Your University magazine 2022-23

Page 31

Reflections on a remarkable career Ahead of her retirement, Sheffield Students’ Union’s Chief Executive Jaki Booth reflects on her career, her passion for Students’ Unions and what the organisations can offer to society.


rom my days as a student to my upcoming retirement I’ve invested significant time and energy into Students’ Unions (SUs). As a new student at the University of Birmingham in the 1980s, I was instantly inspired and made it my mission to be part of the SU. On day two, I walked into the Ents Office and was appointed Assistant Treasurer – I was starting a commerce degree and that seemed to give me enough expertise! I graduated with a stack of SU experience, including being a Sabbatical (SU) Officer.

This experience confirmed my desire to continue to work in positions of leadership. After graduating, I became the first full-time employee at the SU of what is now Derby University. I was elected to the committee of the national professional body for SU staff, for which I eventually became chair. I had fantastic support from colleagues who kept an eye on opportunities for me, leading to my move to Aston and then Staffordshire Universities as the equivalent of Chief Executive. Universities, students and their unions have changed immensely over the course of my career. When I joined my SU in 1982, students ran everything, including booking artists for gigs and providing welfare advice to each other. We had no professional advice or staff, student activities didn’t exist (though societies did!), our bars were functional and our drinks were cheap. Marketing involved us knocking out flyers and sticking them around campus. There were no strategies or big budgets to worry about either.

The new SU The generation ahead of me changed that through creative innovations like introducing advice centres, student activities and national organisations. Seeing this transformation inspired me to keep reinventing. I have encouraged ambition at Sheffield SU, through our far-reaching ‘Ours for Life’ strategy, which guides us to think about the world we are creating for our students.

“Sheffield Students’ Union is an organisation that lives and breathes its values.” I’ve never been a chief executive who simply kept the ship afloat. A mix of impatience and being easily bored has always meant that I’ve given my all to an organisation, which has been made possible by the support of my family and friends. On reflection, I’ve realised that this is probably why SUs have been a great fit for me. SUs are melting pots of ideas with a dedication to democracy and progressive action. I’ve watched society change through the acts of students. Over the past eight years at Sheffield, I’ve witnessed over 60 Officers take the helm and give their all to enact positive change. They commit themselves to fairness and strive to ensure every single student feels they have a voice. Sheffield Students’ Union is an organisation that lives and breathes its values. This gives me confidence that it will continue to be powered by students, be a source of inspiration to the wider world, and be a space which keeps creating relevant positive change for society. It’s been a privilege to be Chief Executive at the Number 1 Students’ Union in the country, and I cannot wait to see what our SU continues to achieve in the future.

2022/2023 | YOUR UNIVERSITY 31