst student unions across the country in trialling liberation caucuses which we will be directly input into the governance of our union and specific pre-election workshops supporting students from liberation groups who want to run for election, will see our union racing ahead as one of the most diverse and representative”.
The main structures of union democracy will not change, but the new institutions will feed into Union Council and into union officer’s decisions.
Note: UUEAS is an independent and democratically run charity that represents students within the University of East Anglia, campaigns on behalf of students and provides services such as the Shop and the Hive.