The Students’ Union

Students in the common room at the Wimbledon School of English

Every higher education institution in the UK, and most further education institutions, have a students’ union. The union is partly funded by the institution, but is politically independent. 

The role of students’ unions

Students’ unions provide:

  • representation
  • academic support and advice
  • welfare advice and support
  • sports clubs, societies and social activities (most are free to join).

Students’ unions fundamentally believe in students being active political citizens, and campaign on various issues on a national and local level.

The social hub

Students' unions are the social heart of the campus. They are usually housed in their own building or rooms on campus. Most have social areas with seating, a student shop, a bar and a place to eat. In larger union buildings, you might find banks, nightclubs, bookshops, travel agencies and even hairdressers.

The students' union is a great place to meet friends and grab a coffee or have a meal – usually at a cheap or discounted rate. Many students’ unions organise evening entertainment, such as music events, quiz nights and parties.

Lots of schools, colleges and universities have sports, arts and social clubs, such as chess, photography, drama and cricket (for undergraduate students, find out more in What is freshers' week? and Weird and wonderful UK student societies). Most are free to join or offer very low fees. These societies often meet at the students’ union.

The students’ union noticeboard is often a key source of information for any student looking to find out what’s going on around the university or college, or in the local area – from where to get tickets for the next student party, to student theatre auditions and discounts on local buses. Many students’ unions also have a website, Facebook page or Twitter feed. It’s a great idea to keep an eye on these – especially for student deals and discounts!

Support

As well as social activities, students’ unions offer advice and support on issues such as finances, accommodation, disability and more. They will also have designated ‘officers’ for different roles, such as student event planner, women’s officer and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans) welfare support. Their role is to address your worries and help you with any problems you might have while you're a student in the UK.

Campaigns

The role of the students' union is also to represent students' rights to those who run the school, college or university. Often, the elected representatives (student reps) will be responsible for one course, faculty or university-wide group such as international students or LGBT students.

Through your students’ union you will be able to vote and run for elections, and campaign for positive change at your university or college. At some institutions, being part of the students’ union allows you to take a year out from your studies (or after your studies) in a paid role. It's great experience: you can lobby for issues you care about and gain professional skills for your CV. Just make sure your visa allows you to take a paid role during or after your studies – for visa advice, see UK Visas and Immigration.

Leadership

Each students’ union elects a team of students every year to be the lead representatives of students at that institution. These positions usually include a:

  • President
  • Education Officer
  • Welfare Officer
  • Sports and Activities Officer

These elected officers are supported by a number of full-time employed staff (the number of staff varies depending on the size of the students’ union).

Every student is automatically a member of their students’ union, which means you can access advice and support, get involved in campaigns, vote in elections, or even stand as a candidate yourself.

The National Union of Student (NUS)

95% of higher education students’ unions in the UK are affiliated to the National Union of Students (NUS). The NUS seeks to promote, defend and extend the rights of students and develop and champion strong and active students’ unions. You can find out more about NUS here.

'Through practical information and national action, we make sure students can thrive… We are active – taking on all the issues that affect students’ lives now and in future. We know students. We are students. We are 7 million student voices.'

To find out how the NUS has campaigned for international students in the UK in the past, click here.