I manage a branch of student media, which is something like running a society in that it causes me untold pain for very little reward. It's difficult to imagine how we'd get by without some kind of funding. However, I completely understand the argument that membership fees can prevent students from lower income backgrounds from getting involved with societies and sports clubs.
In particular, some of the membership fees to join sports clubs are astronomical. Boat Club charge £175 for a winter membership and £125 for a summer membership. Obviously, that's a large sum of money and is hard to justify. However, we don't know how much money it takes for the upkeep of equipment, team travel and putting on socials. That makes it difficult to know whether it's an inappropriate amount given the costs of running the society.
Again, from my own experience managing Newcastle Student Radio (NSR), there's a lot that people don't see that happens behind the scenes in terms of financing. Obviously being a branch of student media, we don't charge membership fees, as our funding comes from the Union. However, if we weren't funded in this way then we'd be unable to run the society. This year we've had to completely change our system from broadcasting in the studio to broadcasting remotely. Without any money coming in, we wouldn't have been able to broadcast at all. Our funding also covers the upkeep of our equipment, our licenses, socials and our entries for the Student Radio Awards.
Obviously I understand the arguments for abolishing membership fees, as they can be a barrier for students from low-income backgrounds as I mentioned earlier. However, membership fees are integral to the running of societies. Without them societies wouldn't be able to cope. Instead I would argue that more support for participation bursaries would give students a greater opportunity to get involved.
One of the biggest parts of student life is the societies you join. They are the basis for some of your greatest friendships, the inspiration for your future careers or simply just a well-deserved break from your degree.
“But why do I have to spend five quid?” I hear someone shout from the back.
The answer may be a little crude, but spending that five pounds lets you meet a range of new people over many fun activities you might not have tried before. So yeah, friends cost five pounds.
Obviously, this isn’t true if you’re an extrovert, making friends with anyone and everyone. However, for introverts (like yours truly), societies like FILM-SOC were the doorway to me meeting many of my greatest friends. Societies are a guaranteed opportunity to meet someone with similar interests and you can use those to start a conversation. I found it a lot easier in first year to ask people “what did you think of the film?” than making awkward small talk in a club.
And as for that fiver you could have used at Shijos, what does it do for a society? Before becoming FILM-SOC treasurer I didn’t really have an idea either, but now I realise just how important it is.
Let’s use FILM-SOC as a completely unbiased example. For our members, buying membership got them entered into a raffle for three gift vouchers, priced at £25 each. That meant you were in with a chance at making a profit on your membership from the get-go. Getting membership lets you go on our radio show and join our production workshops to learn the ins and outs of filmmaking (£5 is a bit cheaper than a £9250 film degree).
And then there are the screenings. While we were mostly limited to Netflix parties, we are now starting to show newer releases like 1917 (2019) and have upcoming films not available on streaming services. Without your memberships, we would have had to pay for them out of pocket. And if none of that caught your fancy, that is just one of so so many societies to get involved in.
We all need a break from our degree every now and then, so why not join a society?
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