Opinion | The SU’s problem isn’t that they don’t care: it’s bureaucracy

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By Joseph Marshall, Deputy Editor

If you take a look at Bristruths, or even listen to general discussions on campus about the student body’s view of the Student Union, there’s a sense of discontent about the work that the Union does. Some believe that it doesn’t truly care about the issues we want resolved.

The low turnout at elections (23.5% at the most recent officer elections) and small number of candidates for officer roles, with one winning unopposed in March, is further evidence of a student community disconnected from our Union.

Generally, I take the view that a lot of the Union’s work is beneficial for the wider student population – whether it’s the automatic one-week coursework extensions we’ve been able to access, or their ongoing Fee Justice campaign. Sure, the latter might not be successful, but they are trying their best.

So, I attended the Education Network Forum meeting on Monday 26th April with some interest in what’s going on when the glitz and glamour of SU elections and email briefs aren’t in focus.

The red-hot issue being debated? The month in which the chair of the Education Network is elected. Some argued it was too late and led to incoherence in the work of the Network, others argued changing it to an earlier month would exclude Postgraduate candidates from running.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t long before those on the different sides invoked examples of global politics, the importance of principle and the distinction between representative and direct democracy. No, really.

I take the view that a lot of the Union’s work is beneficial for the wider student population

The online meeting, attended by several elected officers, course and faculty reps and SU staff lasted an hour and fifteen minutes. It was almost as if something important was being debated.

After a frank debate, and an excessively lengthy discussion about how those in attendance would vote, the general consensus seemed to be that this decision should be taken at a later date.

We were told we’d be emailed the final outcome the next day, but having not yet received an email three days after the Forum, I can’t say the suspense has been keeping me up at night. Nor will Epigram’s News Team, I expect, be covering it on their front page.

It’d be unfair to draw huge conclusions about the work of the SU based on one meeting alone

It’d be unfair to draw huge conclusions about the work of the SU based on one meeting alone. Our officers do a lot of good work, as do the staff at the Union.

Still, this meeting was very much emblematic of the general perception that the SU has a problem with bureaucracy, and sometimes a lack of perspective – does the timing of a Network Chair’s election truly merit a Forum and vote? Does the average student care about any of this? Who is this really helping?

There was something of a gulf between the passions of those in the debate and the small number of those in attendance, somewhere in the teens.

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Bristol SU 2021 election results

I wondered if others who, like me, participated only as spectators felt as confused as I was by the attention this matter was being paid.

Frankly, widespread student apathy with the SU is understandable when an hour of debate is being dedicated to something as parochial and inconsequential as this (particularly if the outcome was to kick the can down the road).

To reiterate: I do believe that the SU does care about the student community. Except, on this viewing, their concern may be somewhat misplaced.

Featured Image: Epigram / Lucy O'Neill


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