The General Secretary at the Students’ Union says students should “step up and talk” if they have concerns over the direction the SU is going in.
Fatima Abid’s comments came in a wide-ranging interview with The Mancunion, where she believed that student senate, which in September passed the so-called ‘clapping ban’, is falling short of its potential because “students don’t engage” with the decision making body.
Senate takes place six times per academic year, and serves to make decisions about what the Students’ Union should take action on. All students can attend senate and vote on motions.
Abid conceded that Senate was not as well publicised as it should be, but told us she was working on promoting the event in the library and in halls.
When asked about students’ concerns regarding senate pursuing a “narrow agenda”, she said: “The union should be a place for everyone…if they do think that’s happening you need to step up and talk.” She added that “senate is not as powerful as it could be”, and called for students from all backgrounds to get involved.
In the interview, Abid also outlined her plans for a new ‘Greater Manchester Student Assembly’ (GMSA), which would be an elected body featuring students from the major Greater Manchester universities. Its goal would be to lobby the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) on student issues, such as transport, housing, and safety.
Abid believes that student issues are unique, and argues the assembly would allow a single Manchester-wide student voice to be created, which create a more powerful and unified student body.
“The whole point of GMSA is that I think students have unique issues. They are different from other residents in Manchester, they are different from people who decide to work here or come and live here.
“I’m hoping that because we’re such a powerful force of Manchester that’s so underutilised, this would unite all of us. They are unique issues but they are issues that we share with Salford students, that we share with MMU students, and that could be made better if we could feed into policies that go into GMCA.”
One issue Abid says the GMSA could target is transportation. “Manchester has easily 100,000 students, without students Manchester would not be as great as it is. It’s easy to forget that we have students living in Salford, students living at home, students who have to drive because they can’t rely on the buses. It’s not that the buses aren’t there, its that they’re not reliable.”
“If we mobilise students we can address the problem with the bus system. If we don’t address the problem with our voice, which is incredibly loud, with MMU and Salford too, the problem will not go away.”
She expressed interest in creating a bus system similar to the one in place in London for students, but acknowledged that this may not be realistic.
Another issue is accommodation. This year, The Mancunion unearthed an Owens Park flat riddled with cockroaches, and student homes with phalluses on the front doors. Rent in some parts of student accommodation is nearly £150 per week. Abid told us that she hopes to tackle issues such as these in the GMSA.
“Issues like crazy landlords and penises on doors require a bigger voice, and they would go up to this body, because we are stronger together, and so if we can combine forces we could do something about it.”
Abid also discussed her manifesto pledge to improve awareness around mental health, acknowledging that awareness does not necessarily address the problems surrounding mental health at university, such as lack of funding.
She told The Mancunion that she had planned to lobby the University for more funding, but that their announcement last month of a new, fast-track mental health service on Oxford Road had “so much potential to make counselling better.”
If you are experiencing problems with any of the issues mentioned in this article, contact the Advice service at 0161 275 2952 ([email protected]) or the University of Manchester counselling service at 0161 275 2864.