Posted on Thu 14 Mar 2019 at 14:10 by Adam Warner
I’m sure that some of you may find the title of this blog a little odd, after all I am the elected Chair of Student Council and so really should know what Council is. The reasons behind my writing this is that I wish to offer some of my ideas on Student Council and to reflect on my experiences of it as Chair of Council. This blog moves away from my routine of discussing motions that come up at Council instead it discusses Council in general.I have found this blog one of the most fun to write and hope enjoy reading it.
I am writing this as I have been investigating how to improve Council recently and what needs to be done to make it more democratic and increase turnout. I have been gathering feedback from those who attend Council, investigated why those with permanent voting places don’t always attend Council and looking into how many students in general feel engaged with Student Council.
Council as it Stands
I am not currently of the opinion that there needs to be a radical shake up or restructuring of Council. I think that the main issue is the need to address student political apathy before any big changes can be made. Adding more places would not achieve much as we are unable to fill all of the places that we have. Changing the way which voting places are assigned is one way to reform Council that has been mentioned to me. Currently a number of committees such as the Societies executive and Media Executive as well as open places and of course Sabbatical and PTO Officers all have voting places. These groups and individuals exist to represent different groups of NCL students. There are also open places that anyone can run for at the first Council giving them a place for the year and casual voting places allow any student to vote at any Council meeting. This model is more representative than direct but allows for direct representation and an equal vote if students wish to take this opportunity but as it is places are regularly unfilled. Changing which groups get voting places would mean that these elected groups could lose a platform to represent those who they stand for. Changing how such groups are elected or which groups get representation is something that may be worth exploring. Increasing the number of casual voting places may allow one group to use all or most of them to swing Council motions in their favour at particular times which does not seem very democratic as it comes down to who applies for them and then who happens to be allocated them.
An Alternative Model
A more direct democracy model at Council is another way to reform it that I have heard some mention. This seems to suggest allowing people to represent themselves rather than via various committees or elected officers. However, students already have this opportunity with casual voting places being open to any student at every Council and students may get one even if they fail to apply for one. Many of these places Many of these places are often unfilled and so students do not currently take advantage of this opportunity to represent themselves and possibly others. The issue with a more direct democracy style system is that again there is the issue of attendance which would likely fall as a percentage as more voting places are created. Indeed, student political apathy and lack of engagement with Council needs to be addressed before this model could become of some use. There is also the issue of time. If many people were to come to Council how would we ensure that everyone has a chance to be heard and still finishes Council within a reasonable amount of time as not doing so may discourage people from attending or risk people leaving early.
My strategy would be to aim to fill the places that we already have by making Council more accessible and better known to students in general. I think a series of small changes to the current system rather than a complete restructure would see a big improvement in the way Council functions. As a result at the end of the year I hope to submit a report on how to improve Council for the next generation of NUSU Officer’s to use to improve student democracy.
This all being said I believe that Council does some wonderful work and is a testament to student democracy. I look forward to the open debate on this at May’s Council that I have pushed for and am intrigued to see if my views on this change by the end of the year and if Council agree me and what other ideas people have.
Look forward to seeing you at the next Council meeting.
All the best,
Adam Warner (Chair of Council)