Three Visions: how can SUs engage students beyond the classroom?

Friday 07-10-2016 - 11:42

At Zone Conferences 2016, each of our five Zones will have their own respective ‘key themes’. So far, we’ve looked at the world post-Brexit, student mental health and post-16 skills. Here, the Union Development Zone thinks about how we can boost young peoples’ confidence to engage in politics and civic life beyond the classroom?

Many students find involvement with the SU is more educational and important to their future life than the substance of their course. Students’ unions teach students relationship skills, civic awareness and political understanding every day.

Despite our best efforts, students and young people are still some of the most disengaged and disempowered groups in society. In the EU referendum only 64 per cent of 18-24 year olds voted, compared to 90 per cent of over 65s. And the 52 per cent Leave result was far away from the 75 per cent of 18-24 year olds who voted Remain. 

What can students’ unions do to solve this engagement gap? Here are three visions…

Political Education should be a compulsory part of the formal curriculum at all levels

We can use our influence to ensure the curriculum covers things like the UK constitution, how decisions are made in society and key leadership skills.

It’s a national indignity that this doesn’t happen already. It cuts ordinary people out of politics by obscuring it in elitist language and complicated processes.

If students are more knowledgeable they will understand the importance of getting involved and be more confident to do so.

We should run public masterclass programmes based on current affairs and the issues students need to understand

Our great opportunity is we can rip up the rules of the education system and be a dynamic force for good in society.

We have almost unparalleled access to the academic community in the UK. We are experts in what issues students and young people care about. On average there are five students’ unions in every postcode area of the UK. We have significant physical and digital capacity. We should not only set the curriculum but deliver it.

We can make education accessible to everyone, everywhere. Our movement could become the dominant public education system in students’ interests.

We should find student opportunities based on the educational benefits for students and society

It’s not worth funding the ‘weird and wacky’ or ‘just for fun’ societies when those providing tangible political education are struggling to stay afloat. Our organisations need to prioritise our limited resources and some opportunities are just nice-to-haves.

The student society campaigning for sustainable energy policy is evidently doing more to help students engage with politics than the Disney appreciation society. Let’s recognise that – putting those most effective groups at the front of the queue for funding.

In fact I think we could even be going out of our way to establish opportunities where we think there is a gap in our offer. For instance why not ring-fence funding for the youth wings of all the major political parties.

Registration for Zone Conferences closes next Tuesday (11 October) at 5pm. All delegates will be twinned with delegates, where possible from the same union, unless a single room supplement is paid - more details on the registration page.



Features, Shape Our Work, Union Development, Zone Conferences

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