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Referenda Explained: Redbrick’s Guide to Your Vote on the Guild’s Future

Students are to be asked for the approval of two reviews next week, in two all-student referenda. The Guild of Students is posing two questions to University of Birmingham students which will, if agreed, change how Guild policy is made and how the Officer Team is currently organised.

The two questions ask for the approval of the “Democratic Structures Review” and the “Officer Team Review”. Attempting to “enable as much participation from the student body at every level”, the former hopes to improve student engagement with the Guild by providing more direct opportunities while the latter hopes to improve leadership from the Sabbatical Officer team and increase awareness of its role.

The referenda come amidst controversy surrounding the Trustee Board’s role in selecting the final form of the proposals.

Campaign groups for the referenda have already formed and started promoting their arguments over social media.

A spokesperson for the No Campaign told Redbrick: “The review has cherry-picked data from an unrepresentative set of respondents to create a model which only increases the failures of the current system. It has removed many key points of change that students democratically voted for in an attempt to improve the appalling model given to us.”

Meanwhile the Abstain Campaign told us of their “displeasure” at the two options the referenda provide: “The new proposed model is a system whereby any student can participate in making change in their Students’ Union but only twice a year. Yet our current model sees a small collective of students passing policy approximately four times a year.”

Redbrick was unable to find a Yes campaign for a comment at this time.


The Democratic Structures Review

The Democratic Structures Review analysed the ways in which students do get involved and how they would get involved in formulating Guild Policy. According to the Guild of Students documentation, the proposed model “aims to be a quicker and easier way to introduce ideas from the student body with less formality in structure and content placed into a public forum for an on-line discussion and vote”.

Currently policy is decided by Guild Council, a representative decision-making body that meets once a month during term-time. Policies are presented in the form of “motions” which any student can submit and are debated, amended and voted upon in the open meeting. All students can attend, but only elected Guild Councillors can vote. The motions are then implemented in the time frame specified. Guild Council is also able to mandate officers to carry out an action, and it is also an opportunity to hold officers to account.

The new model proposes to replace this system with online submissions and general assemblies. Students can submit a policy idea to an online forum where other students can discuss and vote on whether the idea should be implemented. General Assemblies will be held once a term for all students to discuss popular ideas, resulting in another vote. Ideas which receive less than 33% of the vote will be rejected and those over 66% will be accepted and implemented immediately. Any idea that achieves between 33% and 66% inclusive will be sent to an all-student referendum which will happen twice a year. In addition to the General Assemblies, chairs of Liberation and Representation Associations will attend a regular meeting in order to discuss issues – this forum will then liaise with the Officer Team.


The Officer Team Review
Photograph by: Michael Jevon

The Officer Team Review explored the awareness of Guild Officers and their work, and identified the expectations made of all officers and their ability to work within this expectation. It seeks to reform the Officer Team so that it is more prevalent, less confusing and more productive for students.

Currently, the Officer Team is made of seven Sabbatical (full-time) officers and 12 non-sabbatical (part-time) officers. Many of the non-sabbatical officers have committees that work alongside them to represent students and achieve their electoral mandate. Non-Sabbatical Officers and Sabbatical Officers meet regularly for ‘Guild Officer Group’. Officers are elected in Spring for a term of a year that begins in July.

The Officer Review proposes two main changes to the Officer Team. Firstly, it suggests the removal of all non-sabbatical officers and for their remits to be devolved into relevant committees. Secondly, it proposes renaming the Sabbatical Officer positions to: President, Education Officer, Housing & Community Officer, Representation & Resources Officer, Student Development Officer, Sports Officer and Welfare Officer. Additionally, the report suggests the creation of a Postgraduate Students’ Officer, subject to receiving additional funding from the University.

Read more in Guild of Students