Today, we shall be looking at how a harmonious relationship between the student union and tertiary institution’s management can be a recipe for progressive development of the institution. First, let me correct the erroneous impression that a strong student union means a student union that is radical in nature and always opposed to the policies of the institution, No! The strength of a student union lies in the content of the student leaders, their exposure and capacity to reach out and network with other progressive student unions for the good of the students and the institution. One cannot give what one does not have. An uninformed and unexposed leader lacks capacity to lead the students in the right direction, not to talk of partnering with the institution to foster developments. Such student leaders will become so myopic, focusing on how to enrich themselves from the student union funds, and every little access to student union fund becomes an opportunity to loot.
Leadership, according to Kevin Kruse, is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goal. In this regard, leadership stems from social influence, not authority or power, and it requires others and includes a goal, not just influence without any intended outcome. For one to be a good student leader, he must be versatile, and this can only be achieved through constant reading, hence confirming the assertion by Harry S. Truman, former President of the United States, that “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers”. Therefore, good student leaders should be knowledgeable in a wide range of topics, especially as it concerns national development and economy. This is the reason why most vibrant student leaders read a lot of books that are not necessarily related to their course of study in the tertiary institution. For instance, as a student leader, I read more than forty books within one year, all of which had no connection to my course of study, for instance, it was during my days as a student leader that I read the book “From third world to first – the story of Singapore”.
When student leaders are informed and exposed, they begin to think about how to further develop their institution, first for the good of the students and then the overall good of the institution in its entirety. It is only when the student union comprises of student leaders with this kind of mindset that they begin to think of how to partner with the management of their institution to work for a progressive development of their institution. As we know, the main duties of a functional student union is to act as middlemen between the students and the authorities and managements of institutions, represent the students and strive to protect the interest and welfare of the students before the authorities by bringing to the attention of the authorities such challenges that the students are faced with so that the authorities will look at them with a view to resolving them. These are the main obligations of student leaders to the students that gave them the mandate to act on their behalf. Interestingly, a proactive student union that comprised of vibrant, informed and exposed student leaders always do more than just representing the students before the institution’s authorities.
On the part of the institution however, there is need for regular interface with the student union leaders for the expected synergy to be built so that the development referred to can be actualized. There is need for adequate supervisory and oversight functions of reasonable control, especially in the area of management of student union finances. Managements of institutions are encouraged to put mechanisms in place to check abuse of financial autonomy of the student union without necessarily constituting themselves as clogs in the wheel of progress on the affairs of the student union. Again, and most importantly, managements of tertiary institutions should NOT interfere in student union elections to the extent of having choice candidates for positions in the student union, but should always work with the union to ensure a smooth and transparent transition process. With such a disposition, the relationship between the student union and the management of the institution will thrive harmoniously in such a manner as to encourage the student union leaders to look for ways of attracting developments to their institution.
Comrade Igwe Patrick Afubera writes from Abuja.