Image credit: YUSU
Low voter turnout and engagement has been the talk of this University, from this term’s YUSU referendum on whether to support a People’s Vote Campaign to last term’s college elections, and the recent round of YUSU elections are no exception.
Having been involved in running the Alcuin college elections in November 2018, I know how difficult it is to engage all students; some simply do not care, while others don’t understand exactly what the elections entail. College elections are of course on a much smaller scale, but similarities do exist between them and the more recent YUSU elections - so the question still remains on how to tackle engagement across the University. It is worth noting that there will always be people who don’t have any desire to engage with any form of election or event YUSU holds. I have friends who would not have voted in the YUSU elections had I (and others they knew) not been running.
I do acknowledge that we will never get the entire student body voting, but we should work on increasing student engagement. A six per cent turnout in the Brexit referendum is not at all representative of the student body, but perhaps this is due to the nature of that election. There was a clear difference between this turnout and that of the YUSU elections, with a record-breaking 6140 voters.
Why? There are endless possibilities to answer that, but personally I believe this is in part due to the University offering 50p donations to a variety of charities, totalling £3070, and reduced drink prices. More importantly, the number and diversity of this year’s candidates will have played a part in increasing turnout. With over 40 people running for Full-Time and Part-Time Officer positions it seems more and more students are wanting to be involved in representing student voices. It was refreshing to see so many women running for Full-Time roles as well as more candidates for Part-Time Officer positions such as International Officer, which last year had to be filled in a by-election.
This is then another reason why turnout was significantly higher this year than before, and I can only hope that as a Stu-dents’ Union we can continue to encourage students to remain engaged with the Union, and as Union President that’s something I hope to work towards. For me, engagement with students is key, and it is why I ran for Union President this year.
My time at York has been shaped by my involvement with the colleges and sport, and I believe every student needs to be given the chance to gain as much as they can from YUSU, colleges, sports, societies, and everything York has to offer, just like I’ve tried to do. More needs to be done so students can understand the value of YUSU, and how it can benefit students with what it offers.I spoke a lot in the election about trying to increase communication across the University and ensure students understand the role and limitations of YUSU.
Many students do criticise YUSU for a variety of reasons, and often for things that cannot be controlled by the Union but by the University. While feed-back is always essential in working towards improvement, information needs to be communicated as the Union does so much for the students which often they are unaware of. If the engagement level experienced throughout this year’s elections continues then YUSU and the student body can work to ensure students do feel represented.While my focus for the next year will be on my manifesto, I must also acknowledge the proposals put forward by other candidates in the elections.
Joke candidates, for example, were a huge part of this year’s election, so much so that one was leading Union President for two rounds, showing that perhaps some unusual ideas are needed to engage people once again. I do see the benefit of these candidates within the elections, as it undeniably enhances student engagement in the process, and often (among some very creative and ambitious policies) there are some genuinely interesting and helpful suggestions that many students get on board with.
However, my concern around such candidates is what would hap-pen were they to win, when they had no intention of ever taking on the role? If you choose to run for elected office, you should go in with the aim of winning and carrying out the job should you get it. Turning down an elected responsibility means that the student voice is not represented, and further steps must be taken to fill the role.
While of course I hoped that my campaign would be successful, my main concern was that I wanted a candidate to win who would be prepared to take on the role, put in their all, and really fight for students across the University. There are definitely pros and cons to joke candidates; I do not see any reason to prevent people running joke campaigns, but I do think anyone considering it should definitely be prepared for the results.
As shown by this year, they can be incredibly successful campaigns. This election highlighted such a wide range of opinions and showed hard work from so many candidates. We can see from this increased engagement that when more people get involved, we have stronger representation, and if we can keep this up there will be positive results.