A Pat on the Back and a Job Well Done…

19 03 2008

I dislike award ceremonies. Not just because the last thing I won was in year 7, but because to me they represent something which is devolved from the initial point. Struggling to say it more eloquently than that, I feel examples are needed.

Last night was the Guild Awards. A night of fun and festivities whereby various prominent members of the student community are given awards to tell them how good they are at any given thing. To me, it seems that the Awards are an opportunity for these people to pat themselves on the back and further convince themselves that they are doing a good job. Which, it could be argued, they are not. At least not across the board, and whilst things such as the Vale Festival may be a growing success, there are other areas of student life which are noticably less successful. There are still plenty of other, smaller, groups which, in my opinion, because they do not have the vociferous characters that other groups do, fail to get the attention that maybe they deserve. There is a huge variety of different societies, groups and student organisations out there. So why does it seem to be the same people who are in the running for the awards? Now this may be unfair, I haven’t seen either the runners for the awards, nor have I seen the winners. Yet I would be willing to bet that the usual candidates were very much there, ready to praise themselves for another good year. Right.

A good year, for me, would have been unprecendented growth across the board, in societies, as well as in other things. Student participation, I would also be willing to bet, has either decreased, or at best, remained constant. There are three things which to me seem indicative of this.

Firstly Redbrick. The student paper (which in my opinion has gone downhill recently, but that’s another issue) which is, at the moment, really crying out for new writers, or sub-editors, or other contributors. When I first started writing for the paper there was a huge amount of people who would frequently write, providing a wide range of thoughts on a wide range of topics. Now they are struggling to convince people to continue writing. At the start of the academic year, naturally, there was a huge amount of interest in writing for Redbrick. Freshers came in with an idea of being a proactive journalist and contributing to a widely read organ. This illusion was quickly shattered (the amount of actual reporting is limited to just the ‘big’ stories, and, in all honesty, it isn’t widely read) and people became disinterested. Now I know that there are lots of people interested in the media. I have been to the Careers Centre Media day for the past two years, and at both events there was comfortably more than 200 people. This leads me to think that there is the interest in Journalism, and the media is there, but Redbrick, contrary to what it should be doing, is failing to encourage people to contribute, and is also failing to grow in terms of readership. There is more that could be said on this issue, but, like Redbrick, I shall abandon things here as there are things I wish to say about other issues.

Secondly then, elections. The success (which I will admit it was) of the Referendum back at the start of term was celebrated as having saved the Guild (and, in all honesty, FAB nights). Great. This was put very much into perspective by the elections for various roles in the Guild more recently. The lowest turnout for nearly twenty years, to me, doesn’t indicate that things are going well. It only serves to prove that the Referendum vote was anomalous. The election results are more telling, and are more indicative of the current state of student affairs. Not enough people really care. At a university of 28,000 students, this is a bad thing. At a university which may be disgruntled because there are now three (?) other universities in the city which are threatening to disrupt the face of university study in Birmingham, getting some 1500 votes for student president, to me is nowhere near good enough. Now it maybe that I have to great an expectation of the university students. However I am inclined to think that it is more likely that student affairs and issues do not adequately mainfest themselves in the things that bodies in and around the Guild do. People don’t care because the Guild is not doing enough to make them care. As evidenced by the referendum, if you really connect with the people things can begin to improve in terms of involvement.

Finally then, a point which links into the last one. Everything about the Guild is cliquey. I do not care what anybody says in defence of this point, the sheer fact that at any Guild releated event you will see the same people only serves to prove this to me. The Guild is a big playhouse for the few. Not the many. I will argue this all day long. By this I mean that the day to day activities in the Guild involve the same people. Things such as FAB are not of concern because they do not involve thinking about- students go to get drunk, irrespective of anything else. So many different events that happen within the Guild happen in front of the select few rather than the many more who should be, and probably are, interested. Discussions of how to improve the Guild involve the same people (of which I admit I am one) throwing the same things around, only to be told that propositions are impossible to implement for one reason or another. I am left wondering how this is possibly going to attract more people into using the various facilities that the Guild offers. I was in the Arc recently getting advice on a housing contract. I was sat in there for about ten minutes waiting, and in that time I saw five people walk past the entrance, and one other person who came into the room. Now it may have been a slow day, but I would be willing to guess that most days are like that.

The Guild has the potential to be so much more than it is, but until it steps away from patting itself on the back and thinking it is doing well, and actually takes a good hard look at itself, things won’t improve. And this isn’t just on the political side of things, it is in relation to the societies as well. Getting lots of people to sign up during freshers is all very well and good, but keeping their interest is the harder part, and, I’m sure that most, if not all, societies see a decline in student attendance during the course of the year. By all means therefore, have these award ceremonies, but only when they are justified. I don’t think that will happen for a few years yet. To me, such ceremonies are similar to a mid-table football team with aspirations of success, like mine, having end of season awards. They may be nice, but they shouldn’t mask the fact that there are still glaring problems.

Right. Rant over.