Is CUSU more engaged with the student population under Evie Aspinall?Louis Ashworth

During her campaign for CUSU President last year, Evie Aspinall cited CUSU visibility and engagement as a key policy area.

She criticised CUSU as a “bubble” and positioned herself as an outsider who understood students’ disillusionment with CUSU.

With CUSU elections around the corner, it is worth examining changes in engagement and representation within CUSU.

Devolution as representation

This week saw CUSU Council pass a motion to devolve its structure to two bodies, a ‘College Forum’ and an ‘Academic Forum’. These are designed to “directly address the issues that [students] care most about”.

CUSU’s motion to devolve cited a survey of students which received 122 responses, with 83% of respondents saying that CUSU Council should focus on academic issues, whilst 80% said that it should focus on college life issues.

During her campaign, Aspinall said that a key policy was increasing “CUSU’s engagement with JCRs and having regular meetings”, which ‘College Forum’, building off Aspinall’s work with ‘PresCon’ meetings with college JCR presidents, will seek to address. However, Aspinall’s policy for this was criticised by another candidate who last year ran for CUSU President with experience as a JCR president, Connor MacDonald, who said that working groups would be more effective.

Last year, Aspinall criticised the length and bureaucratic nature of CUSU Council. However, at the Council where the motion was passed to devolve CUSU Council, concerns were raised that devolving the Council could increase the bureaucracy of the Council. Members were assured that motions could be brought to Council as they normally are, without needing to go through these devolved bodies.

Furthermore, at the second Council of term, Aspinall did describe the move as an attempt to “best represent students” rather than necessarily increase engagement with CUSU Council.

Aspinall has also set up a ‘democracy steering group’, comprising the CUSU President, the chair of the elections committee and the CUSU Council Chair. Its duties will include ensuring that sabbatical officers follow through on policy passed at CUSU Council and encouraging representatives to properly consult their constituents for decisions made at Council.

Engagement

Aspinall told Varsity that “engagement with CUSU Council has definitely improved. Attendance has increased and the feedback we’ve received from Council members has been positive.”

Beyond this, to what extent has CUSU’s engagement with the wider student body improved?

Aspinall last year said that students often do not know what CUSU is doing for them, claiming that CUSU “need[s] to be in their face”, and promised to be a “really visible” President.

Aspinall has sought to remedy that through the introduction of ‘accountability videos’ on Facebook in January. This replaced previous practice when sabbatical officers would provide updates on their work at the bi-weekly CUSU Council, which tends not to be attended by ordinary members of the student body who do not have a vote at the Council.

Aspinall’s videos have seen around 500 to 800 views each. CUSU has a membership of 21,594, but considering Council attendance is not in the hundreds, these are undoubtedly reaching much higher numbers of students than previously.

How feasible is changing CUSU’s engagement?

However, engagement is something that CUSU Presidents have promised for years, with previous Presidents Amatey Doku and Daisy Eyre running on similar policies. To what extent should CUSU focus on ‘engagement’, when it seems almost inevitable that a large portion of the student body will feel disengaged with its activity, perhaps due to the more accessible and seemingly relevant work of JCRs?


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Mountain View

CUSU Council to devolve its structure in a bid to address engagement

Aspinall said to Varsity that “CUSU Council isn’t the whole picture”, commenting that “we’ve shifted our focus on to supporting JCRs and MCRs more” which may help to bridge this disconnect.

The devolution of council to ‘College Forum’ and ‘Academic Forum’ will be a part of this – but the extra stages may risk making CUSU feel even more bureaucratic.

It will be interesting to see whether any of this year’s candidates choose to centre their campaigns on the issue of ‘engagement’ or whether other issues will take centre stage.

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