Ideology can be a barrier to international students and Union positions

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Photo courtesy of Lancaster University Management School

With JCR and LUSU elections coming up in Week Eight, I find myself asking how many international students will be considering running for positions? How many even know that elections will be taking place? And why are there so few international students within student politics on the whole at the moment?

I suppose the simply answer may be that because it costs such an extortionate amount for international students to study here they don’t want to move their focus away from their studies. Not that home students don’t put their all into their degree as well, but the extra £7,000 a year international students have to pay to do the same degree has got to act as an extra incentive to make the most of their time and do especially well to make it all worth while. That being said, you can’t really get the full university experience without getting involved with the student community as well as the academic: your degree is only a part of your time at Lancaster University.

Or maybe the reason is a more political one. Many international students, and now I’m about to generalise cue your comments of disagreement, study subjects that are housed largely within the Management School and not those within the umbrella of humanities. Now those subjects, again cue disagreement, are seen as more right wing, neoliberal if you will, Thatcherite if you want to go really crazy. Either way, they are not the sorts of subjects that inspire fuzzy feelings towards the idea of unions, and therefore students taking them may not be interested in being affiliated with the Students’ Union. Yes, I know that not everyone in the Management school is an avid Tory supporter but, generally, I think you can get what I’m saying.

It could be that such subjects don’t warrant extra curricular activities in order for a graduate of them to get a job easily. I’m an English Literature student and I’m constantly told that my degree is not worth the paper it’s written on on its own, as our government seems to be acknowledging by planning to cut the funding to such subjects. Business and management style degrees on the other hand, seem much more sought after by employers, meaning less work has to be done on make your CV look more impressive.

Taking a less cynical view, it may be that the language barrier is the simple cause of the lack of interest from international students. I ran for a JCR position and it takes an awful lot of speaking to people to get yourself out there amongst students, and that’s before you even get to the hustings. I know that all international students who attend Lancaster have to be able to speak and write English academically, but conversational English is a whole different ball game and many students may not feel comfortable standing up in front of their college to persuade them to vote for them, speaking in a language with which they struggle. I didn’t feel comfortable getting up and speaking in front of my college and English is my first language.

Writing this article I’m very aware that were are international students currently standing in officer positions. One such is Shafaq Khan, who is currently the International Officer for County College. She says that she initially got involved in student politics because “of the lack of information and events, services for international students and I wanted to change that so that I and the students that come in after me didn’t have to go through the same thing again”. So she joined to JCR to make as much change as possible. As an international student herself she feels that international student don’t get involved due simply to a lack of information on the positions they could run for.

I may be wrong on all accounts. As a English student of English I can’t claim that vast a knowledge of why so few international students run for College or Union positions, or for that matter why most of the students who do stand for positions come from humanities and not management courses. But, if you will allow me one more gross generalisation, if more international students ran in this year’s election the face of student politics at Lancaster University would change and for the better, making it more diverse and more representative of the student body as a whole.

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