It is not a particularly revolutionary statement to say that many people have a passing disaffection with student politics. One only needs to look at last week’s by-election and the record six per cent turnout to see that Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) has a serious problem with student political engagement.
I feel mildly ashamed to admit that even as a fourth year Politics student and the editor of a newspaper which supposedly covers student affairs, I have almost no idea how our Students’ Association operates. What may be even worse is that I have no desire to. I, just like thousands of others, interact with the Students’ Association out of necessity. Despite stumbling almost unconsciously into Teviot, I still have little appreciation of what EUSA actually does. This is not to say I think that they do nothing. It is pretty apparent that the sabbatical team works incredibly hard to ensure that all students can make the most out of their university experience and one only has to walk around Bristo Square or one of EUSA’s many venues to see the plethora of events that are put on for us.
In fairness that is what we expect on the surface from a students’ association catering to those who want to go for a pint, not to a protest. But increasingly people see EUSA in two different lights: the social and the political. The latter is where the student body en masse fails to engage.
“I have no idea what the Students’ Association does”
– Anonymous History of Art Student
It is not for the lack of trying. Our Students’ Association is very aware of its inability to hold student engagement when it comes to electing representatives. In this last election, in addition to running an expansive advertising campaign, they offered a multitude of incentives in order to get people to vote. Yet still, only around 2,000 of our over 30,000-strong student population decided to vote.
There must then be some other reason why turnout is so low. Maybe it is because we fail to understand how the ‘political’ within EUSA operates. We see positions such as Convenor and Trustee go up for election every year but we have no idea what their role entails and thus we have no idea what to expect as a policy outcome. It leads us to (falsely) see the Students’ Association as a talking shop where little is actually achieved.
It is not as though these candidates are being elected into positions that hold little substantive power. EUSA is unlike many unions and associations in that it is intrinsically linked to our university, not only in an economic but also a political sense. The representatives we elect have an impact on the structure of our courses and to whom and what we allocate funds.
“It is because of this that I urge you to have at least a partial awareness of candidates’ priorities during the next EUSA election cycle, and maybe look a little deeper at what policies, programmes and protests are being carried out under EUSA’s banner.”
It is because of this that I urge you to have at least a partial awareness of candidates’ priorities during the next EUSA election cycle, and maybe look a little deeper at what policies, programmes, and protests are being carried out under EUSA’s banner.
Even if you have no interest in the inner workings of the Association, the people who are elected each year are there to represent you. They speak for you as an Edinburgh student and they enact policies which will affect not only your time at university but also your future career prospects.
Our Students’ Association is a powerful force both on and off of campus and it is important to ensure that those whom we elect will represent us in a manner which we deem fit. I am not asking for you to take up arms and wholeheartedly jump on-board the campaign train at the next election. In fact, the bearing of arms would almost certainly result in your expulsion. I simply want you to take stock and look at the role which our Students’ Association plays in shaping our university experience.
Image: Leonid Andronov