So we find ourselves again at that time of year again where it's policy time at the Students' Union. Ten policies have been submitted for your consideration and from tomorrow morning at 9am, you'll be able to have your say and either vote for or against the policies, or even abstain.
Last policy round, I kept quiet on my opinions on the policies and in hindsight, I think I regret that, both professionally and personally. So here goes, some thoughts on each, in alphabetical order.
We all know that in recent years, not only has accommodation become more difficult to find, the prices have gone up too. Not just in the private sector but on campus also. I am therefore supportive of this policy on the whole, however I do question how effective an accreditation system produced by the University of Bath's Accommodation and Hospitality Service would be?
The council already encourages landlords to join an accreditation scheme which is endorsed by the West of England Rental Standard and evidently some choose not to do this. I feel that unfortunately landlords would probably see little reason to go through a University accreditation system as there isn't enough incentive for them, especially when they have the upper hand in the market and don't find it difficult to secure tenants.
If students aren't very aware of the current accreditation system and not all landlords are completing it, perhaps efforts should instead be put into the promotion and enhancement of this existing scheme, rather than starting from scratch?
I'd like to start by saying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an incredibly complex situation, which I am far from an expert on - but I feel strongly about this policy.
Now whilst I cannot condone what is happening in Palestine, this BDS policy singles out one state and one nationality. In doing this it also singles out a group of students, and I'm therefore concerned about the implications the policy could have for Israeli nationals studying at the University. This form of condemnation for Israel is not observed by the SU against any other nation, yet there are problems and conflict happening across the world. How would it feel for Israelis if theirs is the only country the SU is taking action against?
Whilst the policy proposers say this policy is targeted at a state and governmental level, some individuals already feel marginalised and targeted by this policy and I'm sure many more will. Just this morning I've had a message from an Israeli student saying that if this policy passes, he would transfer to another University as he would no longer feel welcome at the SU or on campus. Earlier this year I had Israeli students in my office, close to tears, and worried for their safety, given actions that have taken place at other universities such as UCL and LSE, where BDS policies have been passed.
I am President of a Students' Union that has inclusivity and being supportive as values at its core. I know that some feel that a passing of this policy would be an enormous show of solidarity to Palestinian students. But if by doing that we simultaneously alienate Israeli students, this makes me feel uncomfortable, supporting one group of students at the expense of another. It just endorses further division and this is not what our SU exists to do.
Furthermore I have issues with the content of the policy itself. It contains generalisations, misleading facts and is based on a highly controversial report, which was in fact rejected by the UN Secretary General.
I implore you to do your research, make an informed decision and think very carefully about how you vote on this policy. Personally, I cannot support it and will be voting against it.
Cut The Rent Campaign
This policy references the rent strike actions that were taken at universities such as UCL and Goldsmiths. Now whilst they were admittedly successful in the end, they were quite extreme and I wonder what appetite there is amongst the Bath student community for this type of action. Not paying your rent carries with it big risks and I wonder how the policy proposer would attempt to mitigate against this if a similar campaign were to go ahead at Bath?
If this policy passes, Bath SU would have to oppose the building of private accommodation and this could potentially be counter productive. Whilst admittedly the private providers that have set up in Bath so far haven't quite got it right, coming straight in and building over priced studios. We should be allowed to engage with the providers to show them what our students need - affordable accommodation that provides social opportunities, as opposed to through the roof prices where the studio style set up can lead to isolation.
Also I find it slightly confusing that the Affordable Accommodation policy calls for a freeze in rent, and this one calls for a rent cut. If both policies pass, what should the SU's priority be? Yes they're both heading in the same direction (I.e. not increasing rents). But fundamentally a freeze and a cut are different things.
On the whole, I'm very supportive of this policy. Not just in terms of the forthcoming West of England Mayoral election, but other elections coming up in the next few years too. The only thing I question is the effectiveness of SU Officers being asked to go door to door and encourage students to vote, I think that as Officers our time and resources could be more effectively used. The amount of people we could reach through social media campaigning and lecture shout outs would be much greater than knocking on doors in Oldfield Park.
End the Boycott of the National Student Survey
In the last policy round, a policy was passed that mandated the SU to boycott the National Student Survey. Now this has received mixed reviews from the student community. Some very happy as they're strongly against the link between the TEF and linked fee rises, where data from the NSS is used as a metric. Others disappointed that the SU is not encouraging them to make their opinions known about their course and University experience, whether positive or negative, so that they can be taken into account and things improved on for the future. And let's be honest, probably quite a lot of students are indifferent on the matter.
Now despite our National Union of Students actively promoting a boycott of the NSS at Bath, we know that the response rate nationally has hardly been affected and is pretty much identical to last year, which makes me question how effective this action has been? There have however been some fluctuations at individual institutional levels, some response rates going up and others going down.
There are certainly questions surrounding the legitimacy of the NSS as a survey tool in itself and the questions it asks, but at the moment it's the best tool we have for gathering student feedback and data that helps us to put a case to the University as to where changes need to be made. Every time we've asked for improvements to assessment and feedback or campaigned for more study space, we have used NSS data to back our arguments up. Now I'm against any type of tuition fee rise, but by boycotting the NSS, it has made it very difficult for the SU to make good use of this important source of data to bring about positive change for students at Bath, without being seen to have double standards.
I struggle with the idea that a policy that has been unable to meet quoracy should automatically be considered in the next round. If there is enough student interest in the issue, theoretically reaching quoracy shouldn't be a problem. Now this is not to say that the policy should be banned from being put up for consideration again, just not automatically, it's too absolute. Firstly because as time goes on, policy stances change - so it should be considered if it's still relevant and accurate? And secondly perhaps it needs to be reworded, contain more evidence or be explained in more detail, if it hasn't achieved enough student interest the first time round?
In terms of promotion, the SU does a lot of publicity for its policy rounds (social media, all student emails, plasma screens, GMs etc) and tries to reach as wide an audience as possible and we will continue to maintain this, but I'm not sure how much more we can do. I think it's really important to remember all of the different things that we are promoting at any one time. Our marketing team are constantly inundated with messages, campaigns and events to promote, we have to have a balance in our communications. I strongly believe that the policy proposers have a responsibility to promote the policy round to their peers too.
Just as I believe the University should be more transparent and you should know where your tuition fees go etc, I hold my hands up and admit that the SU also has work to do in this area, so that you know what our financial priorities and capabilities are. For example, what's the breakdown of the £30 sport membership fee and where does the money for FW wristbands go etc? This is good.
But I have to wonder just how important it is to our members what our staff earn.... In my nearly two years in office I've never had a question about it - I certainly had a lot more to worry about as a student! Nevertheless we have nothing to hide when it comes to SU staff salaries. Last time I checked, we complied with the 5:1 pay ratio that was passed in the last policy round.
You can find out more about us as an organisation (including our finances) on the Charity Commission website
I'm generally supportive of this policy, and if passed, I'm confident the SU will lobby for improvements on the issues raised. A lot of the change required here relies on support from University departments such as Accommodation & Hospitality as well as Estates, but as always we will do our best and make the student voice heard.
We Need More Mental Health Support
This is a good policy and I'm grateful for the ISA for having submitted it. The mental health services and support provided by the University have come on a long way in recent years, but there's a way to go and if passed, this policy will help us to make and lobby for the necessary improvements for all students affected by mental health issues, and also help us to recognise the specific challenges faced by international students.
Zero Tolerance for Sexual Harassment and Improved Support for Victims
At the Students' Union, we already have a zero tolerance approach to all forms of harassment, bullying and discrimination, and are already doing good work in this area.
Recently the Students' Union and the University were awarded funding by the Higher Education Funding Council England to team up on an innovative new project to empower the student community to help prevent sexual harassment and violence. You can find more information on this here: http://www.bath.ac.uk/announcements/new-funding-to-empower-students-to-speak-up-against-sexual-harassment/
.... So there you have my thoughts, and I'm sure you have your own too! Engage in conversations with your peers about these issues over the next couple of days and have a think as to how you want to vote.
Make sure you've read the policies through, thought about the effectiveness of the actions proposed, the potential consequences (remember if passed, policies are live for four years) and have your say!
Voting opens on Tuesday morning at 9am and closes at 10pm on Thursday evening.