Student societies have hit out at YUSU, branding the Fresher’s and Refresher’s fairs as poorly managaged, while figures reveal a marked decrease in their total membership.
This year’s Freshers’ Fair saw the introduction of a bar code scheme, designed to simplify membership payments by allowing students to scan the bar codes of different societies and then pay membership fees online.
Chris West, the 2012-2013 YUSU Activities Officer, implemented the system and was hopeful for a “10 to 20 per cent increase in society memberships” as a result of the scheme and said that he felt “confident in the new system”.
Many societies were unhappy with the scheme, with Charlie Kingsbury, Chair of the University of York Liberal Democrats describing it as a “total nightmare”.
He said: “We had to spend a lot of time signing people up who hadn’t paid on the day, either because they’d forgotten or the pay points were too busy, which is time we could’ve spent developing in other ways.
“The Lib Dems’ society membership is up this year thanks to our hard work, but I wouldn’t be surprised if society membership generally has fallen because of barcodes. YUSU should be helping societies grow, not hindering their development with this terrible system.”
In fact YUSU data shows a decrease in total society membership of nearly 3000 since last year, from 18,942 in June 2013 to 16,019 currently. This is despite an increase in student numbers from 14,918 to 15,253. These figures include both paid and unpaid membership.
Kingsbury also criticised the YUSU Refreshers’ Fair, which was held in Week 2 of this term. He told Nouse: “The event itself was an utter waste of time. The publicity was almost nonexistent, and hardly anyone turned up.
“Even when YUSU did get around to publicising it with a sign outside, a room full of politics isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea. Segregating political societies from the rest will never work.”
William Hornett, Chair of the Socialist Society, echoed these views, saying: “The Refreshers’ Fair was awfully organised. There was effectively zero publicity for any Refreshers’ Fair events and no information about which societies were around on which days.
“As well as the total lack of publicity, the separation of political, sports and other societies into different days was extremely detrimental to political societies especially. I’m pretty sure in the four hours I was at the stall, I only saw two people walk into the room in interest.
“The conjunction of these two problems meant the Refreshers’ Fair was probably one of the worst events I’ve ever seen organised, at least by YUSU.”
Many societies have had communication problems with YUSU outside of Freshers’ and Refreshers’ Fairs, with the History Society facing issues when confirming finance for their trip to Sofia.
Chair Elli Hatherell commented on Twitter, “The past week has made me completely lose faith in @yorkunisu- serious transparency and effectiveness issues need to be addressed!”
Hornett also told Nouse, “in general getting a hold of YUSU figures is difficult”.
Anna McGivern, YUSU Activities Officer, recently acknowledged these complaints in a blog post on the YUSU website saying “I know last term I got pretty slow on the emails.
“This job is demanding, and I love that and as I’ve already said a few times now I’m sorry about last term or if I drop the ball on anything.”
However, she also added: “A little reminder to the very small number of you who think that because you’ve not heard from me or because you don’t like what you’ve heard that being rude is the answer. It is not.”
McGivern and Kallum Taylor, YUSU President, both also cited the breakdown of a University server as one of the reasons for the recent lack of communication. This has prevented the YUSU weekly information email from being sent.
McGivern defended the bar code system, saying: “From my point of view, Chris’ idea makes a lot of sense. Moving to online payments for societies is something lots of SUs have already done. The issues I found to come out of the Freshers’ Fair feedback that I recorded was that there was too little information too late. I completely agree and put this down to planning being across the summer.”
She also defended the controversial decision to leave all pre-existing societies out of the Refreshers’ Fair: “The Refreshers Fair on Friday of Week 2 went really well for new societies.
“Telling everyone the plan to give refreshers fair over to new societies should have been done sooner. However when I did email societies the consensus I got back was that this was a good move.”
Taylor also commented on the recent criticisms of the Union: “YUSU have more societies per head than pretty much any other SU in the UK – and this is a great thing which we should celebrate more. However, it does bring with it incredibly large demands on funds, staff and officer time, and space.
“The Refreshers’ Fair and week could have worked better and clearly we need to address this by involving as many stakeholders as possible – if a review of it doesn’t involve those who were actively in it then it’s a review simply not worth doing. It’s always going to be a harder ‘sell’ than the autumn freshers fair though, to students, and the commercial partners we get to come along with all their freebies.
“One thing that stands out as a sore point in my mind was the part-time officer and political societies fair, which was an embarrassment. You can’t just have people sat at tables in the YourSpace common room and just expect it to work.
“We’ve recently made some structural and staff changes to YUSU and we hope that this should see provide the much needed improvement in the service level given to our societies.”