Students’ Unions are independently run, often registered charities working alongside educational institutions.
Students’ unions exist to provide support to and represent the interests of students while they are studying in higher or further education – from colleges to universities. This support is very diverse, including “services” that students might look to access when they have needs or problems, or “opportunities” which can benefit their lives as students and members of their wider communities. These services can also cover social activities, such as bars, nightclubs or activity based clubs, societies or sporting activities.
Representing students interests can involve attendance and membership of university or college committees, involvement in meetings with university or college management, informal meetings and discussion about academic or other college decisions, or active campaigning on specific local or national issues. Each Students’ Union has its own representative structure, governance and organisational history.
Services offered depend often on size, scale, budget and chosen strategic direction of any particular students’ union. These advice or support services can cover issues such as housing, academic representation to their institution, health and wellbeing, immigration, money and employment support. Many unions also operate a selection of bars, cafes, shops, retail units, club and music venues, print units, social spaces, plus specialist units from mobile phones to IT support and in-house lettings services.
Opportunities generated or supported by unions are again diverse, including volunteering in the community, campaigning, sports clubs and any number of societies which bring together students who share a similar passion or interest.
Whatever form of support or service a students’ union offers its members, the goal is always to help students enjoy their time while studying, helping them reach personal goals whilst representing their interests within the institution and externally. This support runs alongside the academic institution’s own provision of services.
The role of students’ unions has always been key to their members (students are automatically members of their students’ union when they enrol on their course) regardless of how involved or engaged students choose to become with their union. However more recently the National Student Survey rates students’ experiences of their time at college and specifically asks about their local students’ union (or Association or Guild) – see Question number 23 for SUs – http://www.thestudentsurvey.com/