Chigbo: A vision for CUSU

Tom Chigo 23 June 2009

The incoming president of the Cambridge University Students‘ Union offers his agenda for 2009/10.

This July, the new team of sabbatical officers you elected for your students’ union will begin our year in office. As incoming President, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts on CUSU and why I believe student unions are so important.

As both a student and a JCR President, I’ve experienced the benefits of our students’ union in many forms. Obviously, I’m a big fan of CUSU. But I still have strong criticisms of the organisation. Having spent hours trawling through the boring website for information, I’m unsurprised that much of CUSU’s work has been unknown or misunderstood.

I’ve sat through long Council meetings and watched the same old crowd have the same old arguments. I understand why JCR reps have complained that little relevant to the daily concerns of their students has been raised. As someone who spends more time on sport and societies than in Cindies, I’m well aware that there has been hardly any campaigning for sports clubs and very few Ents beyond club nights.

For the last two years, candidates in CUSU Elections have offered a pessimistic diagnosis, arguing that CUSU cannot cope with the problems students face. My opponent wanted to get rid of most of the Sabbatical Officers and the year before, Hugo Hadlow was willing to scrap almost any student campaign or service that cost money. While these audacious individuals might be at the extreme end of opinion, I would be mistaken in suggesting that such cynicism is limited to a couple of students.
However, I do believe that CUSU is essential, providing us with formal representation, a strong campaigning voice as well as important student services and welfare support. With these tools, we can play an active role in shaping the University to our interests and needs, rather than simply submitting to change (or lack thereof) imposed by others.

In the coming year, students at Cambridge will face several big issues. The Government will undertake its review of Higher Education funding, at a time when many Vice Chancellors want to raise our tuition fees above the already extremely high cap of £3000.

The need for a University sports centre grows as our clubs face growing pressure on pitch/hall space and transport availability, while rising subs deter many students from getting involved or leave those who do compete out of pocket.

Students continue to suffer from huge discrepancies in supervision quality, library services, lecture accessibility and marking guidelines between Colleges and departments. At the same time our University still denies you the right to returned exam scripts, written exam feedback or even the opportunity to opt out to Senate House results publication (unlike at Oxford).

To face these challenges we need a strong students’ union that delivers more, not less. At certain times in Cambridge, we might feel like insignificant specks lost within the vast history and complexity of this University.

However, a closer look at Cambridge reveals the huge capacity for organised and committed students to overcome challenges (even those from University authorities) and change our University.

As a first year, I felt inspired watching student mobilise to save the Portuguese tripos. In a desperate attempt to avoid revision, this exam term I wandered into the Advancing by Degrees exhibition at the UL, where I was impressed by how students of the 1960s successfully fought against Masters and dons in order to create a brand new Social and Political Sciences tripos. In fact, every day I see talented and committed students changing the landscape of this University and positively shaping the student experience. Not just in CUSU and JCRs, but in sports clubs, societies and the various student-led organisations doing great things in this city. Drawing inspiration from such experiences, I am confident of our collective strength as a union. If we are going to meet the challenges of tomorrow, CUSU must provide a strong student voice, and this cannot happen without mass involvement.

Get involved through your JCR officers and faculty reps, or better still, come along to CUSU Council where you can present your own ideas for change. Join the awesome campaigns we will be running to improve your education and welfare.

Let’s approach 2009/10 with optimism because cynicism and negativity is simply not an option.

Whatever it is you decide to fight for, you will be supported by a committed team of CUSU Sabbs eager to represent your interests and campaign like crazy.

Tom Chigo