How relevant are the upcoming UCU elections?

The smell of freshly grilled meat hits you instantly. As you look around you notice students stuffing their faces with burgers and asking eager candidates questions in between. It is both a BBQ and a Q&A, one of the many events which mark the start of the UCU election season. But what exactly does the election season look like? More importantly, how relevant is it? 

Extracurricular lives of the students
Firstly, it is essential to understand what the election is for. The UCSA (University College Student Association) is alongside the Campus Affairs Representative and Academic student council, one of the three main organizations which contribute to student-life at UCU. More specifically, the UCSA aims to improve the extracurricular lives of the students mostly by working with the campus committees, such as the Debate Committee or the Politics Committee. They help allocate the budget to these student-led associations and remain in touch with their individual chairs in order to deal with any potential issues.

The UCSA is composed of a Chair, a Secretary, a Treasurer and three CAOs, each serving a tenure of one year which begins the semester after their election. Being part of the UCSA is certainly a delightful opportunity to give back to the UCU community but it does add its fair share of additional responsibilities on an already tight timetable.

Stressful yet rewarding commitment
Since UCSA meetings are lengthy and held often, it is easy to understand why UCU gives a special advantage to the members: 2 courses instead of 4 during the year of tenure and an additional semester after the end of the usual three bachelor years. It is a stressful yet rewarding commitment.

As a first year, I was quite curious to see how a UCU election would be like. In summary, I found it to be a mixture between the usual and the less-than-usual. The usual: campaign posters blossoming all over campus, Facebook pages for each candidate, campaign statements, video interviews, promotional videos, Q&A sessions, radio shows. The less-than-usual: events such as the (rather original) outdoor borrel and BBQ where the candidates served food while answering questions and surprisingly enough…the apparent lack of competition?

Desirable and avoided
The UCSA positions seem to carry a certain paradox within them: both desirable and avoided. It is perhaps, too strong of a commitment for some with too little rewards. However, the seeming lack of competition for these positions leads to certain peculiar situations.

For instance, this year two of the positions (Secretary and Treasurer) have only one candidate running for them. This means that there is virtually no opposition to defeat in the race. Similarly, for the three positions of CAO there are four candidates and for that of the Chair, three.

Admirably campaigned
This does raise some questions regarding the relevance of the elections. Can it be truly a fair competition when there is only one option on the ballot? Nevertheless, even the candidates with no opposition have admirably campaigned.

Another aspect which I noticed by becoming involved in the campaign and going to the events is that there are not as many students interested in the election as you might have expected. Even some of those who came to events appeared to have comically done so for the free food provided.

When it comes to the UCU’s own ‘political’ sphere, many students seem to be rather apolitical, being content with living in a purely academical dolce far niente. So do these elections serve a real purpose? I would argue that they matter, but there needs to be a further push for informing students about their purpose in order to encourage both voting and candidatures.