The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Role Referendum: Exec-ly who should represent students?

A motion was passed at Senate to hold a referendum on the roles of the Union’s sabbatical officers, which could lead to some roles being combined or even completely dropped

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A shock motion passed at the first Senate session of the academic year which may potentially lead to the loss or combination of some executive officer roles at the University of Manchester’s Students’ Union.

General Secretary Alex Tayler proposed the motion, and described it as “a really exciting opportunity to engage with students… to find out what they want from us and how we can better engage with them” when speaking to The Mancunion. The motion was passed with 83 per cent in favour.

The question was raised before voting as to whether or not the result would be binding. In response, Alex said that it would be more of a “preferendum”, but also told The Mancunion after the session had closed that if less than 3,000 students participate in the vote, the result will be void.

There hasn’t been a review of the roles of the Union’s executive officers in six years, although in 2013 one general secretary candidate, Colin Cortbus, campaigned on the issue of reducing the team by half to just four members. Alex Tayler said himself that eight sabbatical officers “is a big number” and that he definitely wouldn’t want to see the numbers increased.

In fact, all of the four proposed options will have eight roles but there will be some new ones, such as a postgraduate officer and an international officer, and there will also be an option for things to remain as they are.

A senate member told The Mancunion that the exec team have had some disagreements with the proposed method of the referendum; at least one member of the team thinks four options will be too confusing. This may lead to a lack of participation, and the threshold of 3,000 not being met.

The Senate as an institution has also been criticised in the past for producing policy that is not representative of the student body at large, and in some ways being undemocratic.

In 2015, Mancunion reporter Joe Evans found that the lack of publicity of the Senate in general, and misunderstanding of the Union’s constitution, adds to the confusion when passing judgement on policy proposals. This, he believed, reduced the authority of Senate.

The Mancunion also conducted an anonymous survey to ask people whether or not they knew what Senate was.

Whilst some respondents certainly did, and explained it very concisely such as “A democratic meeting where policy that shapes the Students’ Union’s actions and beliefs is debated and voted on”, many people expressed concern that “it keeps a low profile”, with one person saying that the idea that the body decides “what the students’ union should believe”, “sounds weird.”

One person also said that it’s “not very open or public.”