Posts Tagged ‘election turnout’

In defence of Student Unions

04/02/2013, 07:00:54 AM

by Sam Fowles

Reading Jack Rivlin’s recent blog for the Telegraph I thought, from the vitriol spewed upon his unfortunate subjects, he must be writing about something truly repulsive. An international trollers collective perhaps, or at least the Liberal Democrats. But he wasn’t. He was writing about student unions or, as the charming Mr Rivlin describes them, “sandal wearing prigs” (why is footwear so offensive to him?) who “while away a 35 hour week reading the Leveson report and ordering personalised fleeces”. As a former sabbatical officer at St Andrews students’ union I feel somewhat obliged to stick up for my former colleagues.

Mr Rivlin claims that students unions are unrepresentative because their officers are elected by only a tiny proportion of the student body. This is a common criticism and one I found often used against me. However, this was almost always by  those busy closing down academic departments or pricing the poor out of higher education. The fact is: it’s just not true. While Mr Rivlin makes hay of the 8% turnout at UEA, he neglects to mention any other examples. At Imperial the turnout in 2012 was 32%, at Huddersfield it regularly hits over 20% and at my own St Andrews our most recent turnout was 51%.

To put this in context, the turnout for the London Mayoral election was 37.8% and Police and Crime Commissioners only managed to pull out 15% (The X-factor final reached 28%). I agree we have a problem with apathy but its neither confined to nor most prevalent in student elections.

But the main point of Mr Rivlin’s article is that students’ unions do joyless and pointless things such as (his chosen example) UEA banning the six nations from their bar because it’s sponsored by RBS. You know it’s his main point because he works up to it with apoplexy worthy of the Daily Mail. Now let’s be honest, it’s a ludicrous decision and, as the sort of student who was eating all three meals a day in the union bar during the 2007 rugby world cup (not during my term as a sabbatical officer), I would have been one of the first to protest.


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