News YUSU Elections 2018

YUSU: Just another popularity contest?

Our cross-campus panel of experts discuss matters of student politics, elections, and how YUSU needs to improve.

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Our cross-campus panel of experts discuss matters of student politics, elections, and how YUSU needs to improve.

Q: How important do you think YUSU is to campus?

Matt Burton: From an insider perspective, YUSU engages with the university of lots of levels, my role being services and working with the university to improve services within the union and offering services to compliment those from the university...

Jane Grenville: Or even to compete with them...

MB: enhance the student experience. We have lots of areas of the Union that work with the University, especially on the academic and the welfare side, so there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes that I suppose people take for granted, and maybe one of the things it's fair to say that as a Union we're poor at is actually telling people what we do, therefore, perhaps, they think that YUSU might not be that important to them.

Henry James Foy: Isn't it weird that we elect students to these positions and they go from being a student one month to negotiating fees with the university the next?

Laura Payne: What you tend to forget is that people who go into sabbatical roles tend to have a long history of working with the university behind them. They might have been working in a non-sabb position or on a JCRC, and I think that when they go into the role they're already quite prepared and they get lots of training from the NUS over the summer, and they work alongside their colleagues. I think in most university meetings it's an adversarial attitude about discussion and ideas and contribution, it's not necessarily like they're going into the lion's den, and a lot of the time it's that they can go in there and showcase their ideas

: From the point of view of the university, the answer to the question is that if there wasn't a YUSU we would have to invent one. But a university is, from the point of view of the people who run it, an academic community dedicated to research and teaching, both in equal measure. So the student population is an incredibly important consistency of what the university does, and to try to run it without a clear machinery to negotiate with that population would be very difficult as we'd end up doing things that would not be helpful to that part of the constituency. So it is absolutely critical that there is a clear negotiating machine from our point of view and the fact that that is something that is created through a political process through elections and hustings, it gives us a degree of confidence that the people that we are negotiating with are the people who represent that the student body really thinks. So it's really incumbent on YUSU and on the GSA to act in a very proactive way to make sure that their members do know what they stand for and do routinely communicate that with them so that we know we're getting the view that is one that is accurate.

David Levene: I completely agree that it being a political process is a very positive thing. I think part of the problem with YUSU at the moment is that it's still a feeling that it's just a popularity contest amongst some students.

HJF: It definitely is.

DL: And I think the fact that we now have a Democracy and Services officer, with that emphasis on democracy, is really positive because it means that hopefully it will move away from these personality politics and into what people want to do and what they stand for, which I think is good for everyone as more people will get involved and it isn't just a popularity contest and if you stand you can get involved, rather than if you've got lots of friends you can get involved.

Q: What would you say to the belief that student politics matter for the next fortnight, and then not at all for the next year?

JG: My personal view, principally engaged in discussion from a university viewpoint is that student politics are important all year round for us . So the question remains how you as a student body can make that very clear that students. You don't have to persuade us, it's very obvious to us. It sounds rather as if you have to do some work with your own constituency.

LP: I think there's a lag between when Freshers arrive in October and when the elections take place in April. I think that's something the Union could work on, on trying to raise awareness at that time, because once Freshers' have had their first set of elections they know about what the Union is and get more engaged in their second and third years. MB: One of the reasons for holding the elections in the spring term is that, in that first term, I know for me for example, it would have meant nothing.

LB: I don't think we should move when the elections are, just that we need to raise more awareness between when Freshers arrive and when the elections are held.

Nicky Woolf: The issue is this whole question of awareness. If a governance of any kind is spending a lot of time simply making people aware of it rather than getting on with governance, something is going wrong on a more fundamental level that just awareness. Awareness should never be just the end of a government activity.

DL: This is where the campus media has such an important role to play. I can never state this enough, York has a very high class of media and we can see this on a national scale. Perhaps we need to bring the media more on board, more to the day to day running of YUSU.

NW: I'd be careful of saying something like 'more on board,' we don't want what a lot of universities have, where the media is just an outlet for the union.

LP: I think the quality of campus media would go down in terms of it's scope and diversity if it were to focus solely on campus politics, and I'm glad that it doesn't. I think the onus is always going to be on the organisation primarily rather than on the media as it's mouthpiece.

HJF: We're getting massive hits on our website as the moment because of elections, but during the rest of the year, YUSU is not something people particularly want to read about.

JG: It's just me, is it?

MB: I think we're missing the point, students are engaging with YUSU in lots of different ways, not just in supporting UGMs but in using the SU shop, they are engaging with the SU, by being part of a club or society, they are engaging with the SU. We're providing that service and we're doing something right there.

NW: Just going to Langwith bar and having a drink is not engaging with the Union, and I think trying to force 'Joe Derwent' who just wants to do 3 years of university wherey he will get a degree and have a good time in the mean time, forcing him to be interested and forcing him to vote on UGMs is counterproductive.

DL: I'd be wary of saying that people are involved the with SU because they go to the Courtyard or they're in a society, my personal feeling, and this isn't a criticism of YUSU, is that that just isn't good enough. And in terms of UGMs, we still have a situation where things aren't passing quoracy. Obviously it's happening a lot less, which is great, but 2.45% of the student population is needed and that's still not happening. I'm not saying that that's YUSU's fault, but it just isn't good enough.

HJF: But what is a UGM? It's just 3 letters, that's going to mean nothing to some people when they check their emails. I think UGMs need a serious rebranding if people are going to engage with their importance.

LP: I think you have to consider the relevance of the motions proposed to the students. I think we've seen last year with things like the governance review, the motion to open up Womens' Committee and to no-confidence GFH that when something comes up that matters to students they will vote in their hundreds, even their thousands. But when something that comes up that's on the sidelines, that's not something that directly affects people, they're not overly interested and you can't force that.

DL: But what I think YUSU can do is to give out the message that it is important. People think is doesn't matter but it really does, it does matter. What the union does on a day-to-day basis behind the scenes is really important, as we've agreed, and it's just about getting that message out there. That's the real key.

Daniel Carr: One thing that's worth raising with regards to all of this is the important concerns that Laura just listed, and with YUSU and the GSA, and particularly with NUS in the last couple of years. Far too many of the crucial issues have been internal ones, and not enough had been focused on the real, substantial policy and the real ways in which we can represent students. I think to some extent that all of those organisations need to reach a point where they're being very forward thinking and focused upon real student issues, and not so insular.

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6 Comment

Jamie Posted on Wednesday 21 Aug 2019

There's an awful lot of unexplained acronyms here. I think I get most of them but this article is a bit obscure in places.

In the spirit of irony what does UGM stand for?


Candidate Posted on Wednesday 21 Aug 2019

Gd question, not many students know ! even if was to say its Union General Meeting..


Tom Posted on Wednesday 21 Aug 2019

Union Generally Meeting. It's a public online vote to decide Union policy that all students can take part in, and can't be over-ruled by the Union officers or committees.


Tom Posted on Wednesday 21 Aug 2019

In fact there is one going on right now - vote online at

Daniel Carr Posted on Wednesday 21 Aug 2019

In the final paragraph of the article, the phrase 'real, substandard policy' has been attributed to me. What I actually said was 'real, substantial policy'. It's an absolutely key difference, so please correct this ASAP. Thanks.


Michael R.T.R. Child Posted on Wednesday 21 Aug 2019

The real problem is increasing understanding of YUSU's acronyms & governance and generating interest in the issues that really should affect students. The GFH motions brought at least 500 people into UGM voting that had probably never voted before. Why can't we have that level of publicity and appreciation for every major issue (and particularly, more positive issues)? And I'm not talking about this Gaza piss (sorry, but it's irrelevant to most students), but about key student academic and welfare issues.


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