Students at Essex university have shown that it is possible to build campaigns outside the structures of student unions that can then capture its leading positions.
“There is a massive gap between ordinary students and the leaders of most student unions,” says Dominic Kavakeb, who has just been elected president in Essex.
“Many presidents boast of their ‘good working relationship’ with vice-chancellors.
“This is at time when ordinary students are struggling financially to stay at university as vice-chancellors are imposing top-up fees on us.
“This has led to a growing disaffection with student unions and the NUS.
“A couple of years ago, myself and a small group of students decided that we would build large scale campaigns on campus, rather than immediately trying to take over the union.
“We started small but now the results are fantastic.
“The Stop the War group has grown to such a size that we have been able to organise meetings of 250 students. We also have a vibrant campaign against climate change.”
Dominic explains that a large group of radicalised students emerged from this activism who felt capable of challenging for the leadership of the student union.
“We had between 30 and 50 students out campaigning for us during the election every day, while our opponents could barely muster ten,” he says.
“That’s when you realise that the union’s sabbatical officers are completely detached from the mass of students – they have no real base.”
The left swept the board at the student union elections last month and now faces the challenge of turning the body into a vibrant organisation.