Pieces and Bits…

15 02 2009

I haven’t got anything substantial to write a blog on, so here are a couple of thoughts for you. The first concerns a term that had been used to find this blog.  In finding The Cowfield someone had searched for “What are two causes that contribute to student apathy”. It’s an interesting question, but limited. Obviously there are a whole plethora of reasons that the average student is apathetic, and there are a whole load of things for the average student to be apathetic about. My first instinct was to assume that the question was relevant to student politics, given that is what I have blogged about previously, but, thinking about it, there is much more that students have to be apathetic about: their course, their careers, their friends, their family. Plus anything else you care to mention. Students, it seems, are naturally apathetic beings. Generally. I’m not quite sure why though. Students are young, fresh, keen, intelligent. Yet lazy. Is there a reason for this? Is it that university students are on their own for the first time, not constrained by parents or teachers? Can they not deal with their own freedom in a responsible manner? Does this lead to them being unwillingly apathetic? I’m not sure, but there could be legs in this idea.

My second ponderance is whether there is really such a thing as “free speech”. I’m finding it increasingly easy to argue that there isn’t. My reason for saying this is simple: you cannot say anything you want. Hence, “free speech” is actually a limited term. You cannot, for example, be racist, or sexist. Or anthing else “-ist”. Thus, the concept of free speech is actually a flawed one, simply because you cannot be completely free if you are operating within social boundaries of race, gender, age etc. Free speech therefore is an idealistic term used to give ourselves a sense of superiority over countries controlled by dictatorships. “We have free speech, we can write or say what we want, we are representative of a fair and democratic society, we must be better than you“. Except that we don’t, do we?


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.

He’s finally done it…

1 03 2008

So good old Dave has finally come out and said something I agree with. At the Conservative Conference in Wales, Cameron has, amongst other things called for “broken politics” to be mended. He has insisted there is too much in the way of spin in politics, and that because of the actions of a few members of parliament, there has been a ‘breakdown of public faith'(BBC).

I agree, at least in part, with his whole speech. Blaming ‘spin’ on the Labour party though, although probably accurate, is almost like shooting yourself in the foot, as the Conservatives now employ spin too.

Bur I do agree that politicians have become concerned with personality politics, which leads to a collapse of public confidence, as Cameron suggests. The trouble is, if you live by the sword (employing personalities to sell something) you inevitably die by it (when things go wrong for those personalities, they go really wrong). The public do not know which way to turn, there is no good option now, the question is about who is less bad. Consequently, the final option to them is to turn away. Be that in the form of not voting at all, or emmigrating to the continent or further afield.

Disillusionment is rife in Britain, and it should be the politicians job to do something to eradicate this frustration. As it is, the politicians are more concerned with political one-upmanship. They wish to outscore their opponent with a witty repost, or a bigger and better way of saying basically the same thing. The Conservatives have recently launched a nice new advertising campaign with promises of more police (surely paying the current ones a better wage first should be a priority?), an improved NHS, and a more stable economy. Which is all very well and good, and honestly, I think the campaign looks smart. But I’m asking myself whether the Labour camp will say the same thing, because, lets face it, they are not going to win any voters by offering a worse economy, or a failing NHS are they?

Returning to the point, I have long championed the argument that communications between MP’s and their electorate should be vastly improved. I still consider this the best way of removing disillusionment. If politicians talked more to their voters, then the voters can have fewer complaints about being ignored, and the MP’s would have a much greater understanding of what the people want.

That does not mean that I, as a voter, should simply wait for my politician to come and talk to me about what I think needs improving etc, but I maintain that the there should be a greater onus on communication, something which works both ways.

And so I am very much relieved that those in the Guild have finally clicked this. Checking out the manifestos for those running for President, and the same things seems to crop up (thus reflecting politics in general?). One of which is communication. They are beginning to understand that to be representative of the people is not simply to win votes but to actually talk to the people and act upon what they are saying.

Last week I was involved in a discussion with members of my department (both teaching and student) about the proposals for a restructure of the course. The staff wanted to know what we thought. There were (I think) three groups of roughly 10 people each who volunteered to learn more and offer criticisms or suggestions about this syllabus change. From this I’m led to believe that voluntary actions won’t work as well. Those at my meeting all had thoughts and opinions about the plans, and were keen to speak about it and discuss it. Students aren’t apathetic, they just need a push. If such meetings were compulsory (and I know of the difficulty of logistics) then I’m sure feedback would be useful as students would have concerns about their course, or university life in general. By making engagement compulsory, then maybe people could start getting enthused with things again.

It isn’t just small university admin-type politics either, there is no reason the Guild couldn’t have meetings, through the Guild Councillors, with the students to discuss things and give feedback on issues which affect them.

I’m just trying to propose some ideas with the main premise that people aren’t engaging because those in control do not engage with them in the first place. Improve communication, and I think you will go a long way towards improving politics.