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22nd February 2016

An ivory tower flying a red flag

Colm Lock takes aim at the Students’ Union and states that it facilitates far too much waste and is not representing the student body

Even before this student came to university, I knew there was something amiss with our representatives. They are aloof and disconnected from the reality on the ground to an extent that would make Tsar Nicholas II look like a proletarian hero. Who could I possibly be referring to? Who could be so obviously ambivalent to the plight of the average student in Manchester? I am of course talking about the Manchester Students Union.

Now, you might well question why I am about to go after this body of self-congratulating money wasters. Well, if you are patient with me and read through to the end of this article, you will understand.

The problems are many and varied. I will not make it through all of them in this article. But if you wish you can add some of your own grievances in the comments section online. Please do not swear.

I will start with the most glaring failure of the University of Manchester Students’ Union: their failure to stand up for the rights of students. Obviously, their campaigns against sexual violence are warranted and just. Nobody should have any issue with them for that. But the Union do not seem to have bothered to take the university to account for the colossal waste of money that is the big screen now squatting on the front of the Ali G. It only advertises our own university and serves about as much purpose as some of the Students’ Union’s own officers; by which I mean bugger all.

That monstrosity cost a small fortune, and yet the Students’ Union did not think to start a campaign to try and get the money diverted into improving our main Students’ Union building — which currently resembles some kind of Orwellian Ministry of Truth. That money could have gotten us more urgently-needed computers for the library,  or made your pint at the Students’ Union bar just that little bit cheaper.

Instead, they see fit to waste their time by engaging in petty politics by restricting free speech in the guise of banning certain speakers and protesting with the junior doctors. They are paid £16,600 a year for this “work”. That’s £132,800 of the Students’ Union’s annual budget being wasted. That money could fund 40 £3,320 bursaries for students from poor backgrounds.

Their actions have resulted in our great university being given one of the lowest ratings for free speech in the country, while also alienating any student who might have wanted to hear the speakers or anyone who believes that despite someone’s views, it is better that we challenged them as opposed to sucking our thumb in the corner and crying about how we feel “threatened”.

I know many fellow students who feel alienated in this way. One such student was first year Zach, who, at the end of an introductory lecture in his first week, had a Students’ Union officer invite the students to take part in a protest at the upcoming Conservative Party conference, an event which Zach was actually attending. This protest in the end turned a bit violent.

While it is important to exercise your right to free speech and protest, the Students’ Union is supposed to represent the entire student body. Their actions have left many students, who do not adhere to their communist dogma, feeling like they are unwelcome. Zach told me afterwards that “she [the officer] incited students to protest the Tory conference which alienated part of the student body, despite having earlier claimed to not want to leave any student unrepresented”.

Those of us, like Zach, do not feel like the Students’ Union represents us. Especially if their opening salvo to new students includes speeches such as this, or has posters adorning its walls reading “overthrow the government”.

Their little pet project, the Student Senate, is just as much of a waste. On Tuesday, many of us will have received this email from one of the Students’ Union’s officers. Part of it reads as follows: “On Thursday at 6pm we’re holding our third Senate of the year in the Council Chambers, discussing the Safe Space Policy, Amazon Lockers, Donald Trump and more! Head down from 5:30pm and grab a bowl of vegetarian three bean chilli before we start”. This seems to be in direct contradiction to the officer’s statement that “We all have our gripes about university. Fortunately, this week you have a couple of opportunities to influence the change you’d like to see.”

What is on the agenda is not what students want to gripe about. What they want to complain about is the Students’ Union and how poorly the whole thing is run. How is the banning of Donald Trump going to affect us as students? Considering the reputation the Union have given us, I am surprised any speaker is willing to come here let alone Trump. And who is paying for this complimentary chilli? We students are footing the bill!

But do not fret; there is an alternative. We must look to Winchester University to show us the light. A friend of mine is an Students’ Union officer there. They have nine part-time officers who are unpaid and carry out their duties in their spare time and only three full-time paid officers. Our university has eight full-time officers and the cost is eye-watering.

So, while I am usually the first person to argue against any sort of revolutionary action, I do feel a symbolic defenestration might be in order. It would be just the ticket to improve the students’ way of life and it would remind these people that they are in these positions to represent us, with the aim of bettering our quality of life and the standard of our education.

They are not there to needlessly censor people of go on a crusade for vegetarianism.

It is time for cost effectiveness. It is high time we asked for more.

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