Referendum on Working Class Officer in YUSU policy package

Of five proposals, the consultation process led to two approvals, two dismissals and one referendum. Image: Dan Powell

The end of this term’s policy process for YUSU’s Policy & Review Group (PRG) has, after receiving “divided opinion”, made plans to put to referendum the question of whether the Students’ Union should create the new part-time position of Working Class & Social Mobility Officer.

Alongside these plans was the establishment of a new ability for liberation networks to elect and send their own delegates to network-themed NUS conferences – coupled with a decrease in the amount of sabbatical officers automatically enlisted to attend conferences.

The idea of establishing a Working Class Officer, as proposed by Michaela Tharby and Jacob Webb, would be to represent students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds on matters of accessibility to opportunities on campus, as well as to provide an effective campaigning voice regarding issues such as the cost of living at university.

However, such a move has been fiercely debated among the student body as rumours of the referendum’s arrival became more apparent.

During this policy cycle, [YUSU] received far more feedback than is typical

A graduating English student, who wishes to remain anonymous, spoke to Nouse of her own opposition to the proposal:

“Whereas being LGBTQ or BAME is fairly easy to pin down, what even constitutes being working class is hugely divisive, and I can only imagine the position creating conflict as people squabble to decide whether somebody is actually working class or not.”

These new moves come in spite of the PRG rejecting proposals for YUSU to state its support for the NUS Liber8 campaign, as well as the creation of a Part-Time Interfaith Officer position.

The Liber8 campaign includes eight core campaign areas, the first of which is to “fight fees and cuts” – entailing a call for free education and a boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS), which, given the recent election of the Conservative-led government, is set to be linked to the raising of tuition fees.

It was proposed that YUSU should support the campaign, despite the SU having put both aforementioned issues to referendum in the past.

Last year, the vote for YUSU to support the campaign for free education failed to reach quorum, and this year’s NSS boycott referendum saw a majority against the idea.

The proposal for an Interfaith Officer, led by YUSU’s Community and Well-being Officer, Dom Smithies, came under the heaviest criticism during the consultation process.

Former York Vision editor Jonathan van Kuijk, who put forward his opposition to the motion during the consultation process, commented that it “seems obvious that religious students have just as much representation as any other student. There is no reason why we would especially require extra representation when faith societies do such a good job already.”

YUSU’s Policy Coordinator, Jack Harvey, commented: “It was brilliant to receive so much feedback from networks, committees and, most of all, individual students. Though it made for a long evening of collating feedback, the plurality of opinions, many of which were expressed clearly and thoughtfully, helps the PRG take more views and ideas into account when making its decisions.

“I hope to work with YUSU to encourage more students to submit their ideas for change.”

YUSU President Millie Beach echoed Harvey’s sentiments: “During this policy cycle, we received far more feedback than is typical, so I believe we have learned lessons in terms of communicating policy suggestions to students. Creating YUSU policy is one of the key ways that students can inspire change in the union, so we are excited that lots of people engaged and provided feedback.

“The outcomes for the policy submissions are the results of the submissions by students, we’re happy that the system is robust and that it has produced these results.”