Student elections are pointless, argues Joshua Lowe

Friday saw the changing of the guard at the student union, with new full-time officers democratically elected. Does this actually change anything?

Election poster defaced in a Cardiff university building.

Springtime in every university across the country inevitably brings with it well-meaning minions hanging up banners or offering sweets in return for a vote. A practice that has always reminded me of the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

It’s not just that these elections are annoying and make students want to avoid any university building with a foyer. Its that these are paid roles in which the people elected don’t seem to achieve all that much.

The Union and by extension the university likes to use these elections as examples of it listening to students and addressing their needs. They point to what they call ‘wins’, like the increase in the number of cups of tea they handed out during exam times or a healthy recipe of the week suggestion for sports students.

While as a British man I understand the importance that tea holds for students in the UK, I’m not sure that pointing to the fact they handed out 1800 cups of it is the achievement they think it is.

Some of their wins aren’t as trivial as tea or healthy recipes: the Union also brags that they handed out 6000 freshers wellbeing booklets, or about the “mind your head” mental health week. These are undoubtedly positive initiatives as mental and physical wellbeing are important but surely the university should have been running programs like this anyway?

I would never make light of health issues and the importance of combating them so I also can’t help but wonder why the university doesn’t hire medical professionals instead of elected former students to do this job.

On the Cardiff University Students Union officers webpage (that will have now seen an 100% increase in traffic because I clicked on it) there is an overcoming challenges section. This section goes on to talk about a ‘crisis’ the officers’ team had to deal with which, long story short, turns out to be writing a report by a deadline.

Now, all of these officers are former students whom I have to assume have had deadlines before, so should meeting one really be termed as a crisis or even a challenge? This might seem petty to bring up; maybe it was a stressful time, but if deadlines constitute a crisis I have to ask what they do the rest of the time?

I don’t doubt that a lot of the people trying to get elected for these jobs really want to make a difference to an institution that they have been a part of for the last three or four years.

On the other hand, I also think that a lot of people go for these positions as a way of improving their employability. Even the biggest graduate careers website says that you should go for these positions to improve your CV, not for the love of politics or your university.

Taking jobs to increase employability is not in any way wrong, but all the candidates’ campaigns were about making a difference in students’ lives, not on how this will do far more good for their individual careers.

Should we ask the student population to go out of their way to vote for people, who don’t seem to have much power to benefit them directly? it is almost as if the union is giving the students the illusion of democracy in order to seem more benevolent than it actually is.

If you’ll forgive the use of an over-used quote, Winston Churchill said, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms.” I’d make the argument Winston never had to sit through election speeches shoe-horned into a lecture on a Monday morning.