Everything you need to know about working in, being an officer in or being involved with students' unions.

Learn the language

We hope to have referred to some of the sector specific language used around students’ unions. Understanding these terms is more than just knowing the “glossary”, they are actually key functions, elements and principles of students’ unions.

Please let us know of any you have come across. And so in no particular order:

Representation – the key to SUs. Everything a union does is generally guided by the principle of its activity being close to what its members want and think. Does it hit the mark? Is a union in touch and close to its members views?

Representatives – these range greatly from union to union. They are students who are generally elected to represent and therefore support their fellow students in a variety of roles. They effectively act as a funnel for views and communications.

Rep roles might be academic, activities, clubs and societies, halls, community and the elected sabbaticals are effectively reps too.

Student council – a wide student body which facilitates students views to be represented, and contribute to the direction and therefore running of the union.

Democracy – more here but essentially the members who engage and ultimately vote will have a voice in the running of their union and the work it undertakes.

Participation – a key outcome for any SU, and often one its main measures of performance. This is the level to which members actually take part, integrate or connect with a union. All students may be a member but not all of them interact. High participation is a good sign of health for a SU.

Engagement – a similar but a very base measure to above. This is whether a member feels part of their union and sees it as worthwhile, if the union actually has a role to play. More here

Members – of students’ unions are the students enrolled on a course at the institution.

Member unions – students’ unions choose to affiliate with NUS which are a membership organisation representing students but via their unions.

Clubs and Societies – a massive array of student groups which are supported with finance and resources by the SU. Some unions have up to 250 clubs and societies and may range from faith based groups to hobbies and sports. Leeds University Union is good place to view a large range.

Sabbatical – a student working as an elected officer who has taken either taken a year out of the studies to work in the role or who has finished their studies.

Officers – can be full or part time, but essentially current or ex students who carry out a defined role representing students. If they are one of the main “executive” officers then they will be paid a salary for the year of office. They may run for election in a second year. Officer years run approximately from July to July.

Executive – the main group of officers who work often on a full time salaried basis. Small unions may have perhaps 2 officers in the executive while some unions may have as many as 8.

Elections – an annual process for electing the officer and representative roles. Votes are taken across the full membership, so any student may vote. Usually take place around March of each year.

Association – an alternative name for a union, often used in Scotland.

Block grant – the yearly financial contribution an institution makes towards the running of the students’ union. May vary year on year, and varies greatly from union to union.