You definitely want your university experience to go well, but there’s a very small chance it will go absolutely perfectly. You’ll probably find yourself needing to ask for help at some point. Don’t worry – this is completely normal! Every student needs to ask for help from time to time, but the big question is, where do you go? Well, look no further than your university’s student union.
A student union is a group of elected university students that deal with any problems students might face while at university. These problems can be academic, social or personal. Your student union is there to give you a voice and make sure you feel seen and heard at university.
Exactly what a student union is and what it does might not be exactly clear yet. This article will take you through all you need to know about a student union.
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What is a student union at university?
A student union is a society run by students to help a university student community. A student union deals with providing students with opportunities and a voice in their university.
Student unions offer a wide range of support. If you feel you aren’t being treated fairly by your university, or you feel like you haven’t made many friends, your student union is there to make sure you’re having the best possible time at university.
The UCAS website has more information on what student unions at universities do, which you can check out here.
Additionally, student unions offer societies that provide activities for you to participate in. If you have a particular hobby or interest and want to meet people who share it, your student union is a great place to start. You can read more about societies in this Think Student article.
Fundamentally, a student union at university is there to represent your needs. They care about your wellbeing and represent the welfare of all students at a university. If you aren’t happy for whatever reason, and want something to change, your student union will help you.
What do student unions do?
Although I’ve touched on this briefly already, I’ll go into more detail about how student unions help you.
A student union is separate from the university, which means they are able to confront the university if you feel your needs haven’t been met. They can support you in several ways.
For example, if a university is planning to make a big change to the way exams are sat, the student union for that university will consult with students for their opinions. Then, an elected member of the union – who represents all students – will discuss with the university how students feel about the change.
Through a student union, students are given a voice, and can get involved with how a university is run. A student union protects the rights of university students to be heard.
However, even if there are no issues with university policy, a student union can still help. Student unions raise money to hold social events for students. Through a student union, you can be involved with your local student community.
This article by The Uni Guide has more information on what your student union can do for you.
Why does a student union exist?
A student union exists to protect the rights of students. They believe all students should be seen and heard in matters of university policy, and their aim is to make that possible for you.
You may have heard the term ‘union’ before in relation to workers’ rights. Well, a student union functions in the same way, and helps support students’ rights within the university.
For example, if you’ve seen strikes on the news with workers demanding better pay, these are typically organised and supported by a union. Action by a student union probably won’t be that extreme, but the important thing to know is that a student union will also fight for your needs to be met.
However, student unions also exist to ensure you’re enjoying your time at university. They build a community for students to make sure that nobody feels isolated or left out.
Essentially, any issues that impact your experience as a student can be dealt with by your student union. Whether those issues are academic, social, or personal, your student union is there to make sure you always have somewhere to go for help.
In this Think Student article, you can read about some campus universities with large active student unions.
How does the student union help students?
The main source of help provided by a student union is to represent your needs and wants at a university level. They will support specific communities and their needs.
Most student unions will have different officers for different roles. For example, an Elected Officer is the officer that will represent you in matters of university policy and speak on your behalf.
Student unions will also have officers that represent different communities. Hypothetically, if you felt you were being discriminated against for being LGBTQ+ or a student of colour, you could speak to the student union’s LGBTQ+ officer, or the BAME officer.
Take a look at the UCL Student Union website for examples on the different officer roles your student union might have.
As I mentioned earlier, your student union is also there to deal with problems that affect your experience as a student. Even if your problem isn’t directly related to your studies, such as an issue with student housing, your student union will try to help.
Should you become a member of the student union?
Deciding whether or not to become a member of your university’s student union is ultimately up to you. However, I would very strongly recommend it.
You can talk to someone higher up in the university system about problems you are facing, but you may feel that you aren’t being listened to. Universities will usually try and help you as much as possible, but unfortunately, in some instances students can be ignored.
In situations like those, your student union can make you feel like you’re being taken seriously and take action on your behalf.
I would really strongly advise joining your student union as soon as possible. All my experiences with my student union have been positive, and I feel listened to and cared about.
A student union is not only an amazing resource but a great way to connect with your student community and feel involved. I can’t recommend them enough!
How do you become a member of the student union?
You will automatically become a member of your university’s student union once you are officially registered as a student at that university. Your membership to the student union is free at any UK university. It’s automatically renewed each year you are a student.
For example, the University of the Arts London Student Union states that when you join UAL you also become part of the University’s student union automatically.
You do have the chance to opt out if you wish, but the vast majority of students are members. As you can see from this article, there are a huge number of benefits to being a part of your student union!
If you have any concerns about your membership, you should consult your university’s student union website. There will be information there on how membership works.