Are student unions a waste of time?

politics, university

From Kent Union:

On 19 Jan 2012, at 12:01, Elections wrote:

  • You can be a leader of a ten million pound plus organisation
  • You can be a political leader of an organisation that makes positive change for almost 20,000 people
  • You can be one of approximately 700 out of 300,000 students who leave University each year who can say they have hands-on strategic, political and financial experience of running a charitable organisation

As long as you are a current University of Kent student who hasn’t opted out of being a member of Kent Union then you can run to be one of the five leaders of Kent Union for the 2012/13 academic year. It doesn’t matter if you’re involvement to date has been voting – we have a number of support mechanisms in place to offer you all the support you need to run an excellent campaign.

The role is full time, you get an annual allowance of circa £18,000, training and support from the organisation in helping you meet your own personal objectives as well as helping you gain useful skills for prospective employees and the opportunity for a once in a lifetime experience. You will gain skills that other people may not obtain for decades.

For more information about the roles or to put yourself forward go to: before the 16 February 2012 5pm.

Or come join us for some Coffee & Cake at one of the below Interested Candidates Meeting:

  • Friday 20th January @ Woody’s, 12pm to 2pm
  • Tuesday 24th January @ Woolf College Common Room, 5pm to 7pm
  • Monday 30th January @ Rutherford Bar, 12pm to 2pm
  • Friday 8th February @ The Library Café, 1pm to 3pm

Also if you know someone who you think could be good at one of the roles we’ll email them. Just let us know who they are at:

If you have any questions then please contact the Kent Union Elections Team at

 — To stop receiving messages from Elections by email, click the link below. You can still read the message in the Message Centre, and change your preferences in the Contact Options area.


My response:

Dear Kent Union,

When will you stop flooding my inbox with annoying e-mails?

How about becoming a candidate, you ask? Why should I bother? Well…

Nationwide, on average, only 12% of students vote in student union elections. If only we could abolish these absurd institutions and use the money more usefully instead– perhaps for scholarships for smart applicants. Kent Union “makes a positive change for almost 20,000 people” you say? I think you really need to get over your egos.

The fact that so few people vote should tell us that frankly, most students are HAPPY. They’re not persecuted. They don’t get abused. They might be a bit miserable about the level of work, but that’s it.

The general standard of political commentary on the Kent Union website is so bad that even *I* could do better (and I am a scientist). It reads like a B-grade A Level politics. 12%, though? Hardly a mandate.

Tell me, what DO student unions do that couldn’t be done just as effectively by either:

a) The university

b) Volunteer students?

I could even forgive the Unions in all the stupidity I described, if they didn’t insist on talking as if they REPRESENTED the students.

Whatever silly child is supposedly in charge of the Union here for this year certainly doesn’t speak for me. I don’t care about him/her, or what she does. They are welcome to give me their opinion, but I’ll probably reject it– frankly, I imagine I know more than them and can make a better decision. Arrogance, perhaps, but at least it’s my choice to be. Speaking for myself, you see.

You can’t claim to represent a group when only 12% of the group voted and perhaps half of them voted for you. 6% of a group supporting you does not give you the right to speak on the behalf of the group.

Frankly, I don’t see that there’s a need for student politicians. I CERTAINLY don’t see that there’s a need to pay some of them more than £18K/year. (Some) workers need unions… but students? Why on Earth do students need unions? A student is a cross between a schoolchild and a customer. Students unions should NOT have full-time employees. The wages of officers is outrageous, and is a complete waste of money. Each one of those officers, who sit around all year doing precisely shag all, costs far more than a PhD student for a full year’s stipend. Ridiculous! If people want to play around at pretend politics, and cry or moan about non-issues, then it should be on a purely voluntary basis.

There is no possible way in which a person can exaggerate when it comes to describing the magnitude of my dislike towards Kent Union. My thoughts towards it and its employees are unpleasant.

Two typical examples of non-issues:

1: The ‘Coke ban’. The union actually allowed a movement to be voted upon in an attempt to ban coka cola on campus (this actually got through, at one university – I don’t recall which, but I’d seen it with my own eyes). This would mean no coka cola products at all could be served on campus. Why? Because crazy hippies felt that coke is evil. Enough said, People actually get PAID a WAGE to deal with these issues. Why?

2: The worst I’ve ever heard of – the ‘gender non-specific toilet’. Kent Union paid for the installation of a gender non-specific toilet in the night club. What is this thing, you ask? It’s an extra toilet with neither a male or female label, for those on campus who wish not to be identified as being either male or female, as they don’t like to be labelled. Yes. I am serious. What is it used for? Well, it’s a disabled toilet in a night club, so, naturally, it was a waste of money because it’s simply used by people who want to sneak off and have a quicky in the toilet.

I wouldn’t mind Student Unions as much if they actually seemed to have any power as a Union. Certainly at Leicester, it seemed that the SU would automatically cave to anything the University itself said, might just as well have been part of the University itself.

If you had an “Abolish the Union and use the money for scholarships” box, I’d be all for ticking that. I’m sure many people would also be behind that.

Sure, I accept there’s a need to manage student feedback to courses, and so on, but course representatives exist for that (and, frankly, what students think of a course is mostly irrelevant). I accept there is a need to arrange entertainment and whatnot, for those that want it. There are plenty of club social secretaries who do that work as a volunteer basis, though. No need for a paid job there.

Campaigning for equal rights for <>? Well, it tends to be student NEWSPAPERS and not politicians that do the most of that.

Helping new students settle in? That’s all easily possible to do with volunteers. “Anyone willing to wear a brightly coloured T-shirt and help the new kids settle in?”. Job done.

There *is* a need for course representatives and social secretaries and whatnot. Fine. If you have them, you might as well elect them. Fine. It’s just a glorified “Form Captain” or “Head Girl” anyway. I’m just saying that that is the LIMIT of what student bodies need to do.

Beyond that, they’re just an excuse for irritation self-righteous cretins who enjoy the sound of their own voices far too much to feel self-important about things that don’t really matter– and do it by wasting money that could directly go to far better causes: Scholarships to ensure the worst-off can get through university.

So, please, please stop acting all self-important. Stop sending e-mails about non-issues. Do something constructive and start REPRESENTING your students. You say “We are the voice of all students at the University of Kent; we represent our members to the University, the communities in which they live and to wider society through our membership of the national student movement.” Start acting on this! 12% is hardly a significant percentage to claim you represent “all” students. Start to show you have some balls, assert your power as a Union and show you are using OUR money wisely.

Ryan Laird

I await Kent Union’s response.

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