Andrew Tindall: Chief Executive’s resignation presents threat to our Union’s autonomy

This afternoon came the shock announcement that Geraint Edwards, the Chief Executive of the recently-renamed Undeb Myfyrwyr Prifysgol Aberystwyth University Students’ Union has resigned after 14 years of dedicated and committed service. Whilst the SU President took the opportunity to talk up the vague managerial bullshit bingo notion of “student experience”, I believe there’s something far more important at stake from this development: the autonomy of our Students’ Union.

In some sense, we’ve gradually seen our autonomy slipping for several years, after the University became more heavily involved in the then-Guild’s finances when there was a large trading downturn in the mid-to-late 00s. This has been occurring in tandem with a block grant that, already small compared to other students’ unions, has seen real-terms cuts due to constant freezes and below-inflation rises, thereby widening our financial woes – and our dependence on the university.

Recently, we’ve also seen small-scale refurbishment and redevelopment projects in the Union, the vast majority of which have been paid for through the University agreeing to freeze a small portion of the loan repayments to them that makes up a significant amount of the Union’s debt. The idea being that by temporarily reducing one of their income streams (loan repayments), the University can recoup its investment in a more secure and consistent way over time by propping up the Union marginally, whilst imposing additional restrictions and controls upon the operation of the Union.

At the start of this new academic year, much fuss was raised when people discovered that Cwrt Mawr Bar (previously run by the Students’ Union) had been closed and taken over for conversion by the University without any student input or announcement. Although the Union was reimbursed, it’s still unclear if it was via deferral of a portion of loan repayments as we’ve seen before, or with actual cash.

It’s no secret that there have been discussions over the University taking over the services currently provided by our Union, and coupled with the situation we’ve been crawling through for years, as well as the university’s desire to amalgamate departments and services into combined “commercially viable” entities; the addition of this resignation means the perfect storm is now in place for a University take over of commercial services in our Students’ Union – everything could be up for grabs, and students would be the ones to lose out.

The University wouldn’t have to look far if it did want to take over – earlier this year the University of Bolton controversially ousted the SU President, changed the locks on her office, and installed a university-appointed governor to replace her. Finance was used a reason in that instance, and given our financial debts to the University, and all the repayment and lease agreements that exist between us, it wouldn’t be hard for the university to make the case for commercial services to be brought under their control, with or without reimbursement or student input.

But just as the University need not look far, nor do we students have to. Should worst come to worst, and the University do decide to make a move in the future to change the nature of our Union, be it taking over parts of it themselves, or even forcing us to sell off to outside companies, students must be prepared to stand up and defend the autonomy of our Students’ Union, just like they did in Bolton, and make it clear that Aberystwyth Students’ Union is a democratic and autonomous institution owned and run by its members – students, and we may have to fight to keep it that way.

Our Union is laid bare, and we can’t afford to even risk losing half of it to the University, or to anyone.