As election week draws on, banners, flyers and eager speakers popping up at the beginning of lectures become regular sights: to most students, perhaps, just background noise.
It’s easy to allow the wave of enthusiasm in the Guild bubble to wash over your head. It’s no secret that the Guild can seem like a distant, mysterious entity to many students. “Unaccountable” and “unrepresentative” are words uttered by the few students who know enough to care. For most, the Guild is just a bar and Starbucks.
The Guild, however, is our students’ union. It is a students’ collective, existing to enhance our university experience by shaping our skills, our social lives, our health and development as young people, and, most importantly of all, to represent us.
As students pay more for tuition than ever, university is — like it or not — becoming a more consumer-based experience. We are treated like customers: more and more, the university considers “the Guild” to be synonymous with “the student body”.
The University of Liverpool listens to the Guild, and that means the Student Representative Officers (SROs) we select are crucial. Ask yourself: what kind of person, priorities and values best represent me? Who deserves to earn that £18,185 salary? Who would you turn to in an hour of need?
SROs are paid elected representatives chosen by us. They are students who take one or two years away from their studies to work as the mediators between the Guild staff and the student body.
They “oversee the running of the organisation”, and the first section of their job description states that they should “set the strategic direction of the Guild and identify what priorities staff should work on to improve the lives of students.”
This means, quite simply, that if you wish the Guild was less political and offered more to students: vote for a candidate who represents you. If you think the Guild is badly run, vote for a candidate who is likely to criticise constructively and lobby for change. These common criticisms are the product of low voter turnout. If the Guild is unrepresentative, student apathy is to blame.
Even good student elections consistently suffer from a turnout of below 30 per cent. This problem, however, reflects youth disengagement with democracy more broadly. In the 2010 election, just 39 percent of young women and 50 percent of young men voted.
One hundred years ago, everyone but particularly privileged men were denied the vote. It wasn’t until 1969 that under-21s like many of us were given this right. So why are young people so reluctant to shape their world; to have their say?
Democracy is something like a religion: it is nothing if people don’t believe in it. It isn’t the perfect system of governance it is often presented as in the West: in all of its forms, democracy is flawed. Just ask Plato. But, as Winston Churchill said, it’s the worst system except all the others. And it counts for nothing unless we actively participate in it.
Students with no reason to criticise Guild or university life are justified in their lack of voting. Likewise, if you don’t believe in democracy of this kind, exercise your right not to cast a vote. But students shouldn’t let their apathy, boredom or disillusionment stop them from shaping university life for the better.
According to Harry Anderson, current Guild President, “Over the past two years, I’ve seen first hand just how influential the Guild Officers can be.
“On countless times the Vice Chancellor has turned to me in a meeting and said ‘Harry, what do our students think about x, y and z.’ The four students you elect will have real power to change things and so we need the people with the best ideas and strongest mandates running the Guild. That relies on everyone having their say and voting.”
Democracy is the first step of participation: it is a small cog in the wheel of Higher Education; a means to an end. However, in a Guild where even the Democracy Officer is — in a hilariously ironic detail — unelected, more democracy can only be a good thing.
How do we reshape the Guild; mould our university experience for the better? The answer is simple: vote.
Elections close at 2pm on Friday, 11th March.