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Whatever type they are, I have absolutely no intention of being friends with any of them. I feel disgusted at the way they’re running this country, it’s visceral – I’m not interested in being cosy.

    That’s how Labour MP Laura Pidcock explained why she was uninterested in making friends with those in power: the Tories privatising our National Health Service, leaving young families to survive off food banks and deporting refugees seeking asylum were not the people one ought to be cosy with under some delusion of winning friendship and influence.

    Such it is, if at a more micro and slightly less exciting way, with the UCL management teams with whom the students’ union deals.

    To be frank, there’s no point in having elected student sabbatical officers who think it’s their job to cosy up to university managers. It’s a waste of money.

    Universities very rarely do things purely because you’re on good terms with its staffers. Generally speaking, UCL will act in a certain way because it’s in their interests to do so – whether its raising student rents because their priority is to fund capital investment, utilising casual contracts for postgrads who teach in order to discourage unionising and facilitate low pay, or putting money into lecture cast systems to improve their NSS scores.

    Most students’ unions play only a sounding board in this process: raising ideas and presenting arguments for them from the students’ angle, which the university can then scrutinise in order to determine whether or not the interests of student reps and university management intersect. If they do, the proposal might be carried.

    A good example of this is mental health funding. Universities with chronic retention problems are much more likely to invest in counsellors than those without, for example, because retention is a metric central in the government’s new Teaching Excellence Framework designed to rank universities and set differential fees accordingly.

    At UCL, by contrast, quiet lobbying on mental health funding has been ignored: as it was recently explained to a meeting with the SU, ‘UCL has a suicide problem, not a retention problem’. For that reason alone, management have no incentive to invest, and all the silver-tongued kindness in the world won’t have the university budge an inch.

    The reason we have autonomous unions is to win these bigger things. If all we needed was to record lectures, remove caps on resit scores and install more water fountains – all of which usually have a fair amount of support internally within the institution – then we wouldn’t need to exist; if, on the other hand, we want lower rents, bursaries, mental health funding and well-paid staff, then we have to fight for it with direct action and be prepared to piss off a lot of the people who are paid obscene amounts of money to oversee our universities.

    These things we win through material leverage designed to force the university into acting in the interests of its students - not through ‘partnership’ with those in power. For so long as our institutions are run as undemocratically as they currently are, the Students’ Union will exist to pressure UCL into working in our interests.

    That’s why Cut The Rent won £1.5m in rent deductions and bursary support last year after months on rent strike; it’s why we launched UCL: Fund Our Mental Health Services - a grassroots campaign utilising direct action to force the university to listen and negotiate, the only way we stand a chance of winning properly funded counselling.

    So if you’re thinking of running in the Union’s ’leadership elections’, it comes down to: what do you want to achieve? Minor reforms or fundamental, structural changes to benefit the academic community against all the pressures in the world that demand we sit quietly by?

    Read more at anticuts.com.