Student elections: Why do they matter?

It’s no secret that for most, student elections just seem a bit dull and pointless – nothing more than a bugging notification on the MyWarwick app. This may be a symptom of their perceived lack of importance when compared to the general business of your degree, social life, and the ever-present student need for sleep – with that I can’t argue. No one will ever prioritise a student ­– let alone a general – election over those essentials. It could also, however – and this is what I think is the case – be a symptom of a complete and utter lack of perceived, independent relevance. By this I mean that even if you one day found yourself without the burden of all those other university essentials, you’d still rather lie about, twiddle your thumbs, and daydream about next week’s big night out than bother thinking about a student election, because you just don’t think it’s very important. I think this contention is wrong, and there’s several things that you should consider even if you end up not agreeing.

We all know that education matters, and that it matters in many different ways for many different people. Most of the politically minded continuously harp on about systematic educational issues in the UK – some groups have disproportionate advantages, others struggle and don’t have their needs effectively catered to, the public school system dumps prehistoric weirdos into No10… The list goes on and opinions vary, but all clearly and rightly believe that the circumstances in which people are educated matters. But there are problems with the ways we discuss those educational issues – problems which don’t lend themselves particularly well to student election voter turnouts. The first problem is that education concern seems very school-centric. People talk about private schools, Eton, and underfunded state schools. Universities are very much left out of the equation, making the desire to vote on the upkeep and direction of these institutions a rare one. The second issue seems to be that although most people certainly believe that education matters, they discuss, ponder, comment, and preach from afar, forgetting that they themselves have some say. I’m sure that far more than 862 people care about the way Warwick is run, but this term’s All Student Vote seems to suggest that the rest have forgotten that they have some input. This input really does matter for the present university experience and – more importantly – for the future.

It really is much more of a political vote than most seem to think

Yes, the third problem is that it seems reasonably obvious that we have an almost unbelievably short-sighted view of these elections, framing their outcomes on our own time at Warwick, and how specific votes may impact us whilst we’re here. I’m not suggesting that this doesn’t matter, but it does neglect an important battleground – the future. How might the accumulation of these mini elections affect the lives of people post-Warwick and the experience of Warwick students post-us? Take the current crop of politicians as an example. There’s not much satisfaction to be had, and criticisms of all parties are aplenty, but one specific point which continues to crop up is that the type of people who end up in politics is magnificently dissatisfactory. More specifically, there’s constant scrutiny and complaints regarding the ways in which those people have been brought up, how they’ve been educated, where they’ve been taught. Whether you think Boris Johnson is a blonde-wigged, fumbling, bloviating baboon – or, as Andrew Marr wrote in The New Statesman this week, a formidable, alpha-male albino gorilla – the consensus is that those weird, floundering Johnson-and-Rees-Mogg-type characters are how they are because of a certain, damaging education system. Most don’t seem to look further than Eton and the public school system when allocating blame, but my contention is that if school circumstances can impact a person so profoundly that it affects the way they run a nation 30-40 years down the line, universities probably have some influence too. After all, we know that Boris had a funny old formative time at uni. It therefore seems appropriate that we care about the principles set at university, and the type of care they provide for the people who will one day be heading up society. There’s more at stake than here and now – the candidates and principles you vote for matter for the future.

Indeed, it hardly needs pointing out that it’s not only politicians who happen to soak up some substance of character from the institutions in which they spend many a formative year: bankers, lawyers, athletes, charity workers, ‘entrepreneurial businessy people’, everyone else – obviously! The heads of our society all take something away from the experience they have in education, so the principles set in educational institutions will no doubt later be reflected in society’s principles, politics, and general trends and ongoings.

So, vote for candidates to enact principles that you want to see society adopt! It really is much more of a political vote than most seem to think – especially at industry specialist, ‘LinkedIn-factory’ Warwick, where many of the alumni will hold important, powerful positions at some point down the line. The decisions made regarding the way those people experience education may carry an awful lot of weight.

These votes contribute to an institutional make-up that has and will continue to fluctuate and develop across decades

A good example of this is the recent vote for Trans Inclusion in our Union. This isn’t just a vote which may influence the principles of Warwick and the lives of students currently at Warwick, but a vote that will also set principles which may impact the views held by many a graduate in the future. If you’re educated in an institution which displays a certain way of doing things – like making an effort to listen and be inclusive – I reckon it’s much more likely that you’ll do the same by the time you stumble into Downing Street, a banking board room or a PTA meeting – if only by second nature.

Although you may look at ballots, mandates, and motions, and think them all a bit trivial, or think ‘that won’t change much’, it’s all part of a big picture, a long haul. These votes contribute to an institutional make-up that has and will continue to fluctuate and develop across decades. Each member elected and each promise fulfilled adds one extra change to hundreds which have already passed, and hundreds more which may come in the future, eventually building a university reflecting the design of its students.

Upon considering the importance of education to the way in which society is run and to the principles people hold onto throughout life, I don’t think the case for student elections is a particularly hard one to make. All that must be realised is that it’s just as political a vote as any other. A proper grassroots, societal coming together of young people who want their institutions to reflect their beliefs. We’re always talking about young people in politics, and many of us think it’s our time to shine, to make some great big change. That may be the case – but c’mon, don’t be so Westminster-centric. Vote first for where you are, the people you interact with, in a vote that you have a much bigger say in. Vote for those small motions which make up the big picture, doing your bit whilst you’re here for the people who will one day stumble in after you’ve left, all confused, figuring out how to live away from home for the first time.

Vote for candidates with great environmental policies, or to further inclusion, or to provide opportunity for those who may otherwise go without it, or anything else that you deem important. They all add up over time, and in the long run, they will have an enormous influence on the types of people who leave Warwick and head on out into the world. If you want a university that will churn out a diverse array of intelligent, caring, passionate people, don’t just talk about it. Vote for it.


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