Last Thursday, the 28th of September, the University of Manchester Students’ Union (SU) held the first Senate of this academic year.
In a press conference on Monday 25th, Alex Tayler, General Secretary of the Students’ Union, told The Mancunion that he was unsure about how aware the student body was of Senate. He told us that “students can look on the Students’ Union website for details about the upcoming Senate.” In addition, he stated that the Union would be taking actions — such as promoting Senate more on TV screens around campus — to encourage participation.
Though we trust that the Executive Team does little else than forward the interests of the entire student body, before they take actions to improve student participation in Senate, here is a Mancunion summary of its functions, attendees, and troubles.
Senate decides on changes to the SU constitution, holds Union officials to account, and considers new SU policies. A two-thirds majority is required to pass motions and a minimum attendance of 40 is required for Senate to proceed.
As an example of policy, the last Senate of the previous academic year passed a motion instructing the SU to officially endorse the Boycott, Sanction, and Divest (BDS) campaign, as covered by The Mancunion. As a result, the SU is now committed to a) not engaging financially with the Israeli State or Israeli companies, and b) pressuring the University to follow the same guidelines.
Any registered student can submit such policies in advance of Senate, or indeed propose amendments to proposed policies.
This meeting of Students’ Union officials and members of the student body will be held six times during this academic year. The next Senate will be held on the 9th of October and approximately monthly thereafter. Full details can be found on the Students’ Union website.
Senate is attended by:
The eight members of the SU Executive team, including the General Secretary, Alex Tayler;
- Student Officers from each of the three university faculties representing undergraduate postgraduate taught, and postgraduate research students;
- Two Student Officers for each of the following: BME, Women, LGBTQ, Trans, Disabled, International, Environmental & Ethical, and Working Class;
- Six Student Community Officers;
- Members of the Activities Committee;
- The Chair (or equivalent) of each of the Residents’ Associations and Junior Common Rooms;
- One person co-opted by the Senate to be a representative for each of the following: student parents, student carers, part-time students, mature students, distance learner students, and students living off-campus;
- 20 students ‘randomly selected’ to be representative of the general student population according to directions set by Steering Committee.
That last point is key: any registered student who is also a member of the SU can attend Senate. Although the guidelines on the Students’ Union Website state that these 20 people are “randomly selected”, attendance is actually only regulated on a first-come-first-served basis.
This fact is not without its complications. Since 40 people total are required for Senate to go ahead, this group of 20 can be a powerful voting bloc if attendance is low from Union and other representatives. This arguably undermines the elected members of Senate, including the Executive team.
Furthermore, some of the members who attend Senate — including myself as Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Mancunion — were elected to their positions primarily on the basis of ability to perform a specific role, yet their roles guarantee them a vote in Senate.
Despite its flaws, Senate remains an opportunity for all students to have their say on Union policy. We encourage all students to propose policies and attend meetings of Senate. The next one will be held on the 9th of November.
Proceedings of Senate
Aside from the referendum to review officer roles, here is a summary of what Senate passed this week:
80 per cent of Senate voted that the Students’ Union should create both the LGBTQ & Trans students’ committees in the 2017/18 academic year
70 per cent of Senate voted against affiliation to The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC). Speaking against the motion, Education Officer Emma Atkins argued that the Union already has its own campaigns for free education and against university cuts.
94 per cent of Senate supported the policy that the Union should pressure the university to introduce more ‘green walls’ — that is, vegetation on university buildings.
97 per cent of Senate voted that the Union should campaign the University to provide more spaces for safety securing bikes at student accommodation sites.
83 per cent of Senate voted to ‘Save Our Staff’ and support the student campaign to oppose the University job cuts.
92 per cent of Senate voted to review and restructure ‘Fund It’. This policy aims to make funding more easily-available to smaller societies by, for example, preventing societies merging their proposals for funding.
Further details are available on the Students’ Union website.