This take comes Rosie Hunnam, founder of Organised Fun. They aim to create a community full of people who love student opportunities as much as they do. A place to get inspired, ask for help and to learn something new.
I think the most compelling narrative that a students’ union has is that they’re aligned with you the student, not the institution.
As a student opportunities professional (and serious fangirl) you’d expect my answer to be to start with opportunities and work out from there. Sure, many students’ unions began in Opportunities; students gathering doing fun stuff with a good cause united through shared hobbies and interests. Some RAGs, sports clubs and debating societies are older than the SUs they are part of. But what would students’ unions look like without their legacy of student opportunities?
Students organise themselves into clubs and societies without the SU. We add massive value in the championing and supporting that we do but (and it’s a hard truth for me) we’re not essential when it comes to Opportunities actually happening.
I think the most compelling narrative that a students’ union has is that they’re aligned with you the student, not the institution. It’s in advice and campaigning that an SU plays a unique role that no other body is in a better position to do. So, I’d start there and build around it.
This SU would feel like a cosy living room where you’re allowed to just ‘be’ and if you happen to fancy organising something like a campaign or a volunteering project, that’s cool and we have the tools to help you do this and a bunch of brilliant people who want to help.
If I was a witness (rather than an architect) to this ‘wipe clean and start again’ of students’ unions, I’m not sure that this is how the institution would begin though…
Imagine a shiny, professional careers centre with advice about *the best* graduate jobs, CV workshops and inspirational posters on the wall. Volunteering would be encouraged of course (to gain skills for getting the dream job) and it would provide a fabulous service for students who want to develop themselves through co-curricular activities. The SU would probably feel less ‘uniony’ and there would be plenty of multicoloured furniture to add some tokenistic fun to the space.
I’m not confident that the extra-curricular activities that are championed by SUs right now would be prioritised, and I think campaigning activities would be few and far between too. Not because all institutions think this stuff is redundant, but in a time where budgets are tight and the shiniest rooms get reserved for funders’ meetings, surely, we must prioritise the important stuff? Is there enough of a value on the students’ union staples to justify the space it occupies in this new iteration of an SU?
Currently a major problem that SUs talk to me about is in that justification. Many problems arise from having to prove the worth of what they do to their institution, to follow the (usually lengthy) procedures to get things done. For my SU of the future they wouldn’t have to constantly prove their worth as it would be accepted that what they do is worthy.
So, in short, it’s about being comfy really… It’s about a comfortable legal status where the SU doesn’t have to constantly worry about breaking the law. It’s about comfortable, welcoming physical space that isn’t patronising. It’s about comfortable (yet challenging) relationships with the institution that means the SU can support students to do what they care about.
And doesn’t that sound nice?
Find out more about Rosie, Organised Fun, their work and how to contact them at www.organised.fun