Is there a free market solution to the Union’s failings?

By John Engle

The Students’ Union represents a monumental waste of money and resources by College. It is little more than a subsidised clique, serving virtually no function other than to inflate the egos of its miniscule active membership by serving as their personal piggy bank for the execution of colourless events and pointless protests.

The SU boasts every undergraduate student as a member. Whereas student societies and clubs must actively campaign for membership and funding, the SU is allowed to simply extort money from each student as he registers. Is there a method of preventing this? No. Why? Because they are rightly scared to think that people might not willingly pay for the “service” they supposedly provide the student body.

What does the SU do? Not much really. It promotes various themed weeks by putting up banners and stages the odd “protest”, usually consisting of spending your money so they can have a good time while “fighting for your rights”. Anything else? Well it also publishes a newspaper about as well-written and edited as a seven-year-old’s English paper.

The SU manages to accomplish all of this with a budget more than ten times the size of that of the two largest student societies combined. The amount of waste the SU represents is sheer insanity. It is unnecessary that it should make new t-shirts for every one-day campaign, nor is it necessary for its officers to be paid a salary and given free housing on campus when their workloads are barely more taxing than those of the larger student societies who receive no such benefits.

However, there are two roles the in the SU that are constantly cited (and usually the only cited), as being indispensable to the students. These are the positions of Welfare Officer and Education Officer. These two positions may well serve a useful purpose, but that does not justify the existence of the whole bloated hulk of the rest of the SU. Really, it shows that these two roles could, and surely should, exist outside the SU structure and simply be incorporated into the College organisation.

Not only would this new organisation be more efficient, but also it would serve to distance these two apolitical roles from the SU’s highly charged agenda. This separation would allow these officers to no longer tow the Union line, which consists invariably of what is best for the SU leadership at the expense of its members, but rather to do what is in the best interest of the students they serve directly.

The SU should not necessarily cease to exist, but it must cease to exist in its current form. The best solution is to make membership in the SU optional and to force its leadership to actively campaign for members in the crucible of Freshers’ Week, just as student societies and clubs must.

Students enjoy the choice to join whatever societies interest them personally and that offer the best services. It is a beautiful example of market forces in action, resulting in an efficient distribution of wealth and resources among student associations. Why should the SU be exempt from this? It is not special and offers little for the price students pay.

If it considers itself indispensable to students, then it should genuinely make itself so. Students will join if it serves a genuine, valuable purpose. The answer is to make them work for their membership like everyone else. This will not only allow students to reallocate the funds normally appropriated by the SU, but will also make the SU a better institution because it will truly be held to account for its actions and will be unable to simply absorb funds with no promises of return on students’ investments.