By Scarlett Sheriff, Fourth Year French and Spanish
Too often we blame SU representatives for not talking about important issues - yet, the real blame lies with the students who do not use their vote.
In 1968, the writer and activist David Widgery called the National Union of Students (NUS) ‘the student muffler’ and said it had ‘all the passion of an ashtray’. It is currently all too easy to agree with him, considering that far too little is being spoken about how higher education has become increasingly marketised.
Certainly, the latest Bristol SU Annual Members Meeting, which took place on the 26th of February, will have proved frustrating for those who wanted to raise issues directly related to our education.
Many motions were not heard in the meeting, in part due to the length of a heated and intense debate on a motion to divest from Israel because of their occupation of the West Bank.
Students always have and still should raise international affairs as a matter for discussion - stifling all mention of these tense issues solves nothing. However, a similar level of passion should be used to lobby against issues that very directly impact the future of education, like the fact that, across the country, small but vital courses like languages are being cut.
Hull University has stopped recruitment for language courses except for Chinese, which is funded by the Confucius Institute - this just one example of the damaging effects of marketisation.
It is futile to blame Bristol SU, or even the NUS, for the fact that these issues are neglected.
And just like that... VOTING IS OFFICIALLY OPEN! Vote here >> https://t.co/9tZ89Zdkhk— Bristol SU (@Bristol_SU) March 12, 2019
You have until 9pm on Thursday 14 March to cast your vote.
Everyone who votes will get 10% off in The Balloon Bar 🍻
Here's a handy guide to cast your vote >> https://t.co/ZmTKiWFeNa pic.twitter.com/U17WL1F1e7
It is true that figures like former NUS President Malia Bouattia have notoriously seen themselves as the voice of reason on foreign affairs, and therefore alienated many undergraduates and the national press. She was widely condemned for describing Birmingham University as a ‘Zionist outpost’.
Nevertheless, students elect the people in these organisations. It is on us all to make the debates we hear more representative, by voting and by taking a stand, whatever we believe.
The history of student activism in the UK shows that it is capable of creating change, for precisely those who it is supposed to represent - students at British universities.
In 1965, Endsleigh Insurance was set up by the National Union of Students so that we could get a fair shot at getting our property insured and getting travel insurance. These are the kinds of changes that we can enact if we bother to get our voices heard.
It is on us all to make the debates we hear more representative, by voting and by taking a stand, whatever we believe.
In 1973, the NUS won a battle to increase grants for students; one of their strategies was rent strikes. Whatever you think about fees now, the passion is surely admirable.
In 1983, they won a battle to stop the introduction of tuition fees. Under Blair in 1998, that changed. Nevertheless, it shows what collective student power is capable of.
Regardless of how much more complicated the situation now is and regardless of what you think of Corbyn’s last manifesto, history highlights that students have been able to create change and that they still can.
Do not blame student politicians if important issues are not being discussed.
They are not professionals, much of their good work goes unacknowledged, and we have the right to choose them. Instead, let us accept that we as a collective body of students are all culpable of not doing enough.
Instead of being despondent with the SU and the NUS if we disagree with their priorities, we should participate, because that is the only way to change them.
Let us accept that we as a collective body of students are all culpable of not doing enough.
For better or worse, I once wrote in favour of leaving the National Union of Students, but increasingly, it seems they are not to blame. We, as students, absolutely all are, so we need to involve ourselves more, not less.
We do not know what the future of higher education is, and we do not know what the right solution is - but it is clear there are things that we should not blindly accept.
So, vote in SU elections, regardless of how agonisingly repetitive student politics can sometimes be.