Image Credit: Dan Powell
All eight college chairs have published an open letter to YUSU, concerning issues they have in regard to the current relationship between the college committees and YUSU. The letter contains the college chairs’ initial ideas to improve their relationship and overcome the differences between YUSU and the colleges. The letter describes that “There are inherent systematic issues in the Students’ Union that need to be addressed; the bureaucracy within YUSU is fundamentally flawed, unhelpful and incompatible with colleges. As a Students’ Union it should truly represent students.” The publishing of this letter, therefore, is aiming to heal these ‘systematic issues’ that the college chairs are describing.
In brief, the areas that the colleges are proposing need improvement are as follows: YUSU’s financial system, mainly regarding the time it takes for funds to be sent to college committees, to which the open letter comments that the college chairs “would like to be able to use money straight away, since waiting for at least three days cannot just cause monetary problems for students, when they have to disburse large sums for the JCRC/CSA, but it can also cause pressure on the students’ well-being.
The problem with the current ticketing system was also discussed in the letter, especially for events such as refreshers and the delayed time it currently takes to to release them to the student population. The open letter also commented on the fact that “some colleges’ tickets were also oversold costing them additional last-minute funds, for which YUSU failed to offer compensation or a valid explanation. Further, the booking fee added by YUSU on their payment platform is not valid in our opinion, since it costs students more for no additional value. It is also frustrating to not be able to see ticket sales as a live feed - this lack of transparency is present in much of YUSU’s interaction with college run events.”
The open letter also commented on college sports, and the way in which the college chairs believe that YUSU in general prioritises University sport over college. This comes after YUSU’s trialing of a new college sport fee system, which the open letter did not mention.
Additionally, the college chairs find frustration with the levels of communication the colleges have with the University. The letter quotes that the colleges have “so much contact with YUSU but only being in one meeting a term with the university makes it hard for all of us to establish the status of college committees and promote our values in the ways we deem best.”
The letter goes on to state that they feel as though “We are being treated like a society whilst in reality we represent the entirety of undergraduate students of the University.” Given that the colleges are built into the very physical and ideological structure of the University, the college chairs are perhaps right in expressing their levels of frustration at not being in contact with the University as much as they should be.
YUSU responded to this open letter in heavy detail, addressing each point made by the colleges. YUSU's reply both defended YUSU as well as help move forward with the suggestions made by the committees, stating at the end of the response that: 'We look forward to continuing to work with you to address the needs of students."
The response letter, which was co-written by YUSU President Samara Jones and YUSU CEO Ben Vulliamy, began by saying:
"We are writing on behalf of YUSU to acknowledge receipt of your open letter. We note your stated intention to open a channel of dialogue to offer constructive feedback. We are disappointed that you have chosen to communicate in this way rather than through existing channels, such as the weekly Chairs and Presidents meetings, the frequent correspondence you acknowledge you have with the YUSU staff that support the Colleges, or through any of the other formal and informal channels that exist (such as Student Life Operations Group, Liberation and Welfare committee, College Sport Meetings and other forums).
"As you know, YUSU supports the College Committees, in collaboration with the University. As we have discussed previously, we recognise that there are common misunderstandings about the respective roles of the Colleges and YUSU and the nature of our relationship. We are always keen to work with students, College staff and all of the committee membership to manage expectations and to ensure that there is as much clarity as possible about our mutual roles.
"We should stress that, with the exception of a small contribution towards some of the College sport costs, YUSU receives no specific additional funding for Colleges (actually Colleges are more commonly cited as a reason for YUSU (and the GSA) receiving less Union funding than many of our Russell Group peers) to prioritise the development of infrastructure around Colleges specifically."
After this opening, the letter goes through each of the colleges' main frustrations. For example, in response to the colleges' concern over sport, the letter said:
"Your letter talks about systematic issues without clarifying what these are. YUSU’s work on College Sport, in collaboration with students and colleagues in the Colleges, stemmed from feedback from college students that wanted a more simplistic approach and a clearer structure. The three colleges involved in the pilot have introduced a single membership fee for training for any number of college clubs, some merchandise, additional sports insurance and grants for their clubs.
"The pilot is under review at present. We absolutely agree with your sentiment that college sport should be inclusive to everyone and this has informed YUSU’s approach throughout. The programme operates alongside the ‘Get Active’ offer, a university wide programme of sport and physical activity for students to participate in with no commitment required. We recognise that there is currently disparity in the cost of college sport from one college to another regardless of whether they are in the pilot or not. We feel that there needs to be consideration of how fairness and consistency is achieved by the colleges.
"To be clear, YUSU has never forced a College to participate in the pilot. The opportunity was outlined to all colleges and 3 colleges chose to be part of the pilot. We would be happy to explore with those pilot members and students that play College Sport whether they wish to continue the pilot or not in the future. All students within the pilot colleges can apply for the YUSU activities access grant, something we established specifically to improve inclusivity."