The results of the latest ‘All Student Vote’ marked a historical moment for the University of Manchester’s Student Union. Students voted for a ‘reward card scheme’ for Union volunteers. I may be bias as I came up with the idea, but I think that if well developed and promoted the system could revolutionise the way things work in our union.
What’s the point? Call me big-headed, deluded or insane but I believe this system could actually make the organisation become the heart of student life in Manchester. For most people the Union is just a place to grab a coffee or buy some stationery but not to ‘be a part of’. If you think about it, when promoting a vacancy within a society committee or hunting people to join student media the magic words used are ‘it looks really good on your CV!’ as if everything in University-life is either for building a CV or getting hammered. But the sense of being a student together with its pride has lost its identity somewhere along the road. We do not feel like we belong to the organisations we are part of but it is more like an attempt to accomplish a series of projects and organise a few socials with no real sense of continuity.
The life in our Union is reflected by the way we rush through university, very sociable first year, we try to study hard and party for the other 2 years and then we apply for jobs hoping to secure the one of our dream. This scheme would aim to bring back the spirit of ‘student traditions’ still felt in many Universities throughout Europe and in some very traditional British institutions, such as the colleges in Oxbridge.
The points have the function to reward the people who dedicate time and effort for the benefit of other students that don’t get reimbursed in cash. The idea is to give something back, whether it’s free vouchers and discounts to the Union’s services or organising a series of free socials (staff parties, volunteer’s balls, outings and so on) creating a community within a community for people who make our Union what it is.
The idea will need to be developed by next year’s executive team but the way I envision it is similar to the ‘air miles system’ in which you get a different card (basic, bronze, silver or gold) depending on how often you fly. In this case it would not be a question of flying but taking certain responsibilities or committing to carry out activities for the benefit of the Union on a regular basis. Based on the amount of responsibilities given and depending on the rough estimate of hours actively worked for the Union every week, you will get the card you deserve for the length of time you take the responsibility for. The Swedish word ‘Lagom’, which translated means ‘the right measure’, would be the perfect name for the system as everyone should get the amount of benefits they deserve and use them within reason. For example, if my card gives me free coffee, it means I can have as much as I want, but running round campus filling everyone’s cup would be surpassing ‘the right measure’.
People might say ‘expensive and pointless’. I disagree. Think of the potential benefits of having a more active Union; more people involved means more activities and services offered for the benefit of us all. Also, by rewarding people in services offered by the Union itself, we could increase the number of students using them, ‘since I have a free lunch at the Union I’ll convince my friends to come with me instead of going to Subway as we normally do’.
There are benefits for RAG, student media and societies as well. By having more people actively involved in organising events we will be able to improve them and make more of them, and we will be able to increase the number of contributors to our student media.
Some people have criticised this idea saying it ‘stops real volunteers from being true volunteers’ to which my answer is that anyone is free not to sign-up for a reward card. Besides, those who do would not do it for financial gain as it would not pay much compared to a regular job. Others have pointed out that this system would take away jobs from the student union’s workforce, to which I can say that this would not happen as it would defeat the point of the system itself, that aims to get more people involved and expand the Union’s activities and not cut down.
This is just the first in a series of ideas that I plan to forward to the future assemblies, part of a broader vision of how we could offer a richer student life across our spread-out campus.
So if during Freshers’ Week you hear people saying ‘get involved with us and you will get amazing free socials and incredible benefits’ you will figure that something might be changing in our Union. Could it be possible that people actually start thinking about enjoying student life instead of constantly looking for extra bullet-points for a CV? If this happens, remember that you heard it here first.
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