Editorial: CUSU and irrelevance

Elsa Maishman 25 February 2016

CUSU and The Cambridge Student are often lumped under the same title. But, if there ever was proof that the two are not the same thing, it can be found in the fact that CUSU have organised their elections so that both nominations and results will be released just hours after the paper’s print deadline.

This election, as rumour has it, is said to be a large one, with some roles more heavily contested than they have been before in institutional memory. It has therefore come to that time in the year when CUSU is momentarily thrust into the spotlight of student consciousness, only to slither away into obscurity again, after a couple of weeks of hype. Indeed, CUSU has always struggled with irrelevance – many students have no idea who officers are, or what they do.

This week, the results of CUSU’s ‘The Big Cambridge Survey’ were released. With almost 4,000 responses, there was a 62% increase from last year’s figures. The report offers important statistics – such as 45% of respondents reporting that Cambridge has negative effects on their mental health, and 77% of black British respondents saying more needed to be done to promote equality across the University. Yet the report also says that 43% of students are involved in campaigning for social change, which seems to grossly misrepresent the student body as a whole: so unrepresentative that they can quite frankly be considered, essentially, irrelevant.

The reason behind this misrepresentation of responses is nothing new, but once again is a consequence of CUSU’s estrangement from the general student population. Working away in their offices on Mill Lane (pictured), CUSU still seems to exist under a shroud of mystery, with a large number of students still not quite sure ‘what CUSU does’. The Big Survey certainly shows that Cambridge is in grave need of reform in terms of workload and mental health, yet also shows that CUSU itself is in need of major change. With the sabbatical officer elections just around the corner, it seems perhaps that the issue of CUSU’s continued disconnection from the students it claims to represent will be central to the election of the new committee.

After all, with Corpus and Caius already disaffiliated, and Fitzwilliam holding a referendum on the issue in February 2015, the threat of the disaffilation is always present, and it’s easy to see why. College JCRs provide eveything a normal student union at most other UK universities would expect: welfare, entertainment, events, and visibility. CUSU, however, offer a feeble Freshers’ week, an overload of admin, and a lack of innovation. Talking to students at other universities, one always has to explain that CUSU isn’t quite a ‘proper’ student union. Perhaps now is the time that it will become one.