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At a time when Student Unions across the country are placing Votes of No Confidence in NUS President Aaron Porter, the pressure is on for Student Unions to perform. The LUSU Strategic Plan which was designed to last from 2009 to 2012 is being edited in preparation for the academic year beginning in September 2011. The mission statement of the current Strategic Plan is to ensure “representation, support, opportunities and services for Lancaster students”.
LUSU President Robbie Pickles who is in charge of the revision insisted that it will not be a complete rewrite, and the key principles of support and representation of students will remain. Pickles said the updated Strategic Plan “won’t be throwing away all our ideas, but we really need to restock where we sit in context of a new form of Higher Education”. In order to answer the question of why the plan is being revised a year earlier than expected, Pickles said: “When we wrote that plan, we couldn’t have predicted how things would change in the Higher Education sector, and things have changed quite phenomenally…we’ve really got to take into account that students will be expecting a different kind of service from the university and that means they may well be expecting a different kind of service from the Student Union as well.”
The question remains however of what it is exactly that the Lancaster students want from their Union. First year student Laura Clancy said she didn’t have a clear idea what the current LUSU plan is or how to contribute to its changes. Clancy said “I don’t know how I could get in touch with them. I suppose I could email, but I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be doing that because I don’t know who I’d be sending it to”.
A communication breakdown between LUSU and some of the students is evident and is something that Pickles acknowledges: “Personally I’d like to see more student engagement in the plan and more things in there that the students want to see. A lot of students don’t get LUSU and what LUSU does. People thought we owned college bars, people thought we had no involvement in sports which we do. We can kill two birds with one stone as we can write the strategic plan and engage with the students.” Pickles stressed his wishes to avoid any more confusion in the future following the revisions to the plan and particularly wants to emphasise a renewed level of engagement with the Postgraduate and International Lancaster students, admitting there may have been some “failure to engage” with these two particular groups in the past. “There are new rules coming in about Visas and we might find that those rules affect how students can get here and their rights and we need to be on top of that”.
The consultation process for this edition of the Strategic Plan is more clear and easily accessible to students than in the previous versions, as LUSU is holding focus groups with staff, officers and students in the form of a survey that is both using face to face contact and utilising online facilities through links to Facebook. The survey currently has over 1000 responses and is expected to have over 2000 by the closing date in late February.
An anonymous student who has previously had issues with LUSU’s organisational skills doubted the relevance of the changes to the plan. “One of their issues is getting things done in time particularly in clubs and societies.” The student added “combining more departments will just make it impossible for anything to get done. It’s too much for a small group of people to do”. LUSU also has two more on-going surveys gauging opinions on space, night-life and campus environment. Pickles insisted there will be more focus on what sports and societies in particular want following the revision to the plan.
Pickles continued by saying “Barker House Farm is a fantastic facility that has been put in completely the wrong location. How we solve those factors are things we need to work with the universities on. There has to be more to be done to support South West Campus in particular”. Pickles also discussed how this area of campus has also had facility issues, as the largest laundrette on campus was out of use over the entire Christmas period and the surrounding weeks.
In a final statement, Pickles said “One of the biggest problems is that the University always talks about wanting to have more and more International Students here, but it shuts down over the holidays when International Students may still be here. One of the things that the Strategic Plan will be drawing out is that the Student Union needs to become much more critical of the University in terms of holding it to account. So at the moment students can expect a certain level of satisfaction, but once the fees go up students won’t just say “we’d quite like to have the laundrette fixed, students will say the laundrette needs to be fixed”. It’s a different kind of way of approaching it and the Students’ Union needs to be much stronger in vocalising that.”