Maddie Flisher

Are Durham Students’ Union elections relevant?

Durham Students’ Union is irrelevant

By Olivia Nevill

Copious emails from the Student’s Union? Facebook being clogged up with profile pictures covered in campaigning slogans? Flyers on the tables at the College bar? You guessed it – it’s voting season. But will the outcome of these elections really have a profound impact on student life?

Living, as we do, in a collegiate environment, the Student Union bears less importance on our everyday lives. This can be exemplified when compared to other universities such as St Andrews, that lack a collegiate system. There, the Student Union is so significant that one St Andrews first year student referred to their Union as “the epicentre of the whole university”. I’m sure most Durham students would agree that it would be highly unlikely to hear our Union referred to with such enthusiasm due to its lack of involvement with student life.

Many Durham students will simply not take the time to vote as they don’t believe that the outcome will have any affect their day to day lives, so why bother? It is very likely that this is a correct assumption due to the distant relationship that the Union has with the students. This is through no fault of the DSU as the distance stems purely from the fact that as Durham students, we are much more affected by decisions taken at our respective Colleges. Because of this, what matters most to us is who determines our College matters, and therefore we attend our College hustings, read the policies, and make sure to vote in College elections.

Will the outcome of these elections really have a profound impact on student life?

An outsider would assume that the Students Union is where high-level decisions affecting the student way of life are made. This is not entirely the case here at Durham, meaning that the SU elections are less relevant here than at other universities.

Despite this, the DSU still attempts to encourage as many votes as possible – this is evident through their emails which offer enticements such as ‘an alpaca visit’ for the College that has the highest voting turnout. Silly as it may seem, as a fresher, I turned out to vote for exactly this reason. Unfortunately, though many of us turn out to vote in the hopes of getting to ‘meet the alpacas’, the votes are often cast without knowledge or particular interest in the candidates’ policies. More often it is a marketing profile contest and the votes are down to which candidates name you saw on the flyers in your College bar, or which slogan you most recently saw pasted on you friends Facebook profile picture, as opposed to which candidates’ policies you believed to be the best.

Former trustee and current JCR President of St Chad’s College, Josh Barker, highlighted that “if you’re annoyed, apathetic, or generally fed up with the SU then do something. Vote in the elections, fill in the surveys, stand as a candidate even. Nothing is ever achieved by people standing on the sidelines and whinging”. So, perhaps the solution to all of this should be to inform the general student body of the candidates’ policies.

It’s not that I think elections are a bad thing at all – they are fundamental to giving our student body a democratic voice in the say of how our university is run. However, the DSU elections are currently just a matter of which candidate managed to circulate the most flyers or attract the most attention on social media, and I believe that this needs to change.

Durham Students’ Union is vital

By Ted Lavis-Coward

During a time of marketisation in the Higher Education sector it is vital we have a politicised and vocal Students’ Union. Only two years into the University Strategy, locals, students, and staff are already feeling the negative impacts of mindless expansion.

Local rent hikes have seen local families evicted, spiralling accommodation costs have systematically and deliberately excluded working-class students, and increasing student numbers have left academics stretched to their limits teaching bigger classes in rooms without enough seats.

We do not have time to be apathetic anymore

It really is crunch time for Durham – we do not have time to be apathetic anymore, and voting in the SU elections is the bare minimum we should be doing to fight against the University. The Students’ Union has proven key to organising over the last couple of years and has proved in fact that campus wide politics are relevant at collegiate universities.

The cries of inclusivity from the Vice-Chancellor are not fooling anyone anymore. With so many of the candidates supporting a direct approach to escalating the Ripped Off campaign, regardless of the results this year, we’re seeing students mobilising in Durham like they haven’t in previous years, and those active students are about all there is to be proud of in Durham at present.

Colleges are more important

By Katya Koshelva

For many, the SU elections exemplify students’ freedom of speech to discuss the issues about university life. However, it may be time for students to accept that these elections are simply a formality that ought to be circulated in order to maintain a sort of order within the University.

As a non-voter, I would like to discuss why DSU elections have lost their importance and why students should keep up to date with their College elections instead.

The ambitions of the candidates are too unrealistic for a university election. The 2019 candidates hope to combat sexual harassment in every Durham pub, increase educational resources and improve diversity. It is unlikely that they will be solved by a student body. A year ago centred his candidacy on continuing the #RippedOff campaign and fighting rent inflation only to be escorted from an Open Day for promoting those exact views.

Never in my life have I met or even heard discuss his role as president.

All the DSU members are only known to the wider student body through email advertising. Never in my life have I met or even heard
George Walker discuss his role as president. The other members of the DSU are almost completely unknown. Why, then, are these DSU elections so important if, after the final decision, students never see or hear from these representatives again? This is why voting for DSU matters is not appealing: you vote and then are unable to see the results.

Students, in general, seem to lack an interest in DSU affairs. Most students not only attend JCR meetings but are also aware of the current issues which may affect them.

Since we are given an SU for the sake of student freedom it is a shame to be fuelling this organisation on life-changing reforms and ghost representatives. As one of the candidates correctly stated, “most people’s loyalties lie with their college”.

Photograph: Maddie Flisher

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