Posted by: sarahwakefield | August 20, 2010

Week 9: Active Political Leadership, Buzzing!

This week was comprised primarily of a very exciting, yet tiring training session run by NUS to develop sabbatical officers from around the country into, well, Active Political Leaders. The week was frustrating, challenging, entertaining, full of buzz words and, perhaps most importantly, made me feel not quite so weird about working in Student Union for a year!

So our adventure began, bright and early on Tuesday morning I found myself in Jeremy’s car (Communications Officer) with a rather sleepy Amanda (Campaigns Officer) in the back. Luckily for me there were quite a few officers from other Unions who I recognised from the Aldwych group and the NUSSL conference I went to in April.

The overall theme of this week ended up setting the vision I have for UMSU (detailed in many blogs below) into a big concrete block of realism. I have worked out a vision (for a Union which is effectively representing student’s academic interests while enhancing their overall experience of University) and I’ve worked out how to solve little problems. However, I’ve been struggling to work out some practical policies about what this would look like. To helps this we’ve been writing lots of handbooks in UMSU, but one of the big messages on this course was ‘Outcomes not Process’ (i.e. don’t sit around writing lots of rules and inventing lots of committees which ultimately don’t get results for students).

Within this there is certainly a balance to be struck. Over the past few weeks we’ve been working with staff members to make sure that silly rules in the Union are removed, for example; charging UMSU societies for the use of the projector, or the Pangeaea team for the use of the building, when the money goes back into our accounts anyway. However, we have also been working on a new funding system for societies to ensure that they are better supported and we understand their needs a little better. This is a process which will arguably have a measurable improvement on the lives of students. I very much welcome suggestions or comments about other ways which we can get to outcomes.

One of the best events we did during the training week was a six hour simulation exercise where we were put into teams and asked to imagine that we were the sabbatical team in the student union for ‘Fibchester University’. It was a very intense exercise as they plied us with papers to read, with new problems appearing every 15 minutes. Before we started I asked if we could set our vision as a team and this was a little bit painful, but we managed it and then cracked on.

As individuals had to leave for media interviews, or conversation with the University’s senior management, we began to realise that we could not take decisions as an entire team and we also needed some form of organisation. At that point we started to gel and using our vision as a guide we were able to focus on what we were trying to achieve allowing prioritisation of our time and effort. It also allowed us to be active with certain situations rather than continually reacting to the various disasters.

One member of our team, Jo, also did an amazing job of file all the paper and distributing the tasks to make sure that we didn’t overlook anything. This exercise really drove home to me the value of trusting team members to do a good job, and was a really interesting to hear in the feedback how, at a subconscious level we leaned on different people for different things; the grafter, the tone setter, the supporter etc. The complexity of our team dynamic was far greater than I had anticipated at the end of the task. Interestingly, much of the rest of the week was spent dealing with the question of complexity, both in deciding policy stances in our own unions and also in social trends around education. But in detailed reporting on this is for another time!

What am I taking home? Three buzz phrases, ‘Outcome not process’, ‘Active not reactive’ and ‘Complexity’; let’s hope they keep buzzing round my head for the rest of the year!

(By the way week 7 and 8 were taken up with a very enjoyable holiday to the States with my boyfriend, but as it is not quite so relevant to representing students, I decided not to write about it on here! Although I did find out that New York University is one of the most expensive in the world at $56,000 tuition every year!)


  1. 56,000 a year?!?!!! THAT’S CRAZY!!!

  2. I bet uni is very good fun in NY but not for that amount! Here’s hoping the Uk don’t go to such extremes.

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