Senate is the highest decision-making body in the Students’ Union. It meets three times per semester, or six times a year, and makes decisions about the voice and direction of the Students’ Union (SU).
The assembly is made up of 75 elected students, as well as 20 randomly selected students. It is these participants who are responsible for introducing and voting on policy, as well as holding the Exec Officers,who are elected every year, to account.
Senate is important, not least because the Students’ Union should represent every student at the University of Manchester, so getting their feedback and voice is essential, but also because the Students’ Union is actually quite powerful. It can make things happen.
Right now, however, Senate is getting nothing done. Why?
Not enough students are turning up.
Senate operates on a system of quorum, meaning that attendance has to reach a certain threshold for voting to go ahead. It doesn’t require every single one of the 90 invited students to turn up; the official number needed depends on the number of students on the membership list, but it is usually between 30 and 40 students.
At the final Senate last academic year, several policies had to be pushed back due to a number of attendees walking out mid-session, and at the first Senate this academic year, no new policies could be discussed as quorum was once again not reached. The irony of this one hits a bit harder, as the meeting took place in Ibrahim Mahama’s Parliament of Ghosts installation at the Whitworth Art Gallery, an immersive parliamentary gallery built to show how corrupt government can be if the people don’t participate and aren’t represented.
This failure to reach quorum means that there are policies that were meant to be decided on in May, that now won’t be discussed until October, simply because not enough students were present at the May and September Senate meetings for them to be voted on. Many of these policies are important decisions about the direction of the SU, and I guarantee, that many of them are issues that students actually do care about. For example, Senate were supposed to have discussed the SU declaring a climate and ecological emergency, and encouraging the University to fund free menstrual products on campus.
Policies like these, if passed, would help the SU mobilise in the best interest of students, as well as wider issues, like climate change. If a policy is passed at Senate, the SU should then be working to incorporate it into their everyday work, as well as taking a broader stance, and having an official policy passed allows students to hold the SU and their Exec officers to account.
Engagement in student politics is historically poor, with only 19.4% of students voting in the SU Exec elections last March. However, student uproar when the Union does something they don’t like is huge – see clapgate, for reference.
In the past, policies passed at Senate have had a huge impact on our student life. Last March, Senate protected The Mancunion’s editorial independence and committed to print media at the University of Manchester for another six years. Senate also introduced drug and STI testing kits to the SU, and makes decisions on student activities like, old student favourite, Pangaea.
Our SU has the power to really enhance our lives as students, and to take a big stand on issues that we care about. It often acts as our representative in the media and the public eye, as well as in front of the University. The eight Officers that we elect work at the SU – and earn £19,500 for it – are tasked with listening to us and improving our experiences.
So this, essentially, is why you should care about Senate. Because you do care. Students consistently show just how engaged they can be in student politics when a decision they don’t like is made – or equally, how frustrated they can be when not enough is happening (like right now).
Student democracy can make a real difference to your time at Manchester – but it can’t go ahead without the students.