Today marks the end of this year’s Autumn Elections. For many of you this will have been your first Imperial College Union election, and it’s been a brilliant one all round: many of our representative positions, in particular within the Royal College of Science Union (RCSU) departments, were heavily contested; our Council elections have been the most contested in ‘living memory’, attracting 49 candidates for 16 seats on the Union’s top democratic decision-making board. Congratulations to those of you who have won positions, and thanks to all who took part in the process this time round.
But this isn’t the end of your chance to have a say in what goes on at Imperial. Far from it – this is the beginning.
With the newly-elected representatives the Union can now turn its full attention into representing our views – the views of the students at College – at important College meetings, such as departmental and Faculty level staff-student committees and liaison groups. Rather than switching off after yet another election, this is the time where you should remain critically engaged. Imperial students are known for being apathetic. In the past we haven’t raised our heads when our courses are changed against our best interests, and we’ve accepted poor pastoral care and academic teaching. We see ourselves as customers of a rigidly pre-defined educational product that is set in stone and cannot be changed: a stepping stone on the way to a cosy job in Canary Wharf or the Square Mile. It’s something that has been forced on us by society by the increase in tuition fees and other government policy affecting universities. College, with its increasingly corporate attitude, certainly isn’t helping.
“In the past, we haven’t raised our heads when our courses are changed against our best interests, and have accepted poor pastoral care”
We’re seeing all parts of our community, staff, and students, calling out poorly-made decisions by opaque divisions in Sherfield. In meetings with senior departmental and Faculty staff, we often find ourselves on the same page with the people we represent your views to. They’re just as confounded at the poor response and engagement as we are, and are willing to make sweeping and positive changes. They just need to know what changes we want them to make.
Your Academic and Wellbeing representatives are the conduit between you and your Departmental staff, the people who you have chosen to be the trusted voices of your cohort. Their views and their complaints will be taken seriously, and anything they raise in an official forum will be considered and dealt with. However, they need to know about the issues and problems that you face in your course so that they can act. So I issue the following call to action.
We need a culture change here at Imperial. We all need to become more active participants in our own learning, celebrating the best in educational practice and calling out poor practice that is in need of improvement. In the aftermath of this election season, make sure to find out who your Year and Department Representative are. Try and identify them, and introduce yourself to them. Whenever you have an issue with coursework or a lecture course, bring it up with them – it’s likely that other people will have the same issue, and your rep is just waiting for enough evidence to act. Never assume that someone else will complain for you – always stand up and point out where something feels like it could be made better. It’s not just on us though: academic staff need to see us as partners in our learning and the wider ‘Imperial experience’ rather than adversaries or whiny children. We know how best we learn, and by banding together and voicing what we think, we can effect change for the better.
We need to remember that democracy isn’t just voting every now and then for our representatives and delegating all responsibility to them. Democracy is being able to continue having your own voice heard after you’ve left the polling booth. My goal for this year is to expand and broaden democracy within the Faculty of Natural Sciences by upholding this principle and ensuring you can continuously and effectively have your voice heard through your representatives, and I call upon the other Constituent Unions – and you, the student body – to join us in our endeavour to truly make Imperial College Union the most democratic Student’s Union in the UK.