A Student Perspective on Students' Union Policy

Hi, I’m Katie and for the last 6 weeks I’ve been a policy researcher for SUBU in order to look at their policies from a students’ perspective as someone who knew nothing about policies. I’ve learned that they help to guide unions by providing standpoints on subjects and are there to help students think about what their Students’ Union can do to improve and move forwards.

What are Students’ Union policies? This is a question I’ve thought about for the last 6 weeks, as I compared SUBU’s policies to 8 other Unions (Cardiff, Dundee, Liverpool JM, Loughborough, Nottingham Trent, Plymouth, Sheffield and UWE Bristol). SUBU wanted to see what’s being done well and what could be done better. Over these weeks I found that SUBU is on the right track, but there are definitely changes that need to be made to improve the communication and understanding of policies for students.

SUBU has a number of policies, some of which you can access in various locations around the current website. The presentation of these policies can be confusing; with some written informally and some being so formal I had to read them twice to fully understand what they meant.

When it comes to how policies are made, if you look up SUBU’s Big Student Meeting, it shows you which motions have been passed and even provides a progress tracker for the motions. However, it doesn’t tell you what the difference between a motion and a policy is. Are they the same thing? Does a policy start out as a motion? Is this the only way policies are made? How would a student go about bringing change? A progress tracker on the website has presented some motions but doesn’t detail everything discussed at the Big Student Meeting, and needs to detail when they were last updated.

Through research I found ways SUBU can improve the way it communicates policies to students. 2 of the Unions researched have policy books, which are places on their websites that list every policy made, how it’s made and how long it will last for. This makes it easy to see where the Union is lacking with policies, to figure out whether a campaign needs to happen so a new policy can be developed or even to see how current policies can be updated or amended.

With the presentation of policies, a format used by other Unions is: This Union Notes (for any important statistics or information); This Union Believes (for the standpoint the Union is taking about the subject); and then This Union Resolves (what is the Union going to do about it all). It might seem unnecessarily formal, but you can clearly see every part of the policy and what it all means.

Along with this, many other Students’ Union policies have clear indications of whether their policies need to be reviewed by those in charge, renewed for up to 3 years or even an option for students to suggest amendments. By having all of the policies in one place, students could easily see what’s going on and what else needs to be done to push the Union further forward into the future.

The Unions I looked at have policies that cover such a wide range of subjects. This is because these Unions all ensure that the students there are so involved in the process of policy making and are able to constantly put forward policy proposals for changes they’d like to see. It’s clear that students can only participate in making policies when they have the tools to understand how it all works and what they can do about it.

Having easy-to-find and clearly laid out policies will inspire students to take part in how their Students’ Union operates. Students’ Unions represent students, so it makes sense that there should be clear ways for students to lead on policy development.

It is important to keep in mind that no Students’ Union has found the perfect solution to engaging students in policy. Websites can lack information when it comes to their policies. Some unions aren’t very good at communicating their policies or campaigns on their website. Right now, SUBU is at an excellent starting point for change, currently undergoing a democracy and governance review and so part of this will be working on communicating all of this to its student population.  Finding students with the passion for this will be easy, but making sure the changes are made at every level in SUBU will be the main challenge, one that everyone should be ready to tackle to ensure that SUBU is the best it can be for its students.

Written by Katie Davies - Policy Researcher - Student from Faculty of Media and Communications

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