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In Week 8, Lancaster University students will be asked to exercise their democratic right to vote, to have a say on proposals that would significantly change the current structure of the Students’ Union Full-Time Officers (FTOs) Team.
The announced proposals are the result of an Officer Review conducted with the help of the National Union of Students (NUS), as well as the product of 18 months of conversations between the Lancaster University Students’ Union and Lancaster University students on the matter. The underlying reason behind said review can be found in the need of the Union to ensure that FTOs are representative of their student population and of students’ needs.
Currently, the FTOs’ structure sees a team of six individuals: the President and five Vice-Presidents who are responsible for Welfare & Community, Activities, Education, Campaigns & Communications, and Union Development.
With the proposed plans, on the other hand, the team will be reduced to five members and the roles of FTOs will symbolically change. The new structure sees the presence of a President and four Officers, rather than Vice Presidents, who will be responsible for Education, Welfare, Activities and Postgraduates.
According to the Union, “This proposal is about making our student democracy stronger and it is therefore important it is led by students.”
Notably, the proposed new structure sees the introduction of a Postgraduate Officer. Among their duties, they would be looking into postgraduate education, welfare policy and campaigns, as well as promoting union activities and opportunities for postgraduate students, and would actively work on postgraduate students’ inclusion within the Lancaster community.
Upon release of the news, a Lancaster postgraduate student commented:
“Pleasantly surprised at the proposals, won’t get to vote as I graduate shortly after but very happy about postgraduates finally getting proper representation.”
Should the suggested proposals be adopted, however, the roles of Vice-President Union Development and Vice-President Campaigns & Communications will disappear. According to the description of the new structure available on the Union’s website, their current duties seem to have been spread out among the new officers. For instance, each officer will be in charge of the campaigns that would need to be run in their own fields.
When asked about the proposal, current Vice-President Campaigns and Communication Islay Grant told SCAN:
“I think the proposal makes a lot of sense – it will encourage future officer teams to work collectively and place a greater emphasis on the idea of collaborating on the campaigns that are important to the whole team, whilst the shift will encourage the new set of officers to give more of a focus on to the political aspects of their remits.”
However, despite the potential benefits and reassurance provided by the FTOs on the proposed changes, concerns have been raised in relation to a potential ‘over-working’ and ‘under-performing’ situation. In particular, it has been doubted whether increasing the number of duties that each officer will have will be functional and feasible.
Considerable attention has been directed towards the Activities Officer, due to the substantial changes that this role will be experiencing. The current Vice-President Activities is in charge of representing students’ in the University’s clubs, societies and colleges, as well as encouraging participation at all levels. Within their duties, moreover, there is the annual organisation of the Roses tournament.
However, the Activities Officer role appears to significantly change in the new proposals. The new main tasks of the Activities Officer would mainly concern liaising with the University and external partners on matters relating to student opportunities, championing increase in and diversity of participation in opportunities, as well as lobbying on student sporting and health provisions.
The Activities Officer would also be in charge of student media bodies at University, becoming Editor-in-Chief of SCAN, a responsibility that until today falls within the role of the Vice-President Campaigns & Communications. On the matter, a student, on the Lancaster University Discussion Board Facebook group, asked:
“How will these changes address the Activities Officers’ overwhelming Sports remit and consequential lack of involvement in non-sport issues?”
Soon after, current Students’ Union President Rhiannon Llystyn Jones replied saying:
“As we are adding student media to the role that are more akin to societies, and with the removal of Campaigns and Communications we believe it will drastically impact on the demographic of types of candidates that run and the voter demographic. We are also removing a lot of the admin work from the role (which is predominantly sport related) and adapting the staff support for the role to ensure that those elected into the role take a holistic view of the remit.”
Additionally, students have also shared concerns of the re-shuffle of duties and the reduction of students’ officers. More specifically, it has been questioned whether, with the student population increasing at Lancaster, having fewer Officers that represent students can be considered appropriate. On the matter, VP Islay Grant commented:
“All students will still have the chance to choose their representatives and the portfolios of the officers will cover the full scope of what the union does.”
According to the proposal, FTOs from 2019-20 will collectively work to protect the Union’s values, thus ensuring the promotion of Equality and Diversity, championing democracy, supporting the College officers’ network, and working on a more sustainable Students’ Union.
As said proposals are, effectively, the final stage of an Officer Review process, in order to go ahead, a referendum will have to take place. In Week 8, therefore, students will be asked “Should the Students’ Union adopt the changes to the Full-Time Officer Team?”. There will be an option to answer “Yes”, “No”, or “Abstain”.
For the changes to happen, a 10% turnout is required and a simple majority, meaning just over 50% of voters, is needed. Should students vote “No” in the upcoming referendum, this will be considered as the final decision on the matter.
Voting for the referendum will be taking place in Week 8, alongside College JCR Executive elections. Should the changes be agreed upon by the students, these will start taking place from the next academic year. Therefore, during the FTOs elections in March 2019, people would be running to be part of a team that follows the new structure.