Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
The student association at my alma mater, the University of Bath Students’ Union, has announced its first election for a full-time Postgraduate Officer . According to Bath SU, this is because of the feedback that “we have recognised that the representation of our postgraduate students could be much better”.
This increases the full-time officer team, of students who have just graduated or are taking time out from their studies, to six. The Postgraduate Officer will be elected alongside the SU President and four officers covering education, community, activities and sport. Unlike the other roles, which are open to almost all students, the Postgraduate Officer must be studying for a postgraduate degree at the university.
Back in the heady days of yore, known as 2011, I was a socially awkward postgraduate student who led an unsuccessful campaign against the reduction from six officers to five. Today, I am a socially awkward alumnus who observes the increase from five officers to six.
Whilst I cannot find remnants of this campagn on the Bath SU website, I recall that my arguments were overly technocratic. The reasons given for the reduction was that the Communications Officer position, then called the VP Comms, was not working. I asserted that communication strategy should remain with an elected officer, because it needs to respond to the changing “student demos”, and that this change would cause the loss of the elected trustees’ super-majority.
The weaknesses in these arguments are palpable to me now. Communications strategy requires knowledge and expertise in marketing and management . It is part of the day-to-day running of a membership organisation, rather than a specific campaigning function of a students’ union. Student officers, despite their electoral mandate, may have little to no experience in improving communications within a large organisation. Indeed, the poor feedback on the BathStudent.com website was, in part, a result of compounding errors from elected officers lacking the capability — not the desire — to improve a digital service.
Moreover, the proper functioning of a students’ union, particularly in communicating its campaigns and opportunities to its members, should be a collective concern of the elected officer team, rather than a discrete area of responsibility for a single officer. The role for reviewing communications within the students’ union could be shared by the whole team, whilst the running should be left to the SU’s employees.
The claim about super-majorities remains hypothetical without actual cases, and the secondary function of elected officers as trustees of a charity may be completely unknown to some students.
What would have made a much better argument would be to say, whilst communication strategy should be properly managed by those employed to do so, the overall team should continue with six officers. A reduction to five elected officers would cause the remaining roles to become overburdened, with swathes of their discrete remits ignored by people who can only do so much in the time they have.
The sixth officer could be refashioned, drawing out another key representative and campaigning function of the SU — such as representing postgraduate or international students — into a full-time role.
I can claim no credit for this new officer, but I am happy to see a deleterious change I failed to prevent undone.
 Bath SU, 2016. Could you become the Bath SU Postgraduate Officer? Available from: http://www.bathstudent.com/news/article/busu/Could-you-become-the-Bath-SU-Postgraduate-Officer/ [Accessed: 16th January 2016]
 NCVO, 2016. Developing a communications strategy. Available from: https://knowhownonprofit.org/campaigns/communications/effective-communications-1/communications-strategy [Accessed: 16th January 2016]