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Constitution & Bye-Laws Updategovernance windmill

The new constitution will allow the Students' Union to formally register as a charity.

Becoming a charity means we can retain some of our current benefits and get more benefits that can improve your student experience. These include not paying VAT on food and the option for us to obtain external funding from organisations such as the National Lottery.

Aside from registering as a charity, the new constitution also has many new changes and developments, all of which came from student feedback. These changes will make the Students' Union better at representing you and giving you what you want while you are at Uni.

  • You will be able to easily create an official forum based on issues that you care about. This means you can start discussions that Officers must take into account.

  • The range of people that represent you on Student Council will be increased by drawing in Student Academic Reps. Part-time, sector-specific officers will also change to become Student Councillors, allowing them to focus on just the issues that matter to them.

  • The Union will hold an Annual General Meeting where Trustees will be expected to present their work to students and be held accountable.

  • We will make processes easier, so that a 50% majority is needed in Votes of No Confidence, rather than the Two Thirds Majority (66%) currently needed. This means if more people want an Officer removed than those who don't, that person is removed.

  • The Union will appoint an external, independent person to run the Union's Elections under the scrutiny of a student panel. This will virtually eliminate any chance of bias in our elections.

  • The Full-Time Officers who take up paid, trustee positions to represent you will be more accountable, as they won't be able to vote on decisions at Student Council. This will remove Officers' ability to sway majorities in votes to get the decisions they want.

  • You will be able to form and submit petitions to the Students' Union much more easily through our website. This means if there's something a group of students really care about, it has to be put on the Union's agenda.

You can check out the new constitutional and byelaws:

What has changed?

Background

Following the introduction of the Charity Act 2006, Student Unions will lose their exempt charitable status and are required to register with the Charity Commission.

In anticipation of this, the Students Union checked with the membership in 2009 via referenda that we should look to register as a charity. This was approved with 90% support.

One of the main aspects of Charity Law is that the Trustees of a Charity should not receive payment for their duties and if they do, not without the approval of the Charity Commission. When discussions started with the Charity Commission in 2006, they appeared relaxed about Student Unions where the majority, if not all, were Sabbatical Officers who were paid. In 2009, their stance changed and they are now requiring trustees employed by the charity not to be in the majority.

Staffordshire University Students Union has 5 sabbatical officers who are trustees and 4 students trustees (some of whom may also be employed in Union services). This means we have needed to review the structure of the Trustee Board.

As we register as a charity, we need to ensure we are effectively constituted. The NUS, the Charity Commission and Bates, Wells & Braithwaite Solicitors, who are charity experts, have put together a model constitution. We have used this as the basis for our proposed constitution.

The model suits our needs well as it is generic and covers a wide range of eventualities. It will avoid us having to amend the constitution for every small change that our students want.

The new constitution, through the creation of bye-laws, enables the supporting structures and procedures to be much more responsive and adaptable to the changing needs and culture of the membership

1) Trustee Board

The Board and its responsibilities are clearly set out, and its make-up is expanded to include:-

·    Not more than five elected  Officers Trustees (Sabbatical Officers)

·    Not more than four elected Student Trustees (not in the employment of  the Union)

·    Not more than three Appointed Trustees (not in the employment of the Union)

This structure means that the paid sabbatical positions are not in a majority and this meets the requirements of the Charity Commission.

The addition of a provision for 3 appointed trustees, enables the trustee board to meet the “good governance standard” of ensuring it has an appropriate mix of skills and experience to effectively oversee the work of the Union

This is the most important change. Without receiving approval from the Charity Commission for our Constitution, we would be unable to become a registered charity.

2) Executive Committee

With operational oversight responsibilities anchored into a trustee board, the officer team can focus as an Executive on the full time role of representation and campaigning work and the implementation of policy. To ensure improved engagement of students in what the Union is focused on

3) Policy

Clarifies how Policy can be set by Union Council, General Meeting or by referendum and how student can call for items to be discussed.

4) Student Council

Clarifies the role of Council as being focused on representing the voice of the Students;  - setting the Policy of the Union and referring Policy to Referenda of the Members and holding officers accountable for their work.

5) Annual & General Meetings

The requirement of an Annual General Meeting (AGM) is reinstated, as is the option for general meetings to be called to consider resolutions.


Bye Laws Overview

The Bye Laws contain the details of how Staffordshire University Students’ Union is organised.

Changes & improvements can be approved by the Union Executive and Council, as long as they are consistent with the Constitution, without resubmission to the Charity Commission.

With the approval of this constitution, the 2011/12 academic year will be a transitional year as existing officer roles and committees are refocused

Over the last 18 months your Union has been looking closely at how it operates, and using feedback from students, the University and external bodies on how it could improve.

In addition to these legal requirements, we have also sought to act on the feedback received and build on where new ways of working are enabling students to better shape their student experience.

Student Council (Bye Laws)

Previously the composition of council was defined as 32 part-time officers (plus the 5 sabbatical officers). These post holders were intended to bring a breadth of student perspective to the identification of issues, deliberation of policy and scrutiny of the work of officers.

However, whilst there were lots of part-time positions, there aren’t necessarily the corresponding roles & remits (so having part-time officers for media, environment, campaigns, sites, etc didn’t tie in with any outcome). And whilst it could be argued that having positions such as International, postgraduate, gender and School/Faculty positions ensured representation of all sections of student community, it failed to do this effectively: there wasn’t a requirement that a person standing for a position was representative of that group (i.e. a Post-Grad) and selection of a representative was cross campus, rather than by the segment of the membership being represented (i.e. not only Science students electing the science rep) which allowed the majority to vote to block minority representation (ie through unopposed candidates being RON).

The focus on individual roles/titles also led to situations where there may be several students putting themselves forward as representatives for a post and competing for it (with the result that there were "losers") whilst other positions remain unfilled because the “title” wasn’t attracting candidates.

It was therefore proposed that Student Council be made up of 12 cross campus elected student Councillors and that candidates putting themselves forward for the post of Councillor (as happened for the 4 Non-Portfolio positions).  These are now elected using the alternative transferable vote system (numbered preferences) used for NUS Conference delegates.

Student Academic Representatives (STARs) – over the last 18 months, time effort and focus has been put into building a network of student representatives. Almost 500 students have volunteered from every course and year and been chosen by their peers. This is proving to be effective at identifying and promote the views of students at a course level on matters relating to the learning experience.

Given the range and depth of representation achieved through the STARs, it was proposed that five STARS from each School are selected by their peers as Councillors, to provide greater student representation on Student Council

Four  representatives for the following year would be elected for each School/Faculty during a STARs conference in the second Semester (or alternatively a ballot of each Faculty Reps). A School/Faculty representative’s position would be held back and elected at an equivalent event early in the first Semester.


Student Forums

Nurses Council has operated for many years as a place for Student Nurses to raise and discuss the issues affecting students on nursing courses or placements.  This has proved effective not only in ensuring student issues are identified, but by bringing relevant University staff into these forums, solutions have been found much quicker.

Where students have wanted to raise, discuss and propose solutions to issues, such as the nightlife at the Stafford Campus or the Summer Ball, forums have provided accessible ways to generate student contribution.

When the University has wanted guidance on improving academic feedback or on the use of digital media to deliver and support learning, then creating the time and space for students to come together and raise issues and suggest changes has produced results.

Forums are now recognised (and required) as a mechanism for ensuring member focus is brought to the work of the Union. It is expected that each Officer Trustees is responsible, under the guidance of Council, for convening at least 2 forums each semester focused on issues or sections of the membership that are of concern to students.

The new constitution also provides for specific forums to bring together students to focus on liberations issues of Students with Disablities, LGBT, black students, and women, and the chairs of these forum will be members of council

Officer Accountability

In previous years, the Union received feedback that there needs to be more effective methods of accountability of its elected representatives. Students couldn’t understand how it took a simple majority to elect someone, but a 2/3rds majority to remove them.

This has been changed to a simple majority for a vote of no confidence referred to the membership.  

In addition with the changes to Student Council and the Trustee Board, this should improve the scrutiny of the work of officers and the Union as a whole.

Previously, the 9 members of Executive make up 1/4 of the voting constituency of a full Council that was expected to hold it to account and ratify its decisions.

The Executive are now ex officio members of council (attending due to their Executive roles) but do not have voting rights.

Whilst the membership removal of students from office has been lowered to a simple majority, the level of consensus required for council to ratify the appointment of a trustee or equally to remove a trustee, officer or Councillor has been raised to 75%. This reflects the serious with which appointment and removal from office is approached.

Independence of Electoral Processes

It has always been difficult to give elected officers responsibility for running the elections for other elected officers, and expect this to be perceived as impartial and fair (even where it absolutely is).

The previous constitution provided for an independent Returning Officer, but charged a Steerings Committee with running the election - the chair of that committee being an executive Officer.

There is now an independent Returning Officer responsible for the elections, with a student panel for electoral scrutiny, rather than administration of the elections.

Secure Petitions

Under the Union’s old procedures student could request a referenda or motion provided they have the support of a certain number of students.  On occasions, the process for securing names against that proposal has been brought into question resulting in frustration and delays and a perception of creating barriers to democracy.

The byelaws now include a requirement for the Union to enable and run a secure petition on behalf of students, at their request within 48 hours, and to hold that open for up to 5 working days to allow students to “sign” the petition.

With improved accessibility and digital platform for petitions, the support of 250 students by secure petition is required for the membership to call for a referendum.

* Prior to the adoption of this proposed constitution, it was required to be approved by the University Board of Governors, in line with the Education Act 1994 and their Code of Practice on the Operation of the Students Union. This has now been done, with full approval from the Governors.