What is the students’ union and how can they help me?

What is the students' union and how can they help me?

This article about the students’ union and how they can help was published by the Great British Mag content team on 5 March, 2020

The first students’ union in the UK was founded at King’s College London in 1873 as a way to unite students on campus. Now nearly every university in the UK has a students’ union and they’re a great place to go to meet people, join a society and get help if you have a problem on or off campus. Read on to find out more.

What is a students’ union?

A students’ union is independent of the university and in most cases is affiliated to the National Union of Students. Their main purpose is to represent the best interests of all students on local and national issues.

Students’ unions are mostly run by elected volunteers who are typically existing and former students from the university. Although, some roles within the SU (as it’s typically shortened to) are full-time. Students’ unions raise money in a number of ways, including holding social events and selling students membership to the NUS student discount card which helps you save money when you go shopping.

Where can I find my students’ union?

The students’ union should have a designated building on campus with walk-in hours. In theory, if you have a problem you should be able to reach out to the SU for help. The SU can help in a variety of ways, including a problem you have that is personal and isn’t directly linked to your academic studies or the university. For example, you might be having a problem with your landlord.

The SU is also a great place to go if you have an idea of how things could be improved at your university.

Does the student union organise social events?

Your students’ union is a hub for all kinds of events and gatherings from debates to club nights and live performances from bands. Student societies will also arrange events such as day trips to various UK destinations or voluntary work in the local community. Be on the lookout for posters around campus or follow your students’ union on social media. 

The students’ unions are also the place to find out about clubs and societies on campus. A club or society is a student organisation dedicated to a particular interest or activity. Most universities have hundreds of them, including societies specifically for international students or for students from a particular country. Browse your students’ union website to see if any interest you – they’re a great way to try something new and make friends. 

There might not be a society on campus dedicated to your nationality. If you want to plan an event that celebrates your home country and teaches other students about it, talk to the students’ union about setting up a society.

What is the students’ union bar?

If your university has an on-campus bar, it’s probably run by the students’ union and is a centre for socialising. Don’t worry about missing out if you don’t drink alcohol. The bar also serves inexpensive meals and snacks and hosts a variety of events, such as live music, karaoke nights, pub quizzes, bingo and club nights with dancing.

What problems can a students’ union help me with?

Each students’ union has officers in charge of supporting specific communities on campus. If you experience discrimination, need support or just want to connect with others, reach out to them.

Most SUs have a:

  • Gender equality officer
  • Interfaith officer
  • International students officer (see more information below)
  • LGBTQ+ officer 
  • Mental health officer 
  • Students with disabilities officer

You can find a list of officers and how to contact them on your students’ union website. Remember that officers are elected because they have a deep understanding of the communities they represent. It’s their job to listen to your concerns and take them seriously. They will be able to help you directly or can put you in contact with larger support networks. (For example, most campuses have professional academic and guidance counsellors who offer free and confidential services.)

How can my students’ union website help me?

The students’ union website is a safe place to gather information about a problem you have, especially if you prefer not to discuss the issue in person. The sites often have places to anonymously submit feedback and complaints to the union and to report discrimination, harassment and assault.

Look for an ‘Advice’ or ‘Help’ tab on the site’s homepage to see if there is information about a question or concern you have. Topics frequently covered include:

  • Academic concerns (Appeals, mitigating circumstances, plagiarism)
  • Health and wellbeing (Alcohol, anxiety, drugs, nutrition)
  • Housing (On- versus off-campus accommodations, landlord issues)
  • Money (Banking, budgeting, debt)
  • International student concerns (Employability, health insurance, visas)
  • Safety (Assault, harassment, late-night transportation)

These pages will also list union representatives or other university employees you can contact about these issues if you’d like.

What is an international students officer?

International students officers are an ideal resource because they are international students themselves and have successfully transitioned into UK university life. Any question or concern you have they probably once had too! 

International students officers are especially involved in planning events that help international students adjust to UK university culture and meet each other. They also head a lot of committees relating to international student life. You can find information about these events and committees and on your students’ union website.

How can an international students officer help me?

If you’re feeling homesick, isolated or are struggling to adjust to an aspect of UK culture, you can always set up a meeting with the international students officer. They can listen to your concerns and offer advice about handling cultural differences.

See more

UK student’s journey to president of the students’ union

How to make friends at UK university