While the majority of people would agree that political activity is important on some level, when asked “Does student politics matter?” the general response runs along the lines of “hmm… well, maybe, not really.”
This feeling was personified by the disappointing turnout in Union elections; the Academic Officer was determined following a turnout of just seven hundred and sixty one votes. Yet when faced with a more specific question such as “Does your sports club deserve more funding?” or “Do you want to be able to trust your landlord?” the response is more positive.
This indicates that students care about the issues, but for whatever reason they don’t care about the body whose self-appointed mission it is to solve them. To a certain extent this is remarkably similar to national politics. How often do we hear people claim that they do not care about an election because the result will not affect them, only to loudly complain that they hate the government a few years later?
The crucial difference, of course, is that the government is recognised as having power. The role of the Student Union (SU) is primarily to give students a voice, but having a voice is of no use if those you are speaking to have no ears, and it is of even less use if you have no hands to implement what has talked about. This is the fundamental issue with student politics: does it have any impact? Are the policies of the Union Council implemented? Most crucially of all, how are student’s lives now different to how they were before the 109 policies listed on www.ueastudent.com, were declared?
Tash Ross, Community and Student Rights Officer of the Union of UEA Students (UUEAS), asserts that SU policy is implemented in the majority of cases, with the only exceptions being where a policy is unworkable or irrelevant. An example of a policy currently being implemented is Hindu worship on campus. It was noted that the Chaplaincy did not have the facilities to accommodate Hindus, and this is now being rectified. For those involved this has the potential to be very significant, but for those not it will in all probability pass them by.
Of more interest to the majority is the issue of tuition fees. In this department, the UUEAS has to be credited for pressuring Simon Wright MP into honouring his pre-election pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees. This is a unique example of the Union extending its influence beyond the confines of student politics and into the realm of national political debate.
These two examples of successfully implemented policy, one concerning only a small minority and the other serving a whole range of people, demonstrate the great variety of Union policy. The UUEAS website provides a complete list of recently approved policies, which range from the mundane to the ridiculous, controversial, and even ingenious. For example, were you aware that the Union now prints its documents in Century Gothic as opposed to Arial? Why? Because this saves £2000 per year in ink costs. This can now be spent instead on subsidising sports clubs and societies, an important development because, for the first time, sports clubs and societies are going to have to start seriously budgeting.
UUEAS Finance Officer, Rob Bloomer, explains that the continuous growth in sports clubs and societies, coupled with declining revenue from the LCR, and Union Bar has resulted in less money having to be shared out among more people. When asked whether the cost of running the LCR could be reduced by staging student bands, Mr. Bloomer said that he had no aversion to it, but added that this would be difficult to advertise. The expansion of SocMart into the Hive shows just how popular our sports clubs and societies are, and their importance to students. Mr. Bloomer also argues that involvement in student politics is “The best way for students to have the opportunity to take charge and decide what clubs and societies exist, and what events take place.” As our beloved sports clubs and societies are funded by the revenue gained from events, his second point is vitally important.
It should be clear by now that student politics matter. Whether you have noticed it or not does not change the fact that it affects you. The houses you live in are owned by landlords approved by the Union, the contract you signed can be checked over by lawyers paid for by the UUEAS, which subsidises the clubs and societies you participate. These issues matter, and student politics allow you to engage with them.