LUSU have announced their first General Meeting of the academic year. The two main issues that the FTO team will be bringing to the General Meeting for discussion are the cost of living and the college review.
The cost of living discussion will be lead by President Laura Clayson and VP (Welfare) Mia Scott. The discussion will centre on what LUSU are doing to achieve the existing motion put forward in Union Council in Summer Term last year by former LUSU President Joel Pullan. This motion focuses specifically on three areas of cost of living: accommodation, bus passes and hidden course costs.
With regards to accommodation, Clayson said: “One of the aims of our campaign is to try and get accommodation in each of the colleges in line with as much as you receive for your student loan if you’re on the highest, as none of it is particularly affordable.”
She added: “what concerns me is that, as far as I’m aware, we only have one bit of accommodation on campus that is under £100 and that’s Bowland Annexe.” Additionally to this, Clayson said she is hoping to create an incentive scheme with Facilities, whereby if students reduce their energy bills by a certain amount they will get a rebate on their rent. However, she said: “it’s proving to be quite difficult to make this work because of the way the different accommodations are metered. But the energy manager is looking into it so hopefully it’ll work.”
She also highlighted the problem of Lancaster’s rent agreement with UPP. She said: “it’s just really difficult because when UPP accommodation increases each year with inflation, the University has to increase theirs by the same amount. But hopefully if we run a successful campaign we’ll be able to tackle the cost of living in some way.”
VP (Union Development) Damon Fairley said that when the University goes forward with building new accommodation, “something we’re pushing for is for them not just to build expensive accommodation but that they’ll actually think of more options for standard because we don’t build new standard accommodation, we seem to only build new ensuite accommodation.”
In addition to the ideas in the existing motion, each FTO is focusing on an aspect of the issue of the cost of living in their remit. President Laura Clayson said she is working closing with JCRs and supporting them in order to get a campaign going and VP (Campaigns and Communications) Ronnie Rowlands will also be collaborating with JCRs as LUSU wants to conduct research within the colleges.
VP (Union Development) Damon Fairley will be looking into how LUSU’s services contribute to the cost of living. In his role he will be focusing on how students can make a cheap healthy meal with things from LUSU Central. He said: “the idea is that in Central on one of the ends of an aisle, we have all the ingredients for a cheap healthy meal that tastes really good. So we’re trying to give students inspiration for cheaper meals.” He also said that he will be looking into issues of cost of living surrounding LUSU Living.
In his role, VP (Education) Joe O’Neill will be looking at the hidden course costs, as put forward in the previous motion, and VP (Welfare and Community) Mia Scott will be working on ‘food is free’ and promoting Green Lancaster and the Eco Hub. Students will be encouraged to go and pick their own potatoes and get eggs from the chickens, for example.
Speaking to SCAN about the discussion of the cost of living in the General Meeting, Fairley said “it’s essentially a debate that we think students should lead. As FTOs we are there to take a leadership role but at the end of the day we need students to say ‘these are the key issues and this is what we want you to do about them’, because then we really have a strong footing to go to the University and say ‘this is what the membership want’ and one of our big priorities this year is to be the authentic voice of students and we can’t be that without asking students what they think. I think it’s really important that students do come and engage with this process, because real actions will come from it. We can only speak on behalf of students when they tell us what they think.”
The other key topic of debate which will be put forward at the forthcoming LUSU General Meeting will be the looming college review. A discussion will take place to hear student responses in order to allow the Union to use feedback to address the concerns raised by all parties on the review panel.
Damon Fairley and Laura Clayson are the only two student representatives on the review panel, intended to generate discussion on how the colleges could best be improved. Despite this, Fairley believes that this was something of a coup considering that Clayson had initially been chosen as the sole student representative on the panel. “I think it was a win for us to get two student representatives on there though. There’s only nine members and two of them are students, so you could argue we need more, but at the same time we initially only had one position and now we have two, so although not ideal it’s a step in the right direction.”
As well as the review panel itself, there will also be some impetus from key stakeholder meetings, such as a meeting between all College Presidents to discuss the review, which took place on Tuesday Week 5.
As a representative of students of the discussion panel, Fairley recognised that it was important to use the general meeting as an opportunity for students to influence the discussions that take place, and raise any concerns of their own regarding the colleges. “The key thing is, we’re going to be asking students at the general meeting what they think about colleges and how they can be improved. So we can feed that into the review, so if there’s something not currently on the agenda, there is no reason why we cannot put it on the agenda.”
According to the reference of terms for the upcoming review, its purpose is “to consider the effectiveness of the current College staffing structures and make recommendations for the future to enhance support and leadership in the Colleges.” This focus on College leadership is particularly important following recent decisions over two colleges, Bowland and Lonsdale, which are acting without their own College principals.
Fairley agreed with this assessment that one of the key points of discussion would be the role of principals and how other staff members relate to the colleges. “I think they are looking at ways in which staffing in colleges works and support in colleges works. I think discussion will be based around the role of the Principal and how they can make that role more attractive to senior academics and professional staff.
“One thing that the University has mentioned is that only one college principal is an academic currently. That’s not to say that only academics should be college principals, but I think that does highlight that academics aren’t as involved in the colleges as the University would like them to be.”
The general meeting will not be the only consultation with students regarding the review, as LUSU Councillor Gaby Aspinall has written a survey to analyse students’ attitudes towards the colleges. Fairley revealed this, saying “I know there is going to be a survey going out shortly as well, which is being compiled by Gaby Aspinall, a LUSU Councillor, around some key questions to do with the colleges so when we go into these meetings we have clearly sought what students think on issues.”
The original date set for the general meeting was Thursday Week 7, although this planned to change as it directly clashes with LUSU council that week. The link to the Facebook page for further information is here.