Looking from outside the students’ union sector in it can sometimes be tricky to understand the who, what, how and why! We have laid out some basic principles and relationships to plug any gaps in understanding you may have.
Have a look at the Learn the language page too.
Students’ Unions are not trade unions. Each one exists to represent their members who are students at that particular college or university. Of course the staff working in a students’ union might choose to be a member of a trade union.
NUS is a membership organisation. Students’ unions choose whether to affiliate or not to NUS (National Union of Students), in doing so they pay a variable fee. There are few unions which are not part of NUS.
An individual student automatically becomes a member of their union at their academic institution when they enrol on a course. An individual student is not technically directly a member of NUS. Their local union is a member (as above)
Students’ Unions are independent from the institution with which they are linked. However, SUs do work very closely with the institution as they provide some funding and share some similar goals.
“The staff run a students’ union.” The staff are responsible for the delivery of the work which meets the strategic direction and the subsequent implementation of plans for the organisation. Staff have an input on direction like in any good organisation. Some of the staff could well be students too. The staff are more the operations of the union.
“The sabbatical officers run students’ unions.” As democratically elected representatives, the officers contribute to the leadership and strategic direction of the students’ union. They help make sure that what the SU actually does is relevant to the student membership.