When you set up an organisation it is possible that in order to make that organisation successful you may forget how important those who made this possible are. This is where unions come in. Unions are groups of rebellious people who remind a system that they should work with their employees and not against them. Educational institutions are no different. Sustainability does not necessarily equate profitability, so where institutions became more commercial in their approach, students have take up the initiative of establishing a Students’ Union.
In addition to the permanent administrative staff within each SU, Students’ Union, is a group of students elected by their peers in order to represent the student body. This means, that students have a voice to convey their grievances and address different issues.
It is possible that in carrying out their routine duties departments within a university may take a long time to address your issues. This is a common issue with bureaucracy. However, every set back helps reveal where the problems may be in the system. It is frustrating where these systems control areas of your life. Therefore using a union enable you to have a say on the issues you really care about.
For example, if you are facing some issues with your bank transactions, it will take you a long time to find the contact number that would directly connect you to the customer service because you need to press this many numbers before you are connected to the person they think you should be speaking to. And all I want is someone to just speak to me and connect to me whoever they think is the right person. Is that too much to ask?
This happens in educational institutes as well, where you are unsure of what procedure to follow for anything, student unions have got your back. Just enter their building, tell them what you are struggling with, and it is then their job to point you in the right direction. This is what you vote them for, making your lives easier so that you can focus on your academics more.
Some may highlight how forming a student union within the university is in fact undermining the improvement of the systems laid down by the universities. In most cases you will find that the problem is that universities like to follow their established systems rather than create something new which would complete the same role. They choose to ignore alternatives and in some cases entirely failing to acknowledge a failure of a certain system.
For instance, lot of students from your module may have been very unhappy with how it was run. They may think that there are certain elements of this module that can be improved. However, they may have missed the opportunity to provide feedback or the university may not have listened to this feedback.(I speak from personal experience here.) What do you do if this situation arises? You can go to your course or faculty rep to find a solution.
Perhaps this is too optimistic to expect every demand to be implemented. But I know that if I do not approve of what the Student Union are doing, I will gather support from other students and protest outside the SU building until they listen to me and change their ways, which may be easier to do than convincing the university to change anything due to all the bureaucratic procedures.
Is everything this hostile usually? Certainly not. Most Student Unions have a good working relationship with the University. Surprised? Don’t worry, I was too. When I understood the concept of a student union, the first question that popped in my head was, “if SU is doing their job well, shouldn’t the university dislike them?” However, in reality the university acknowledges the need for such a body to remind them of things every now and then and the student unions acknowledge that universities do eventually want to improve things, it can be a slow process but they do want to improve.
Well then, what is the Student Union at University of York is like? York University Students Union (YUSU) is made up of 5 sabbatical (full-time) officers: President, Sport President, Community and Wellbeing Officer, Student Activities Officer, Academic Officer. These are supported by 9 other part-time officers role, representing different roles like Women’s, LGBTQ, Disabled Students, BAME, International, Mature students, Volunteering, RAG and Environment and Ethics. University provides sports and other facilities, it is the YUSU via which you set up your sports club, societies or volunteering projects.
YUSU is comparatively smaller than other universities due to the collegiate nature of our university. Colleges are usually the first point of contact for most things, especially if you live on campus. But for everything else, you approach YUSU. The YUSU has a dedicated department on advice and support on issues regarding academics, complaints, welfare and wellbeing, reporting incidents and any personal issues.
I would strongly recommend making excessive use of everything that YUSU can offer and do for you so that in the case where you think YUSU can improve, they have your input on them. Similarly, it is very important for you to make your voices heard by voting in the YUSU elections that take place towards the end of the second term, as it is very important that the students you want students to represent you are successful. If you do not like how YUSU functions, join YUSU and change it from within, otherwise as I mentioned above, you can always protest if they continuously ignore you after several reminders.