The last issue of Glasgow Guardian contained an article by Tom Coles in which he articulated some fairly damning opinions of the Glasgow University Students’ Representative Council. While it is no secret that the organisation has experienced some considerable difficulties in recent months I feel moved to respond to his tirade of criticism, in part to rebutt Coles’ numerous inaccuracies but more importantly to offer another perspective of the work carried out by the SRC.
Coles’ impassioned calls for a revolutionary reformation of the SRC are based on a combination of unsound argument and erroneous assumptions. He describes the SRC as an institution that invites corruption yet makes no effort to back-up or explain his statements. Misquoting an already incorrect statement made by the president of the Glasgow University Union is the closest he comes to evidence. For the sake of accuracy it is worth clarifying that two, not three, sabbatical officers have been offered or taken a job at the university in the last ten years. This is hardly a figure that implies that sabbatical positions lead to university jobs.
Mr. Coles states that the SRC only holds one seat on Court (one of the two main decision making bodies within the university), there are in fact two. The problem with rebutting Mr. Coles’ criticisms is that there is nothing of substance to counter; the majority of arguments he makes are directed at the university not the SRC. I have no intention of defending the university (although it might be worth noting that the claim Mr. Coles makes concerning the principal applying for a job at the London School of Economics is mistaken, as he himself learnt in a rather embarrassing exchange during principal’s question time).
What I will defend is the job the SRC does. It is not part of a tri-partite system as Coles suggests. It is a separate entity whose role is to ensure the university is accountable to students. The hierarchy and inequality Coles accuses the university of does not extend to the SRC; any student is welcome to attend and participate at council meetings and every member of council is eager to hear students’ thoughts and opinions outside a formal structure.
Coles’ conclusion that the SRC has no desire to make demands and no political power is simply not the case. The council holds two full seats on court, Glasgow University’s ruling body, and fourteen seats on Senate along with representation on almost all committees (currently numbering around fifty). It is also worth noting that often in these smaller committees decisions are taken which have a real and measurable impact on students, something Mr. Coles must not have been aware of.
Nowhere is this better exemplified than with the recent launch of the Carers’ Policy, a development that will aid thousands of students over the next 5 years [see page 2]. Council has a strong desire to make demands and this is highlighted through the discussion from last week’s council meeting which included tackling the University’s lack of a student debt policy, supporting international students though the current VISA changes and our consultation response on same-sex marriage. It must be admitted that it is far from a glamorous organisation but this is precisely how it should be. Much of the work the SRC does is everyday support and service provision carried out by both the staff members and the council. By this I mean services such as the advice centre, the buses, clubs and societies and volunteering opportunities. This feeling also runs into the representative role.
The job of the SRC is not to grandstand, nor is it to impose the political opinions of individuals onto the student body. The vast majority of representation done on a daily basis involves answering students’ emails and taking on board students’ problems that come either though the advice centre or directly to the council to ensure that students are not left out of university decision making and their needs are listened to. It involves nitpicking through committee papers to make sure no policy change or university initiative that does not consider students is allowed to slip by unchallenged. It involves providing ideas, a student perspective and when needs be direct challenges. Arguably there should be more of an effort to let students know what is done; from this angle I would agree with Mr. Coles that a debate would be valuable.
The SRC cannot force politics onto campus, nor is its role to battle the trends associated with free-market economics, as Coles seems to suggest. The student body is made up of a vast array of political ideals and, as far as I’m aware, no SRC executive has ever been elected with an explicitly political mandate. My own political beliefs lean very much to the left yet I do not let this inform my role within the SRC.
I’ve struggled to work out what tone to take whilst writing this response; it’s difficult to separate ‘SRC vice-president’ from ‘Glasgow student’ when writing something so explicitly about the SRC. To end I’d like to finish in very much my own voice; it frustrates me to see articles such as Coles’ which spout rhetoric with no respect for fact or a feasible solution. Established power should be questioned and challenged continually if we have any hope of avoiding stagnant, bureaucratic entropy. Please, please question and prod and scrutinize any body that claims to represent you but please make it informed and constructive, otherwise there cannot be any useful debate.