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In the latest edition of SCAN, LUSU and the Full-Time Officers (FTOs) were described as creating an “uncompromising union”. For “the students who wanted a rational, diplomatic union”, they would have to “wait for a new set of representatives in the summer”. It was made very clear that this year’s protests had ruffled some feathers within the student body at Lancaster, and the blame was placed on (you guessed it) LUSU and the FTOs. However, as a previous FTO and now as a student bystander, I thought I would share my own thoughts on the questions raised in the piece.
I’d quite fancy a rational and diplomatic University for one. But the onus is placed on the Union to work around the University’s schedule, and to cuddle up next to the Vice Chancellor and his round table, and I think we have to ask the question: why? “Because that’s how we achieve things, you fool!” I imagine some of you are saying. Former LUSU president Robbie Pickles, also quoted in the last edition of SCAN, himself said: “If you don’t have that working relationship [with University management], you can’t expect to achieve anything.”
Now, as far I’m aware, for this relationship to actually work, it is important we have a University that is willing to listen. And I mean actually listen. Remember, it took the University three years to finally recruit another counsellor and review their own policies on helping students with mental health problems. The arguments LUSU used never changed, and while they might have come out of different mouths – some more aggressive than others – that doesn’t make them any less true. (Also, let’s not forget that for us to achieve the “most stable time in LUSU history” we had to give up our right to properly discuss how we could improve the experiences of student’s dealing with £9,000 fees.)
It’s easy to sit there and say the solution is to improve your argument, but when the University’s mind is set on doing something, it’s very difficult to change that. It takes more than just the Students’ Union. It usually takes the support of other members of the University outside of management. I know that if it wasn’t for the supporting words of University counsellors and those dealing with students face to face in the counselling service, we would currently be dealing with a waiting list of over two months instead of three weeks. I know I keep hammering on about the same thing, but here’s why.
Two weeks ago, University Court passed a motion that opposed the rent and fee rises by an overwhelming majority. Even the University’s new Chancellor, Alan Milburn, voted for the motion. Court is made up of a selection of professionals, from academics and ex-students, to those who hold public positions locally. There are probably some rather diplomatic and rational minds in there, and they all thought that the idea to increase postgraduate fees by 2.5% was an irresponsible one. But last term, when initial discussions with University management were led solely by the LUSU President, she presented them with similar arguments. She was not listened to.
The president, after presenting strong and reasonable arguments (that unbeknown to her would be approved by over 100 court members the following term), was to be told that the University would be going ahead with the plans anyway. It’s nonsensical, money-grabbing, reputational bull crap that cares more about where we place on a Guardian scoreboard than the damaging consequences it has on postgraduate students (and more so the international students who already have to deal with low funding). Even with direct support from other University members, management simply won’t budge.
The point I’m trying to make is that the student movement in Lancaster, and as a whole, is running dry of options that involve fair diplomacy on the side of the University. I’m not saying we shouldn’t criticise the actions of our FTOs and our Union. Trust me, there is plenty they haven’t done this year that has pissed me off. What I’m saying is, we have reached the point where students have to resort to new and uncomfortable tactics to achieve what we should be able to around the table. There are times when it’s worked and times when it hasn’t, but if we continue to think that we can only achieve change by sitting in the same room as the VC, then he and his team will continue to mug us off with detrimental changes. All it takes is a nod of the head, a false smile, and a big red stamp that reads “confidential”, and you can wave any chance of effective diplomacy goodbye.