There has been a lot of friction between UEA students and the Union recently, and most of it is due to a lack of communication between the two. Students aren’t getting involved in Union politics, and the Union is not providing the students with accessible methods of actively engaging in student politics. It creates a distance between the students and the officials claiming to represent them.

Union House

Photo: Laura Smith

Student politics faces many of the same problems as wider politics. It is unattractive to most students: anyone who has dipped their toes into Union politics will tell you that it is exhausting and frustrating. Yes, Officers are elected by UEA students to represent the student body. However, they are representing a small population, the majority of whom are young and internet savvy. Given that many students cannot fit Union Council meetings into their busy schedules, online polls and petitions are a viable option for Officers to gauge student opinion in a manner that is convenient and efficient for everyone involved.

Earlier this week Concrete reported that Rachel Knott, Women’s Officer for the Union, proposed the ban on Blurred Lines after speaking to students who raised concerns about the song being played in Union facilities. There is clearly some support for the motion, but a simple online poll or petition would give Officers stronger evidence to use in Union Council debate.

Apart from the initial complaints which spark these kinds of proposals for major policies, there is very little evidence of Union Officers actively trying to gauge student opinion. UEA students have already proved willing and able to discuss these motions online – the Union needs to embrace social media and the internet as a tool for accurate student representation and make the process of student politics at UEA as democratic as possible.

The Union’s lack of effective use of social media spreads further. There was some confusion regarding the outcome of the Council debate about the Sun and Blurred Lines, because the Union made no official announcement about it on Twitter or Facebook. It’s harder than it should be to even find any information about Union Council meetings on the Union’s own website – it should be right on the front page.

Ryan McDonagh, Union Councillor, confirmed on Twitter that the Union would boycott the paper – but that students would still be able to bring the paper on to campus. The debate about Blurred Lines was deferred to next week because the Council ran out of time. The amount of time these debates take is a key reason for students not taking part in Union politics – most simply don’t have the time or the energy for it.

No information about the Council meeting was distributed to students on social media, which is often the only way people can keep up to date with Union activity. A similar point can be made about the burger van debacle and the recent changes to the LCR. Looking at these changes from a purely financial perspective – as Finance Officer Joe Levell surely must – they will make the Union more financially efficient and stable. That benefits all UEA students in the long term, but the Union did nothing to make this clear, only releasing statements after receiving many complaints. Keeping people updated on Union policies and changes is essential to staying in favour with students. There will always be those who complain about changes but if the Union used social media to keep students up to date on policies then the number of their detractors would reduce massively.

Whatever way you look at it, the Union isn’t communicating enough with students. The Union needs to improve its output online and on social media. A possible answer would be to elect a small team of part-time Social Media officers to work with Rosie Rawle, the current full time Communications Officer.
Union Officers also need to do more to make student politics more accessible: maybe polling students on proposed policies and using the results as evidence in Council debates. UEA students need to take on a more active role in student politics, but the Union have both the resources and the platform to make it easy for many more students to get involved.