Interview

Thinking of Running For a Students’ Union Position? See If You’re Up For the Challenge

student_union_challenge

How much do you know about your students’ union?

When I was at university, I didn’t have a clue about the workings of my SU. It was a mystery that I didn’t look that closely into.

I didn’t have a clue about the workings of my SU back then. One of those mysteries that I didn’t ever look that closely into.

Fast forward to today, and I wish I’d known then what I know now. I would have been more involved, that’s for sure.

I’ve interviewed a number of SU officers about their roles for TheUniversityBlog. But it’s been a while since I’ve done one of those. Since I had Beth Moody and Liam Bligh giving some great input on making friends as Freshers last week, I’ve asked them to let us know what challenges they face as exec officers.

Just to remind you, Beth is VP Welfare and Community at Portsmouth Students’ Union (UPSU), while Liam is President of of Northampton Students’ Union.

Now, if you’re thinking of campaigning to become an officer at your SU this year, do you know how different the experience will be to your student lifestyle? What challenges might you face?

I asked Beth and Liam to give a flavour of the challenging, even scary, things about being an elected officer.

After all, getting voted in is just the start. Only after that does the real work begin!

Liam on the transition from student to SU employee:

“So far I would have to say changing my way of thinking from Student to Elected officer; just the lifestyle change between post-exam student and full time worker is massive to say the least. Hearing the alarm clock in the morning never gets any easier!” – Liam

Beth on taking up the challenge:

“Being an elected officer, I feel that I have amazing predecessors which leave a lot to live up to! I feel a duty to them to carry on everything that they did, and to work twice as hard as they did to prove myself. Coming from being unknown in the University to sitting alongside some very well-known students is intimidating too.” – Beth

As you can see, there’s not only a culture shock, but also some big boots to fill.

Talking of big boots, Liam was concerned that he might literally lose his footing:

“I had to do some speeches at the graduation ceremonies. I’ve never had an issue with public speaking, but having to do it in front of that many people is really scary. Especially when you are determined to not trip over your robes or remember whether you are supposed to have your mortarboard on or not!” – Liam

At the same time, both Liam and Beth are up for the difficulties they’ve faced so far and the challenges ahead of them. Here’s Beth:

“Whenever I start to find it difficult or like I am up against a brick wall; I remember that the students chose me to represent them. I really love this job, from helping an individual student to organising welfare related events or making a change in how the university operates, there is nothing else I would want to do, and that gets me through all the challenges thrown my way.” – Beth

An elected role in your SU need to be taken seriously. That can make the difference between shying away from the work and tackling it with confidence.

More than that, if you don’t take the role seriously, you could even be held accountable. Liam is braced for the impact of a new development at Northampton, but he’s also glad the challenges are there:

“We’ve also made it easier for sabbatical officers to be held to account, which puts a lot more pressure on us to do the work the Student Councillors expect of us. However, this additional pressure is a good thing as it motivates the elected officers to keep going and achieve more! So this year be sure to ask your officers about changing things and make the change happen!” – Liam

If what Beth and Liam have said doesn’t put you off…In fact, if what they say enthuses you even more, then you may love the opportunities awaiting you as an SU exec officer.

There’s just that small matter of getting enough votes from your fellow students now!

What do you think? Will we be seeing you in an SU election this year?

Students’ Union – Interview with a Societies Officer

In the latest part of the Students’ Union feature, I wanted to find out more about what constitutes a big part of a first year student’s introduction to university life: Fresher’s Fayre and all those clubs and societies.

The University of Nottingham is home to one of the largest Freshers events, the biggest RAG proceedings in the UK and some top-class clubs and societies. For example, the student radio station, URN, has won more Student Radio Awards than any other, including a win in 2006 for Station of the Year.

The Students’ Union at Nottingham plays a huge part in the success of all this. It’s what a university SU is all about. So what’s the deal? How do societies and events come to fruition? Best speak to someone who really knows. To find out more, I spoke to Nottingham’s Societies Officer, Matt Leventhall:

Matt Leventhall

– With 174 societies to choose from at Nottingham, there must be a massive push in Fresher’s Week to join clubs and societies. Do you have any tips to Freshers before they simply end up joining everything, panic a bit, then end up participating in nothing?

“At our Students’ Union we have a document called The Guide, which is basically the student’s bible. It’s got everything about the Students’ Union in it, including the societies listing. Every first year gets The Guide delivered to their room upon arrival. So my advice to them would be to have a look at the societies listing in The Guide and pin-point the societies you might wish to join. You don’t want to spend a ridiculous amount of money joining everything. It’s normally about £2-3 to join each society at Fresher’s Fayre. But at the same time, don’t be too closed, because there are so many societies that students probably won’t expect to be there, so have an open mind when going to Fresher’s Fayre. Take a look, join what interests you and get involved!”

– Say a new student spots a gap and wants to begin something new themselves. What’s involved (and how simple is it) in starting a new society?

“For students, it’s easy to get the ball rolling. All a student needs to do is to come and visit us and request a ‘starting a society’ pack. They need 25 people who are interested to sign a petition. They can get a pack via e-mail too, although it’s always great if they can come to see us face to face so we can have a chat and make sure they can get all the help they need.

“The pack contains some template constitutions, to get the students started. Once they have completed the information for their own society, it comes back to the Students’ Union. For the Students’ Union itself, things get a bit more difficult. The new group proposals go to the Societies Executive committee. This is so they can check through everything and make sure the society would be fully inclusive, totally democratic, not overlapping with any current societies and so on. This is quite a detailed process, which needs to be carefully thought over and agreed.

“Another thing to note is a scheme we have called STARS, which stands for Student Training and Activities Reward Scheme. It was formed because we wanted to guarantee that all clubs and societies provide at least a minimum service to their members and also that we wanted to award the amount of work that was being put in by students to make these things happen. The scheme has three levels, bronze, silver and gold. The bronze level recognises things such as full inclusion and being open to anyone with a disability, and is compulsory. The silver and gold levels are for when further elements of training and development take place to elevate standards and abilities within the societies.”

– It sounds like you’ve got a lot of running around to do to make all this work.

“I’m very busy looking at all these things and chairing committees, but I see my workload as strategic rather than operational. I look at the issues and problems to do with societies and how they can be resolved effectively.”

– Are there limits to the number of members in a society or club?

“That’s not something I’ve ever heard of, no. If any society gains a very large number of members, we would look to expand it and think about how much money was being put into the running of it. It’s all abount making the societies bigger, better, and more successful.”

– On your blog, you mention a proposition to create a Chair of Societies Council. What is this?

“When I first came into the position of Societies Officer, I identified a problem. Of the societies that were gaining affiliation, it generally happened because they had better or more confident public speakers. For example, if someone speaking was very shy, or if someone struggled with the speech because English wasn’t their first language, they would be far less likely to achieve affiliation.

“This was clearly not a democratic process.

“The unfair process needed to change so that a totally impartial person could read out speeches for all parties, for and against. In doing this, we achieve a more democratic result. This is what the Chair of Societies Council would focus on.”

– Are there any issues surrounding Students’ Unions that need to be looked into more deeply?

“One of the big issues this year for our Students’ Union is to address communication. We want to make it clear to all students of what the SU can do for them. Many students think that the SU is responsible for little more than arranging big parties and events [Martin’s Note: I THINK THIS IS THE CASE FOR MANY SUs AROUND THE UK]. What we need to do is make a bigger impact on students. For instance, we found that in previous years the SU logo wasn’t on everything that we did. We’re changing that now. We’ll be making a much bigger show right from Day 1 so that students are fully aware of what the SU does and how it can help represent students throughout their time at uni. It’s not yet publicised enough that the Students’ Union can actively help represent students on specific student matters.”

And there you have it. While every Union is going to differ slightly in the way they handle things, you get the general idea of the kind of processes involved. There’s a lot more going on than you might at first imagine.

If you are specifically interested in the Nottingham Students’ Union, these links will provide you with more information:

University of Nottingham Students’ Union Homepage

Students’ Union Executive: Personal Blogs [All blogs are together, but a box at the top allows you to choose one particular officer’s blog if you wish]