Students' union

A students' union, student government, student leadership, student council, students' association, or guild of students is a student organization present in many elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities. In the latter, said organization is often accorded its own building on the campus, dedicated to social and organizational activities of the student body. At many institutions, the students' union is a formally-organized group analogous to a labour union.

Many students' unions are run by students for students, independent of the educational facility. The purpose of the organization is to represent students' views within the facility and sometimes on local and national issues (however, this is generally only in Universities). It is also responsible for providing a variety of services to students. Students can get involved in its management, through numerous and varied committees, councils and general meetings, or become one of its elected officers.
The largest Students' Union building at Oklahoma State University, which doubles as a student activity center ("student union" in the USA)
The largest Students' Union building at Oklahoma State University, which doubles as a student activity center ("student union" in the USA)

Many students' unions are highly politicised bodies, and often serve as a training ground for aspiring politicians. Campaigning and debate is often very vigorous, with the youthful enthusiasm of the various partisans, a student media that is itself often partisan, inexperienced, and under no financial pressure to slant coverage to please a broad readership, and a general lack of serious consequences for decision all encouraging political gamesmanship. Some unions, however, are largely nonpolitical, and instead focus on providing on-campus recreation and retail facilities for students.

In certain schools, every class has assigned class representative(s) (also called "Class Rep."), who will pass on requests, ideas, or complaints to the union from students of that representative. Students' unions often officially recognize and allocate a yearly budget to other organizations on campus. In some countries, postgraduate students are within the general students' unions, whereas in other countries they have their own National Postgraduate Representative Body. However, it is not at all unheard-of for graduate students to lack formal representation in student government.


The French higher education system is centrally organized, so that local university bodies have restricted decision-making power. As a consequence, student unions are generally established at national level with local sections in most universities. The largest national student unions have a strong political identity and their actions are generally restricted to the defense of their vision of higher education rather than the particular interests of the student body of a single university. Union membership is regarded as an essentially political decision, without any particular advantage for students. The strength of unions can be best measured by their effectiveness in national protests rather than by membership figures. The most important student unions in France are: the left-leaning Union nationale des étudiants de France (National Students Union of France, UNEF) , the conservative Union Nationale Inter-Universitaire (National Inter-Universitary Union, UNI), the pro-European Confédération étudiante (Student Confederation), and the Fédération des associations générales étudiantes (Federation of General Students Associations, FAGE) regrouping different disciplinary associations.

In the Grandes écoles, the premium league in the French higher education system, students are generally members of the official Student Offices (Bureau des Elèves) in charge of the organization of social activities and sports events. The constitutions of these societies, which work in close partnership with the school administration, usually prevent union members from running for executive positions in order to keep the school independent from political groups that would eventually harm to the school prestige.


In Greece every university department has its corresponding Student Union (in Greek: Σύλλογος Φοιτητών) and all students belonging to the department have the right to register as members. The main objective of a student union is to solve students' problems that can either be related to academic life or have a general political and social nature. Furthermore, Student Unions organize and support numerous activities such as political debates, demonstrations, university occupations, educational lectures, cultural and artistic events, conferences and so on.

The structure of a Student Union is rather simple and comprises two bodies: The General Assembly and the Board of Directors. The General Assembly consists of all student-members of the Union. It takes place on a regular basis and is the only decision-making body. During the General Assembly, many topics of student interest are discussed and the decisions are taken after open vote. The Board of Directors makes sure that the decisions of the General Assembly will be materialized. Moreover, the members of the Board of Directors, among which is the Union's President, participate in various university administrative bodies as representatives of all students in the Union.

Every year in early spring the Student Elections take place nationwide, during which students vote for their representatives.

All Student Unions in Greece are members of the "National Student Union of Greece" (ΕΦΕΕ - Εθνική Φοιτητική Ένωση Ελλάδας).


Most of Ireland's universities and colleges have students' unions which were established to represent the students in the context of internal college issues and on wider student related issues and also a means of solidarity with other movements globally. An on going campaign of virtually every students' union in Ireland is to prevent the reintroduction of tuition fees which were abolished in 1995. Most of the students' unions are affiliated with the Union of Students in Ireland. The students' unions are operated in accordance with the rules set down in their constitution which invariable enumerates a strong democratic and inclusive procedure for the governance on the union.

Since 1998 there has been sustained development of student councils is Irish post primary schools and approx 56% of Irish Post Primary schools have local student councils. In 2001 the Union of Secondary Students was founded as the National Umbrella body to organise and coordinate the national campaign efforts of the student councils. The Union of Secondary Students has a membership of 13% of post primary students in the republic of Ireland although this figure is ever increasing.


There are several students' unions in The Netherlands which act as labor unions for students. The largest ones are VSSD in Delft and ASVA Studentenunie in Amsterdam. These students' unions are all members of LSVb, the national students' union. There's also a similar organization called ISO, which consists of several formal participation organizations, as well as ASVA Studentenunie and VSSD. Both ISO and LSVb are members of ESIB.

There is also a Student Union at Twente University. It was founded in 1999, succeeding the 'Raad voor de Campusvoorzieningen' and the 'Campuscollege'. This Student Union is largely funded by the university and responsible for most activities not related to education, such as sports and culture. It is also an umbrella organization for close to 100 student organizations at the university. The board is not elected: any student can apply for a one-year term. Selection is performed by a subcommittee of the 'Raad van Toezicht'. The board consists of six members, all full time.


In Norway, every school from elementary to university is instructed and required by law to have a Student Union elected by the pupils/students at the school. The goal for every Student Union is to improve their school environment through encouraging social, cultural and other extracurricular events that is happening in the local community. The student unions in Norway is governed by a Board of Directors which is elected directly from the Student Council.

The Norwegian pupils democracy is based on the separation of powers. The Student Union has all the legislative powers and the board of directors have the executive powers. The Student Union's resolutions are only consultative to the school's principal or headmaster.


In Portugal, every university, polytechnic institute and any other higher education schools has their own students' unions. Union organizations are generally aimed to organize and promote extracurricular activities such as sports and culture events, parties, and academic festivities. At the same time, they also act as "labour unions for students" promoting and defending the student's points of view and rights, and dealing with the teaching institutions and the State's education agencies policies. The oldest and biggest students' union of Portugal is the Associação Académica de Coimbra (founded in 1887) which belongs to the students of the University of Coimbra.


At Swedish universities, students' unions are responsible for representing the students in evaluation of the education and decision-making within the universities. The union normally holds about one-third of the votes within every decision making body and thus holds a great deal of power. Membership is mandatory by law. Students pay a membership fee usually between €20 and €40. The unions are usually governed by a general assembly comprising of elected representatives. Students' unions generally provide counselling services to its members and publishes their own magazines or newspapers. Large universities often have several students' unions, where the smaller students' unions only provide basic services. Larger students' unions often own and run their own facilities at the university such as shops, restaurants and night clubs. Which students' union a student belongs to is decided by the course of study, and competing for members is as such not possible. Many students' unions, but not all, are affiliated with the Swedish National Union of Students.


United Kingdom

In universities in Great Britain students' unions are constituted under Section 2 of the Education Act 1994. All students are automatically members of the students' union unless they resign their membership, and the ultimate purpose of students' unions is to democratically represent the interests of their members. Students who resign their membership may still use Union social facilities provided (often the main or only such facilities available) since they are for the benefit of the students of the institution, not just Union members.

Although "students' union" is by far the most common name adopted by these organisations in the UK, seven (including Exeter, Aston, Liverpool and Birmingham) are named Guilds of students while the term student association is also used at some institutions, particularly in Scotland, where the ancient universities used to have a pair of segregated student unions for men and women and/or had separate "unions" for social activities and "students' representative councils" for representational matters (an arrangement that still exists at the University of Glasgow). When these were amalgamated the term student association was introduced.

The vast majority of UK students' unions are affiliated with the National Union of Students (NUS). In addition to lobbying, campaigning, debating and carrying out other representative activities, most students' unions facilitate "student activities" (societies, volunteering opportunities, and sport) peer led support (through advice centres, helplines, job shops and more), and social venues to bring their members together. Most unions receive some funding through an annual allocation, also called the block grant, from their educational institution. Many unions supplement this income from commercial sales from their venues, shops, and marketing revenue.

The oldest students' union in Britain is St Andrews, founded in 1864. The oldest in England is believed by many to be King's College London Union Society, founded in 1889. Britain's oldest students' union building, which is also the world's oldest students' union building, is the purpose-built Teviot Row House at the University of Edinburgh, built in 1889. The oldest in England is believed to be the Imperial College Union building in Beit Quad built between 1910-11 and designed by Sir Aston Webb. The two largest students' union buildings in the United Kingdom are at the University of Bristol and the University of Sheffield.


The oldest students' union in Scotland is in St Andrews founded in 1864 and the world's oldest students' union building is the purpose-built Teviot Row House at the University of Edinburgh, built in 1889. Under the Universities (Scotland) Act 1889, Students' Representative Councils were set up at the ancient universities of Scotland. All students are eligible to elect members to the SRC unless they opt out under the Education Act 1994, and the President of the SRC is often a member of the University Court, the governing body of a Scottish Ancient. Where separate students' unions still exist (for example at the University of Glasgow), they operate as private members' clubs. At other universities, the SRC and the former union or unions have been combined into a single students' association.


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