The Union needs to change. For too long YUSU has limped along with an outdated Constitution and a patchwork of Bye-laws that no longer serve the needs or interests of the student body. With the new legal changes to the charity status of students’ unions, it was clear that now was a chance to create an open, representative, campaigning Union. That is why we began a democratic review to look at every part of YUSU and ask a few simple questions: How can we be more relevant to our members? How can we be more responsive to their views? How can we help them to create positive change?
Improving ‘representation’ of students is a fundamental area we are examining and reviewing. We will be considering the possibility of replacing the current Union Council, made up of officers and college chairs and nominally open to all, with an assembly of student representatives elected from broad constituencies. With tuition fees likely to rise and funding being cut, we believe more than ever that academic representation needs to be at the heart of a campaigning Union, with departmental, college and society interests all being represented. This assembly would ensure that YUSU would have at its heart, a legitimate body of elected representatives who could scrutinise your officers, pass policies you care about and make sure you are always involved.
The second area we are evaluating is campaigning. The Union has a powerful role to play in the lives of students, and we are proposing that the Union refocus its efforts on campaigns – which means escaping the committee mentality. Yes, dedicated individuals who have stood for elected positions are the bedrock of a campaigning Union, but their job should be to connect interested parties, to develop networks of people and organizations that can deliver on the things they promise.
That’s why we think some of the current committees of the Union would be better as Campaigning Networks, spending less time talking to themselves or fighting bureaucracy in YUSU, and more time leading the push for change on issues from recycling facilities, to gender equality, to accessibility.
Finally, accountability is an important principle in any democracy and YUSU should be no different. We understand we should be bringing information to you in a way that you can engage with. Having direct representatives on a union assembly is one change that would dramatically open up YUSU’s activities: you would always know someone in your department, in your college or in your student group who could ask the questions you always wanted asking.
To increase transparency, meetings will be webcast and placed prominently on our website, bookmarked so that you can jump to the agenda item you’re interested in. We would also get committees to display a summary of decisions made at their meetings; that way you know at a glance what’s going on and you can view the full minutes if you need to.
As I’ve said, these are the initial thoughts that have arisen in response to the comments made by the hundreds of students who took our online survey. They are not the end of the dialogue between YUSU and its members, but they are an important next step as this democratic review is an ongoing process.
Our three workshops, to be held on Tuesday 14th December, offer another chance for members to get ‘hands on’ with the future direction of YUSU and discuss the key issues I have talked about here. We will be opening up the initial drafts of YUSU’s proposed reforms for you to comment on, debate about and contribute to, and thus allowing us to look at all aspects of Union business with a critical eye. The conversation is continuing this week and we hope you will be inspired to take part – it is, after all, your Union.
Students can come to just one of the sessions, or take part in all three.
The Democratic Review Workshops will take place in L/047 on Tuesday 14th December (Week 10) at the following times: