Student politics was lively when I was studying on campus. It was the early days of student loans and sentiment ran high. Memorably, one protestor threw himself under Education Minister Lockwood Smith’s car on a visit to the university. Grant Robertson — then OUSA president, now Labour MP — led an actual occupation of the Registry building, protesting fee increases. Then there were mock weddings, and a few real ones, to challenge stupid new rules around relationship-based access to student support.
Then, as now, a lot of the action was OUSA-led. A strong executive and a president with a vision can make a real impact on the national stage, literally within days of being elected.
It is not long until nominations open for the 2016 OUSA Executive. In my experience, a strong and well-run students’ association is vital to making your time on campus the best it can be.
OUSA for all its foibles (and there were plenty when I was a student) is incredibly important. But it is only as good as the people who run it. And you choose those people.
The government has made it more difficult for students’ associations across the country to represent students, and many have folded as a result. But the OUSA model still works — in part because the university recognises the benefits of dealing with a mandated organisation, and in part because it recognises many services are best delivered “by students for students”.
That’s not to say OUSA’s survival is guaranteed “just because”. As I argued in Critic, issue 17, the students’ association depends to a good degree upon the grace and favour of the current vice-chancellor. But it does send a strong message to the university when students get out and vote.
The challenges facing the student union movement are worrying given there are so many current issues that impact students. Warm and healthy flats, increased financial support and accessible education are all things that OUSA can advocate for — if that’s what students demand. And if they choose executive members who want to advance those goals.
That’s why it’s important to vote to see the changes you want to be actioned at OUSA. Much like electing MPs, candidates in every election have a set of values they hold to, and policy changes they hope to implement. It’s crucial that you shop around to find candidates who fit with your own values.