What does your union mean to you?

Student views – we ask students what their unions mean to them

Eimhear Macfarlane – Belfast Metropolitan College

Being active in your students’ union allows you to have a voice.  It is a fantastic opportunity as, without this, we cannot come together as a student body to get things done in our interests.

As student representatives we can make the voice of the passionate student heard both regionally and nationally within NUS and USI and, in the day to day life of the college. Personally, I feel the opportunity to get involved with everything from a regional to a national level is amazing.

Last year I ran for election to NUS and also, completed various training days with NUS-USI which allowed me to make the most of my abilities in the interest of students.

Furthermore, at college I helped to get students on the National Voter Register, Chinese New Year events and the Student Led Teaching Awards.

On the whole, being active in your student union is a life experience I would urge all students not to miss!

Eimhear, Belfast Metropolitan College, studying A-Level Government & Politics, English Literature and History

Rachel Bunting from Queen’s University Belfast

Upon coming to Queen’s University Belfast, I immediately became involved in our Students’ Union and all it had to offer. From the overwhelming number of clubs and societies to the competitions and volunteering opportunities facilitated by the Student Development Team, I never had a spare minute and the transition to university life was definitely smoothed!

This year, I enjoyed the experience of attending NUS-USI conferences, which I was encouraged to attend by our Student Sabbatical Officers. The chance of meeting like-minded people, discussing burning issues and having a bit of craic is always brilliant and hopefully more students next year will be encouraged to attend!

Now in my final year and as one of the current interns for Enterprise SU within the Student Development Team at Queen’s Students’ Union, I have had the fantastic opportunity of becoming more involved in student life and the workings of the Students’ Union. Seeing behind the scenes the hard work and dedication the Students’ Union staff gives in order to improve the student experience is inspiring. In particular, within Enterprise SU, the support that the small department provides to countless students aiming to start up their own businesses or hone skills to make them more entrepreneurial is fantastic!

I, myself, participated in an ‘Innovateher’ programme within Enterprise SU which seeks to encourage female students to start their own businesses and think more entrepreneurially. Throughout this thirteen week programme, culminating in a business plan and pitch, we were taught marketing, financials and pitching skills as well as having off-campus visits and eating plenty of pizza! This is just one example of how becoming involved in the Students’ Union has provided me with opportunities I would be unable to seize simply through my degree.

Lastly, this year I had the exciting and tiring role working within a campaign team to support the efforts of sabbatical officers running for election (and re-election) to Sabbatical Officer positions 2015/16. The experience was definitely unique, with the chance to talk to students about the issues on their minds and how, hopefully, our successfully elected Sabbatical Officers will be able to tackle these concerns next year.

Becoming involved in these  campaigns, conferences, programmes and the student movement as a whole has made my experience at Queen’s University so much more enjoyable, fun and interesting so I would always encourage students, be they my younger brothers, international friends or friends from class, to get involved in their Union!!

Why I joined the student union – anonymous

I had planned going back to study for a degree for a long time and as a mature student I had great expectations.  Unfortunately, my experience became an unimaginable nightmare.  A close family member died suddenly just as I was about to start my course and the death of another family member just a few months later were two major life changing events to deal with along with other unexpected setbacks.  A group task went horribly wrong and the outcome was exclusion by the majority of the class.  I felt disempowered by the class reps as they had been undemocratically elected by their group of friends with whom they had studied on previous courses and they merely represented a dictatorship to me as they supported their friends, did not share information or allow myself any opportunity to raise my concerns through the college system.

I contemplated leaving the course as the college could offer no support or solution and living on a student loan and trying to study and meet deadlines along with family commitments compounded all the problems.  Instead, I joined the Student Union where I found my experiences were not unique.   Here were a group of fellow students from all backgrounds, some who had endured severe hardship and adversity and were determined to overcome their difficulties and complete their education while supporting others.

I feel privileged to be a part of the student union with the opportunity to make changes and mix with other inspirational students.  I have attended many interesting conferences and courses and regained my confidence to speak publically and take an active role in areas I would never have previously imagined including Amnesty International, local charities, political, environmental and human rights conferences and meetings.  My experiences have given me an interest in politics, power and human behaviour and who knows where it may lead in the future.

Ryan Kelly – NWRC Students’ Union President

When I arrived at the North West Regional College I had no idea what the college was going to have in store for me in the coming months. My introduction to the student movement, and in particular to the Students’ Union, came in my first week when I spoke to our LGBT officer and he told me about the wonderful activities and experiences that were there to be had if I joined such a movement and the union.

So far throughout my time attending the college and working with my union, I have met many wonderful and unique people from both the FE, HE and SE sectors in Northern Ireland. Life for unions within the FE sector is different to life for unions within HE as we’re faced with many more hardships and are forced to split our time and energy between our studies and union work every single day as we do not have the advantage of sabbatical student officers.

However even with this problem, I believe it must got to our credit that these difficulties have motivated our union councillors to push even harder to ensure that the union is active and vibrant in order to achieve the important work that it exists to do.

I am currently in my first year of studying, looking to complete my Higher National Certificate in Media and Journalism, and I’ve also been elected as the President of my Students’ Union along with being the Student Governor on NWRC Board of Governors. I’ve had the amazing experience of meeting people from all over the UK in the form of my colleagues from England, Wales, and Scotland, and the Republic of Ireland also. I have been able to meet many new faces in the North as well, and I’m proud to say that they fight just as hard, if not harder, for the rights of students to be acknowledged.

In the NWRC Students’ Union we’ve had a very productive year and have managed to go above and beyond our normal call. We were one of leading campaigners for a recent trade union ‘Day of Action’ in the North-West, and I was delighted to be invited as one of the speakers at the rally, addressing the issues of youth and students in front of nearly 2,000 people.

As one of only two FE Students’ Unions to have a working office, I have been able to welcome many people to meet with us, including multiple NUS-USI officers and this has helped to educate my union on what is expected of us. I have also experienced various trainings days in Belfast, in particular the FE festival, and this has developed me more as a person and as a leader.

We’ve worked day and night to rally together the students in NWRC and in Derry-Londonderry, and while progress has been slow at times, ultimately the movement is building stronger all the time. We’ve united with our fellow students in UUSU Magee to establish a joint council of both FE and HE, in an effort to discuss matters that affect both student bodies and campuses.

We in the NWRC have also worked hand-in-hand with several youth organisations and the Derry Trades Union Council. We have now obtained official seats on the Derry Trades Union Council to bring a youth perspective to the table, and no longer shall the student and youth voice go unanswered in the North-West.

Everything that we achieved in the lead up to the NUS-USI conference brought us together as a union. We’ve worked as a team and have proven to one another that together we’re stronger and more powerful.

For being an unashamed newbie to the student cause, I’ve learned so much, but there is still so much to be learnt as well. This is why I’ve become so passionate about setting my sights further within the FE sector and have decided to run for FE officer this year at the NUS-USI conference.

Ronan James Sharkey – St Mary’s University College Belfast

Where has time gone? Another Academic year coming to a close and for me, this will be my final year at St Mary’s University College, Belfast.

I have had a tremendous four years with many highlights – my election onto the students’ union as Academics Officer being a major highlight. Having watched the growth and success of the union over the years, I was a worthy candidate to step-up and run for Academics Officer.  The fairness and student voice surrounding academia is very important in my opinion and I felt I was the most suitable person to bring the concerns of the student body forward. After strenuous campaigning I was successful in earning my place.

My time on the union came with many opportunities for networking. We spent training days with members of Queens and Stranmillis’ Students’ Unions. These days were great in offering discussion and sharing ideas with others who shared my role in their respective colleges. We also had the opportunity to meet local political figureheads at Stormont to discuss their parties’ views on different issues affecting our communities today. This was a very knowledgeable day for me.

Of course my time with the students’ union came with plenty of nights out and fun activities. It gave me the chance to form new and close friendships with people I may not have seen a lot of within the college. Our President gave us the opportunity to go horse-riding, a first for me and the beginning of a second career I think!

There is so much I can talk about regarding my time on the students’ union. The success of a union does not come easy however, it takes hard work and dedication. I would strongly encourage students to get involved. It brings a whole new dimension to the University experience.

If you’d like to share your experiences, please contact laura.stobo@nistudents.org