By Jake Roberts
Reflecting the widespread anger that arose over the issue at this year’s SurreyDecides, the University of Surrey Students’ Union’s (USSU’s) ruling body, the Exec, passed a motion last night condemning the proposed rise in student numbers by 3000 by 2020*, and committing the Union to numerous activities relating to such a position.
Specifically, the motion commits the Union to set up and promote – through its various social media channels – a web page containing data on the proposed rise in student numbers and expressing the Union’s opposition to such measures. It also pledges the Union to support “by any means necessary” any future student-led direct action on the issue of student numbers, for example financially, organisationally, or by attending such action. Actions mooted were those such as protests and occupations, following the publication of the University’s new strategic plan before the next academic year, which will most likely contain more precise details on the University’s plans regarding student numbers.
The motion commits the Union to set up and promote a web page containing data on the proposed rise in student numbers and expressing the Union’s opposition to such measures
More broadly, the motion also connects the rise in student numbers to ongoing government reforms to UK higher education. For example, the motion notes the connection between rapid rises in student numbers in many universities and the changes to university funding, which have cut government grants and tightened the direct link between university income and student numbers. Earlier this year, for example, many first-year students at the University of Warwick were forced to share small single rooms as a result of the University’s over-recruitment which the students’ union there criticised as prioritising income over student welfare. Other universities made similar plans for significant increases in student numbers following the removal of the cap in student numbers in 2015 – a Guardian survey found almost half of England’s universities were planning to increase their student intake by 2020. Surrey’s proposed expansion in student numbers, therefore, reflects broader structural changes in UK higher education.
Consequently, the motion commits the Union to “persistently pressure” University management over such higher education reforms, such as in University Council (the University’s governing body, which the Students’ Union President is guaranteed a seat at) meetings. Furthermore, the motion binds the Union to informing University management of other sustainable and ethical methods of income, away from any increase in student numbers.
However, despite the positive vote on the motion, the night was not without contention. There was widespread anger at the mismanagement of the meeting, with it being disbanded after only just an hour due to AGM commitments by senior members of the Exec. The result was that of the three motions tabled to be discussed, only the motion on student numbers was voted on. A motion by postgraduate student Daniel Noon on opposing cuts to student support was discussed but not voted on, and another motion on the right to stay of EU students at the University was not discussed at all.
There was widespread anger at the mismanagement of the meeting. Of the three motions tabled to be discussed, only the motion on student numbers was voted on
An emergency Exec meeting is supposedly being planned as of writing, to take place later in the week, in order to prevent the tabled motions not being discussed until after Easter. Nonetheless, the prevailing mood at the end of the meeting was one of potent frustration. Mr. Noon described himself as “livid” at the mismanagement of the meeting, which he claimed has happened to him twice now. Similarly, Voice Zone Committee Member Anna Ousten, who sits on the Exec, expressed confusion at why senior Exec members were signed up to run AGMs when non-Exec members of the Union could run the AGMs instead.
Certainly, the anger against the Union’s disorganisation seemed justified, and builds on previous issues of organisation. The Union’s website remains hard to navigate, and minutes for past Exec meetings are remarkably hard to access, or not even publicly available at all. This anger at the restriction and obfuscation of democratic processes at the Union is likely to carry over into the next Exec meeting, and the Union’s Annual Members Meeting after the Easter break, and probably even further into the future after that.
Minutes of the meeting, as well as the final amended motion, are available at the Union website here. You need your Surrey login details to access them.
[*Note: The “3000 more by 2020” figure is not as of yet official, finalised or publicly available, but Union President Alex Mackenzie Smith has told Incite that the figure has arisen multiple times in meetings with University management.]
Photo(s) by Jake Roberts