ULU - The University of London Union Referendum

The fate of the University of London Union: Why should you care?

If you’re anything like me, you didn’t know about the arrest of Michael Chessum, University of London Union (ULU) President, on 14 November 2013.  You didn’t know about the student protest occupation of Senate House on 4 December 2013.  And you deleted that e-mail from Rob Park, Chief Counting Officer, Birkbeck SU, entitled Birkbeck Elections.

Why get involved in student politics?  It won’t help you pass your course.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it isn’t a virtue.  Getting involved isn’t a requirement.  Knowing about what’s involved arguably is.  So what’s going on?

If you looked more closely than me at that e-mail from Rob Park, you would have seen that it was inviting you to participate in a poll on the Future of ULU (the umbrella union for some 18 University of London Colleges).

The poll is a response to a decision by the trustees of the University on 22 May 2013 to implement the recommendations of the Review Group who had been commissioned by the University of London to consider the future of ULU back in September 2012.

The Review, published on 3 May 2013, had put forward a number of recommendations including: the ULU cease to be a representative student body; the ULU’s headquarters be refurbished and become a self-financing and sustainable student centre; pan-London student representation (i.e. wider than just the University of London) should be investigated.

Why were these recommendations made?  In his letter of 22 May 2013 – http://bif.gd/684837 – Rob Park informs us it was because the Colleges of the University of London did not view ULU as being value for money (Birkbeck College for example, pays a subscription to ULU of £70,000 per year).

In essence, ULU aren’t doing anything that can’t be done by College Student Unions or the NUS.  In place of ULU, the Review Group recommended the re-direction of the ULU subscription to local services and students’ unions.

In response to this decision by the trustees of the University, the student unions are canvassing all students across the University of London to provide their input by way of a poll, with just one question to answer: “Should ULU’s buildings, activities and campaigns continue to be run democratically by students?”

It seems for some students however, this cause of action may not carry enough weight.  After all, could the results of the poll be used to sway the University, even if the outcome is a resounding “yes”?

The protest demonstrations on 14 November 2013 which led to Michael Chessum’s arrest under Section 11 of the Public Order Act, which covers the right for “advance notice of public processions”, have been followed up by the occupation of Senate House on 4 December 2013.

In a statement from the University of London occupation posted by BloomsburyFightBack on 4 December, it was claimed: “We have taken over the main management corridor and Vice Chancellor’s office in opposition to the way our university is being run and the way the higher education sector as a whole is controlled.  This action is restorative; displacing the undemocratic and unaccountable management with a democratic space for the free pursuit of knowledge, critical enquiry and dissent.”

Fighting words indeed, but putting aside issues of who is in the right, the main question is still: are we better off with or without the ULU?

The University of London have sought to make their case: (http://www.london.ac.uk/5573.html). This was in turn rebutted by Michael Chessum (http://www.ulu.co.uk/news/article/6013/The-Universitys-facts-about-ULU/).

If one uses these documents alone to evaluate the role of the ULU, it would appear that one could pick out a number of areas to justify the importance of the ULU: students rather than staff run the building in Malet Street; it’s useful having an umbrella organisation to co-ordinate regional student representation; they add value as a hub for students societies and activities, particularly for those clubs and societies that cannot be run locally by colleges.

Now behind all of this is, of course, the issue of finance.  The University want to stop paying a grant to a union and repossess a building to make it self-financing to save money.

Is this a saving that you agree with?  If you haven’t already done so, why don’t you get yourself down to that building in Malet Street and check it out?  Do you like it as it is?  Because as things stand, from August 2014, it will change so that it becomes less studenty and more commercial.

So now it’s over to you.  You have until 12 noon on 12 December 2013 to make your vote in that poll.

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