Activities and Development Officer, Tommy Fish, says sorry for telling societies they ‘needed’ to buy tickets to get more funding
Outraged students have condemned a decision by the University of Manchester Students’ Union to financially reward societies if they buy tickets for a student demonstration.
Activities Officer Tommy Fish sent an e-mail on Wednesday telling committees they would “need” to sell ten tickets to attend #Demo2012 if they wanted silver or gold funding status, costing their members £85 in total.
The immediate online backlash prompted a “sincere and unreserved apology” from Mr Fish over the wording of the e-mail.
He stressed, “It is not the case that you need to send ten of your society members to the demo, or any other specific event, in order to achieve merit for your society.”
But the Students’ Union admitted selling #Demo2012 tickets to members would remain one way of obtaining improved funding, and defended this policy.
General Secretary Nick Pringle stated, “The Executive supports the principle that the Union should thank and reward societies who support core Union activities and that part of this should be informed by Union policy – as was the case with the Demo.”
In response to the controversy, students have started a petition arguing that “attendance at #Demo2012 should play absolutely no part” in how societies are funded. Over 500 people have pledged their signatures thus far.
The petition has been endorsed by several University of Manchester societies, both political and recreational. Societies officially lending their support included the Manchester Debating Union, Politics Society, Gaming Society, Challenging Orthodoxies Society, Liberty League and Liberal Youth.
Condemnation was not limited to those against the demo, which attacks the government’s austerity measures and tuition fees policy.
Former Union Executive Officer for Medical and Human Sciences Markus Arnold took to the petition website to express his concerns. “When we revised the funding system last year this is certainly not the way I had hoped it would be used – surely it ought to be down to sound budgets and nothing else.”
A Twitter storm brought the backlash nationwide prominence, with societies from universities across the country expressing solidarity with the petition.
Oxford Liberal Youth tweeted to “condemn the highly illiberal policy of Manchester University Union.”
Matthew Corner, President of UCL Tories, also joined the debate. “Signing on behalf of London Conservative Students and I’m sure many others. What happened to freedom of speech?”
Another student added, “Although I whole heartedly support the protests in London at the despicable actions of our government with regards to education, I feel that the Union should not have to coerce their members, either through punishment or rewards, to further support for it.”
The controversy has led to more general criticism of the politicisation of the Students’ Union.
Manchester student James Pain declared that “the SU shouldn’t have a political agenda at all. They should work and be a voice for the students with concerns about our university.”
When asked whether it was appropriate for the Union to make political events part of the society funding process, Mr Pringle replied, “As an Exec team we are critical of party policies which aren’t in the best interests of students and supportive of those which are. Some parties have policies which are more damaging to students than others, so I can see why it might appear that we have a bias.”
“The only bias of the Exec team is in favour of what is best for students.”
He added that the Executive doesn’t set policy and that anyone can submit an idea for change.
Previously, society funding was partially based on membership size, but they now receive a flat rate of £300. Societies can then earn higher funding status though participation in core Union events, which includes #Demo2012.
When questioned on the number of tickets sold so far, Mr Pringle said, “We’ve not got an exact figure as a number of student groups and societies have taken tickets to go out and sell – and some have been doing this for the last few weeks – but we’re getting numbers back every day, and Manchester Uni will have over 100 students there.”