On 17 March, students elected Chris Jarvis, a third year Philosophy & Politics student, as their new Campaigns & Democracy Officer for the Union of UEA Students (UUEAS). The position is tasked with improving and maintaining student union democracy, ensuring that the services of the union run smoothly, improving union communications and co-ordinating campaigns. Concrete sat down in the Hive with Chris this week to ask him about his plans for the year ahead, and how he felt about winning.
‘It hasn’t really sunk in yet’, he told us, ‘but it’s really exciting’. Chris intends to campaign around the cost of student living: pushing for home insulation to bring down student energy bills, opposing the privatisation of student debt and opposing UEA’s plan to increase accommodation fees. But won’t there be opposition to these campaigns, we asked him?
“If there isn’t opposition to what you’re doing, it’s not worth doing in the first place”, Chris responded, adding: “I think that if we use the tools that campaigners have been using throughout the centuries, mobilise lots of students and make sure they know what’s going on, we can achieve that change. And it’s been proven to work”. Chris’s desire for a more public approach contrasts with the traditional union approach, which often involves lobbying the university in meetings. So what’s Chris’s view on such an approach?
“Very little has been achieved simply by private lobbying”, he said, “We need to publicly lobby too and ensure that the university knows we’re serious.” One issue that Chris wants to be more public about is getting a bigger block grant, which is the money that UEA gives annually to the student union. “We have one of the smallest block grants compared to other universities”, Chris told us.
Some Union officers have been championing a staff restructure as an alternative way to save money, despite opposition from Union Council, the representative body of students. Chris has been opposing the restructure, and called it an “unfair, unmanageable and unnecessary” move. He told us: “We should be demanding that the university fulfils its legal duty to ensure that this union is properly funded, not taking part in a race to the bottom in working standards”. He also criticised the “opaque and unaccountable” Trustee Board for championing the restructure, arguing that it “shouldn’t be taking political decisions”.
When asked about democracy, Chris told us he will push for more training for union councillors, for officers to reach out across campus, and for General Meetings where any student can attend and set policy. He also wants a space on the UUEAS website where students can suggest ideas and have those ideas automatically discussed at Union Council if they get enough support. He argued that “we need to create a direct link between students and their union”.
So how does he feel about the year ahead? Chris told Concrete that he looked forward “to representing students over the next year, and to being the representative of a radical students’ union”.