In an unprecedented development, the LSESU’s ten part-time officers (PTOs) were left reeling from the news that the £1500 bursary that was advertised as a benefit of their position had been scrapped for the 2017/2018 year, six months after they were elected.
One of the implications of this development is that the new position of Social Mobility and Class Officer, created in the Lent term 2017 election to increase awareness of the issues faced by working-class students at the LSE, will no longer be paid. Several part-time officers raised concerns about the impact this would have on those from less privileged backgrounds, given how high social mobility is on the LSE agenda.
The decision to introduce a bursary for the part-Time officer positions was made in 2015 by Nona Buckley-Irvine, the-then general secretary of the LSESU. The introduction of a bursary to these roles was made with the intention of eliminating the need for a part time job alongside a time-consuming position as a student representative.
At the time, there was controversy around the way the decision was made, with the Democracy Committee stating that they “could not condone the arbitrary use of executive power to force through a change that has deep implications for all LSE students”. However, the decision was greeted with broad support—a third year student at the time reflected that “the introduction of pay for PTOs is a step in the right direction for the SU’s recognition for its students’ efforts.”
The literature entitled “Run, Vote, Change” that was given out to part-time officer candidates in the 2016/2017 Lent Term unequivocally stated that the voluntary position came with a £1500 bursary. The part-time officers were told about the removal of the bursary during training on the 11th of September 2017—six months after they were elected, and two months after the July Budget meeting was passed. Despite this, they have yet to receive anything in writing from the Students’ Union confirming the bursary’s removal.
While the bursary would have not been the sole motivation for candidates running, it would have been a factor in people’s decisions as to whether they felt being an officer would be possible. In a statement made to the Beaver, the Part-Time Officers said “We are all disappointed to hear that PTO pay has been suspended, especially as it was never mentioned in our election campaign preparations. It was only sprung on us last minute. The PTOs play a key role in the Students’ Union and are the first port of call for many students, and it takes up enough time that we cannot have other part time jobs.”
One PTO, however, clarified anonymously that the lack of communication was ultimately more worrying than the decision, saying, “It was a great shame that we were informed of the pay issue months after we were elected…however, pay was taken away as part of an overall cutting process to Union spending, and we should look into the decisions and options available to the Board when the cuts to the budget were being made”.
The Beaver reached out to an anonymous Trustee Board member about when the budgetary decision was made, who stated that while pay for part-time officers has been “under review” since its inception, the issue was not discussed during the Budget meeting in July. “I have asked twice for meeting notes and follow ups from the Budget meeting of July. The executives who run the Student Union—and are obligated to report to the Trustee Board—have not replied, despite me having explicitly asked written evidence regarding decisions related to PTOs”, the Trustee Board member stated.
The Beaver discovered that the budget, in which no mention of the scrapping of PTO pay was mentioned, was approved in July pending corrections and updates which were supposed to be emailed soon after. Despite the two months that have passed since the meeting, the Trustee Board have not received updates on corrections, minutes, or actions, which typically come the day after.
The communication around the removal of the bursary was as poor as the communication around its creation; in neither case were students given the chance to be a part of the decision-making process for a change that would affect the LSESU. The lack of transparency and communication governing the process speaks volumes about the respect that the LSESU has for its part-time officers, and the student body as a whole. The PTOs have had to re-budget for the new academic year because of the removal of the pay that was promised: in effect, they are £1500 worse off.