The last Student Council meeting of 2014 took place on Thursday 4th December. At this meeting The Scoop was granted permission to privately poll student councillors in order to gauge their views on a range of issues. In total we polled 40 student councillors out of a current total of 99.
Recently in an interview with The Gown, Vice-Chancellor Professor Patrick Johnston caused controversy when he not only rejected the notion that levels of pay for staff were of ‘utmost importance’, but also the idea that levels of pay are linked to satisfaction at work.
Student councillors were united in their condemnation of the Vice-Chanellor’s high salary, as 80% of student councillors that we polled believed that the Vice-Chancellor’s pay is too high, whilst only 10% thought Professor Patrick Johnston’s salary was about right. Eight percent of respondents said that they didn’t care, whilst only 3% felt that the Vice-Chancellor was paid too little.
Recently, councillors at QUB SU failed to extend their support to the UCU marking boycott (which has since been called off by the UCU). Interestingly our polling results don’t match the way that student councillors voted on this occasion as 59% of respondents said that they supported this specific case of industrial action, whilst 33% said that they did not.
Perhaps not surprisingly, 41% of student councillors that we polled said that they would be less likely to support strike action if it impacted upon them whilst 46% said that they would support industrial action regardless of whether it impacted upon them or not.
With savage cuts looming over the Department of Employment and Learning’s budget there has been increasing speculation that this could lead to an increase in tuition fees.
Only 5% of student councillors believed that tuition fees should be raised to a maximum of £9,000. 46% of respondents felt that tuition fees should be kept at their current level whilst 49% of respondents felt that tuition fees should be scrapped altogether as they answered the poll by stating that university should be free.
Clearly then there isn’t an appetite within the student council for tuition fees to be raised, but if we take into account the low turnout at Tuesday’s protest against cuts to the DEL budget, legitimate questions can be asked as to how fiercely (or not) students will fight an increase in tuition fees. If we are to make a judgement based on Tuesday’s protest it doesn’t appear that the Stormont Minister in charge of raising tuition fees, Stephen Farry would face significant student resistance and this should be a cause for concern for student activists especially given that so few student councillors want to see an increase in tuition fees.
Is the SU too party political?
Between referenda on the SU taking a stance on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the attempt to ban the sale of poppies in the Student’s Union, these issues have led to questions around whether or not the SU is becoming too party political.
Our polling results show that there is a clear appetite for student councillors to focus on issues which affect students, rather than engage in wider political party based debates as 63% of student councillors that we polled felt that the SU is becoming too party political.
One of the most interesting results from our polling data came from our question on identity. Research from the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey suggests that ties to the Northern Irish identity are more prevalent amongst young people.
Only 15% of our respondents considered themselves to be solely Northern Irish, however 15% also considered themselves to be Northern Irish and British, which means that overall 30% of respondents felt some attachment to the Northern Irish identity, making this the most prevalent identity among SU councillors.
Also interesting was the correlation between those identifying themselves as British and Northern Irish, especially because nobody who identified themselves as Irish noted that they also felt an attachment to the Northern Irish identity.
28% of respondents said that they were Irish and subsequently 23% said that they identified as British.
20% of respondents ticked the ‘other’ box and a significant number of respondents who ticked the other box added an additional note beside the other box to say they identified as ‘English’.
I recognise that this is only a sample of student councillors at QUB and shouldn’t be taken as a representative of the whole student council, however it still gives us a good insight into their views.
In part two we have gathered students opinions on a range of other issues such as; abortion, are Student Officers at QUB held accountable to a sufficient standard, and we’ll also have the results of which Student Officer has been doing the best job so far.