Remember Me?

10 03 2010

Aware as I am about my lack of blogging in recent months, I shall try (amidst work, and studying, and volunteering, and applying for better jobs, and sleeping) to blog more frequently from now on.

This time last year I was involved in the successful campaign to get one of my friends elected into one of the Sabb Officer positions within the University’s Guild (of which, I’m aware, I’ve been less than receptive in the past). The two weeks spent campaigning were brilliant and tiring. The result was close but a testament to both sides.

And now it is all happening again. Which has raised two questions in my mind. Firstly, where the hell has the time gone this past year? And secondly, why the hell do I know so very little about anybody running for any of the roles within the Guild? After all, I am still a student at the university, and as such do still have the right to a vote in such issues, especially for positions which may affect me. I will, at this point, hold my hands up and admit that this is my last year at the University, I will graduate in December, but will not be an official student there beyond July. However, this isn’t the point. The point is, I want to vote, but know nothing about anyone running.

My trouble seems to be two-fold. The first is that I’m a post-grad student, who, it seems, are more frequently ignored by the candidates than the people within the Guild would care to admit. It is acknowledged that us post-grads are a part of the uni, but make up a small percentage of students, so do not warrant any attention. The second part of my problem is that I’m a part-time student. Meaning I’m on campus roughly once a month. This means therefore that I am exposed to very little of the university life, the university politics, or the university’s students. These two things mean I know little about the candidates, who is running for which positions, and why I should consider voting for them. I accept these things are a problem.

However, the Guild, the candidates, or whoever could make my life easier. I have been sent no official email from the Guild to my university email address. I have received two facebook messages (both telling me to attend events I cannot possibly make) about the elections, but nothing more. I have not received any other messages, or emails to tell me about the elections. It is only because I know that they are on that I have checked out the Guild’s page on the candidates, although, admittedly, I haven’t really ‘read’ the information yet.

All of which means that those students, post-grad or otherwise, who do not know about the elections, will obviously not have a democratic voice. I know there are members of my course who are not on Facebook (mainly because they are the top side of 40). I also know that they all have a uni email address. It’s set up right at the start, and is for university related emails. So why has no-one from the Guild twigged that just by sending a simple reminder to all students via the university’s email system, they could maybe gather just a few more votes and make it so that the continually low voter turnout is maybe helped, albeit by just a few more votes.

I accept that I’m out of the loop a little here, but there are things that the Guild could, and should be doing to make it easier for me to know about and to vote in the elections.


The Real World…

12 10 2009

I was back in Birmingham for the first time in about three months last weekend, catching up with friends and reminding myself of the student life. After a more than filling curry, conversation moved onto politics, as it invariably does.

It was little more than I was expecting. Whilst my mates are unashamedly left wing in political outlook, it was the comment that Cameron, Boris et al do not live in the “real world” which stuck in my mind the most. It seems a strange comment, given the limited “real world” experience of the commentator. I sat there and kept quiet, avoiding a debate I simply could not be bothered with at that point.

It is true that students do have many problems, issues and complexities with which they have to deal. I’m aware of that, with my own experience as a part-time student continuing, and indeed, set to continue for the forseeable future. However it seems odd to me that a student, who has spent all of his adult life in education of some variety or other, should suggest that the folk of the Tory party do not live in the real world. I don’t profess to know quite what the “real world” is other than some notion used to lazily define the everyday man. I do know that a student with such a limited life experience cannot claim to understand what the real world is, let alone use it as the basis for dismissing the Tory party. I accept that he dislikes the Tories, but that suggestion was both odd and ill-considered.

By all means have a view of the world, but do not claim to have views representative of the “real world” as a) the label is misnomic and b) it is very unlikely that you do.

What Do We Learn?

5 08 2009

Firstly, let me apologise for hugely infrequent blogging of late. The last month has been a touch hectic, and hence blogging has fallen to the bottom of my list of priorites. Mind you, at least I’m still here, something I’m not sure can be said of the folks over on the BULS blog.

Anywho, I just wished to write something about the Independent‘s reporting of the SAT’s figures which have come out. I’m guessing (but not knowing) that most other newspapers will have picked up on this too, with some making more of a point out of it than others. Folks, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but SAT’s figures have fallen for the first time in 15 years. Which means that we need to begin panicking because 46,000 11-year-olds cannot read and 39% of students “failed to master the ‘three R’s”.

Except, I remain confused. I thought, given yearly rises in GCSE and A Level results, that exams are getting easier. Aren’t they? Every year another record is broken, and I expect that the results, due out in the next couple of weeks, will again have record levels of something. Students aren’t getting cleverer, the system is making it look that way, or so those who argue about the vaildity of exams claim.

Now, I’m aware that there is a huge difference between SAT’s at 11, and GCSE’s at 16. However, if we are to accept that 11 year olds are getting worse at reading, writing and arithmetic (whoever coined the phrase the ‘three R’s’ obviously had as many problems as the kids do when it comes to spelling), how can we explain the yearly increase in GCSE result averages?

Simply put, the whole thing should be taken with a huge dose of salt. The media jumps on figures (as one wise man once put it, “people can come up with statistics to prove anything. 14% of all people know that”), and either the school kids are over-achieving because of the inadequacies of the system, or they are failing because of the inadequacies of themselves. There seems to be no middle ground, as Richard Gardner writes in his comment on the story in the same paper.

For my part, I’m not to sure about the exams getting ‘easier’. I think back a few years and remember how hard I worked for three consecutive years. That, I’m sure, was not easy (unless there’s some new-fangled dictionary that the kids are learning from these days). What I do think is that the students are learning to play the system better. By which I mean they are learning how to write an answer, rather than how to get the right answer. They are learning exam technique rather than the information to get the right answer. By getting the technique right, the rest becomes irrelevant. In history for example, you don’t have to write a good essay, just construct one (introduction – outline your argument, prioritise your points, explain why one is more or less important, conclude), if you follow the structure, you could, by and large, write rubbish and still do well enough to pass. In maths, you do not have to get the right answer, but demonstrate a way you would use to get the answer, after all, so we were told, you get marks for your ‘working’.

This sort of thing gets taught as much as the correct information, and this is a fault of the system. Whilst it is true that technique is important, it should be that the correct information is of more importance. In maths you should be taught the correct formulae, in history, the correct dates, people etc. This should be the core of teaching, not technique (I remember having a few English classes dedicated to ‘exam technique’ in the months prior to my exams). There is too much emphasis placed on technique, and this is a fault I think exists throughout the system.

There are, of course, other issues with the SAT’s tests and their role in education. I do not wish to talk about these now, simply because there are too many issues to cover here. I will leave it with a quote from Garner’s piece, “it is almost refreshing to know that there is a test where results can down, as well as up.

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.

Flavour of the month…

22 02 2008

So, we are at that time of year again. The constant heckling by people who really, really, really want me to vote for them, or their chosen candidates in the Guild’s oh-so-great elections. Buoyed by the recent surprising success, those in the Guild will, maybe justifiably think that this year representation of the voters in the elections will be at an all time high. Without wishing to burst any bubbles, I’m inclined to disagree. These elections are so much different to the previous vote. Then there was a simple yes or no (or abstain, but only a comparative handful of people chose this route).

Now there is selection. And this is a huge problem. No longer have you got every member of the guild campaigning for their political futures. Instead you have a contest. And their challenge is to attract voters with their (not so) witty slogans as well as a colourful poster and maybe, if you are lucky, some form of policy. And there are, at least for the bigger roles, a few different candidates.

Asking people to make a decision based on policy is something much harder than asking them to save something I believe. The people of the university have shown themselves to be apathetic time and again, and the one anomalous result was the last vote. I think (but am willing to be corrected) there are about 28-29000 students at UoB. Those in the Guild celebrated like it was 1999 when they achieved over 10% of the students turning up to vote. There were 4010 votes cast for the referendum. That’s (according to Redbrick figures and my maths) just about 14% of the population.


I cannot see them matching that again. Which is why I agree in part with this article. But only in part. I agree that students are a-political. And I agree that it is nice to see refreshing policy politics take the stage rather than party politics which so frequently dogs our systems. However, I’m not so sure that this apathy can constitute a jump to being “not that radical”.

To me that is like saying that the tribes of the Amazon dislike football. How do you know? Has anyone asked them? I very much doubt it. The argument that those who are ‘radical’ (this term is something which gets thrown around too much) would have made themselves heard already is something which I do not buy into. Put simply I believe that those whose political outlook is ‘radical’ are afraid. They are afraid of being typecast by ignorant members of the higher authorities.

“Oh you have a view which is similar to the BNP’s? You must therefore want to eradicate everybody who isn’t white, and gas all the jews…We aren’t going to let you do this, we will stamp you down first!” (disclaimer: I do not condone the BNP and it’s racial policies at all).

These higher authorities came out in force last night to watch the public debate. About free speech. I won’t enter this argument again, but will note that common sense won. The higher authorities are dead set against people who hold radical views. I maintain that whilst there is ‘too extreme’, someone with a slightly more radical view prevents our increasingly centre-ist society from becoming sterile. Boring. Personality based. Radicalism is a good thing in society in general.

Having completely wandered from my initial thinking, I will make a swift return to the point. For the next few weeks I am expecting invites to 2oo or so different facebook groups. I am expecting to be given a small rainforest of paper explaining why it is so simple to vote for x or y, and I really should do it. I am expecting student politics to suddenly become the most important thing in the world, and I am expecting hardly anybody will care.

Should we be happy?

9 02 2008

As a politically aware (but not politically active) student, this week has been an interesting one to watch. Due to government legislation, our Guild of Students has had to get 10% of the student population to vote to save the Guild as it is in its current form. I was very pessimistic about this being achieved. Given the low turnout in other Guild elections, I wasn’t holding my breath that roughly 3000 votes would be achieved in five days.

Yet it was. Not just that, they apparently managed to gain almost 1000 more votes than they required.

I don’t know whether I’m happy or not about this news. Yes, it is a good thing that the Guild managed to gather so many votes, it is a sign that student apathy does not completely rule(despite my thoughts). And yet surely it is a bad thing that people are delighted that they managed to convince just over 10% of the student body to vote, leaving the other apathetic 80-odd% wallowing in their own self ignorance.

I am glad that the Guild has managed to survive, and am aware that it must change its ways to encourage more participation with the student body as a whole. This whole incident should serve as a warning sign to those in the Guild, they should take note of the situation and the rather tense nature of the election.

Equally importantly though, this should act as an encouragement to them. They have managed to convince people to vote in numbers which I was not alone in thinking were beyond them at the start of the week. If one weeks work can yield such results, surely a more concerted effort can be made to attract more people to use the guild as a student government, rather than seeing it in its current guise.

The only way is up it seems. Watch this space…