Students' union

Students' union

A students' union, student government, student senate, students' association, or guild of students is a student organization present in many colleges, universities and has started to appear in some high schools. In the latter, said organization is often accorded its own building on the campus, dedicated to social and organizational activities of the student body.

Many students' unions are run "by" students "for" students, independent of the educational facility. The purpose of these organizations is to represent students both within the institution and externally, including on local and national issues. They are 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.

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. Other unions however are less politicised. Students' Unions generally have similar aims irrespective of the extent of politicization, and focus on providing facilities, support and services to students as well as political goals.

Students' unions often officially recognize and allocate an annual budget to other organizations on campus. In some institutions, postgraduate students are within the general students' unions, whereas in others they have their own Postgraduate Representative Body. In some cases graduate students to lack formal representation in student government.


In Australia, all universities have one or more student organizations. As of July 2006, membership and union fees are voluntary by law.

Australian student unions typically provide such services as eateries, small retail outlets (e.g., newsagencies), student media (e.g., campus newspapers), advocacy, and support for a variety of social, arts, political, recreational, special interest and sporting clubs and societies. Most also operate specialized support services for female, LGBT, international and indigenous students. Many have expressed concerns over the introduction of voluntary student unionism (VSU).

The National Union of Students of Australia represents most student unions at a national level. With VSU becoming law, its future is in doubt.


In Canada, membership in a college or university students' union is mandatory. Included in Canadian students' tuition fees is anywhere from an additional $10-$300 fee to pay for the services of the union. The money raised from dues is often used to support a staff and office. Student elections usually happen around March as the student bodies elect their unions' executives. Student voter turnout for student elections varies widely depending on the part of the country, and the size of the institution. The current largest undergraduate student union in Canada is the York Federation of Students, at the York University, with around 49,000 members.

Canadian student unions are not-for-profit organizations and often provide numerous services not only to their own students, but to the educational institution and community at large. Running things like newspapers, radio stations, various consumer businesses, clubs, societies and cultural groups, concerts, bars, various entertainment, athletic programs, financial support, scholarships, medical and dental plans are quite common throughout Canadian schools. Student unions are also well known for their political involvement.

Most student governments are charged by their student body to protect their best interests at the university, municipal, provincial and federal government levels. Generally, student unions in Canada are members of either the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations or the Canadian Federation of Students, the two federal lobby groups representing post-secondary students. One exception is the Province of Quebec, which has its own federations, the largest youth group in Quebec, called Quebec Federation of University Students (Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec or FEUQ). CEGEP students are represented by the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec or FECQ, while the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante or ASSE is a more radical organisation grouping students from both levels of education.


In China, the student body is called 学生会 (Xuesheng Hui) or 学生联合会 (Xuesheng Lianhe Hui), literally means students' union or students' association. A student association of a particular university, usually plays the role as the organizer of student activities. The students' associations of Chinese universities are all under the leadership of Communist Youth League of China, which to a large extent limit its function as an organization purely belonging to students themselves.


In Denmark the higher education system comprises two parallel sectors: universities and university colleges of applied sciences (e.g. nursing and engineering schools or teachers' colleges). Universities are characterised by scientific research and the highest education based thereon. University colleges of applied sciences are oriented towards working life and base their operations on the high vocational skill requirements set by it. These vocational institutions offer 3-4 year 'professional bachelor degrees'. Besides that there are a number of art schools. Universities belong under the Ministry of Science, University Colleges belong under the Ministry of Education, and the Art Schools belong under the Ministry of Culture. There are 12 universities at the moment, but in 2006 there is a major merger process going on to make fewer, bigger institutions. The student unions at universities (and some of the art schools' student unions) are generally members of the National Union of Students in Denmark which represents these students on the national level.

Every university has a student union (In Danish, "Studenterråd"). Membership is not mandatory. The student unions are funded by the university and the Ministry of Science on the basis of the percentage of votes received every year at the university election. The student union is autonomous, its internal life organized by its by-laws. The student unions are responsible for all representation of the students and elect the student members of different administrative organs. They usually coordinate and finance the activities of smaller, more specialized student organizations. For the financing of their activities, some student unions exact a membership fee and/or engage in different businesses.

In the Ministry of Culture institutions there are also local student organisations. In the Ministry of Education institutions, The student activities are very much related to a student division of the Labor Union in the different areas. For instance, the teachers' students are organised in the national labor union for teachers and so forth.

Upper-Seconday schoolsThe Upper-Seconday schools(In Danish, "Gymnasier"), It is in Denmark a law that there has to be a studentscouncill at the Upper-Secondary schools. The studentscouncils are organized in the organisation [ DGS] . 1sh of January 2008 120 of the 145 gymnasier where paying members.



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 [Although there's a difference between 'college' and 'university' the words have become almost synonymous in informal speech] 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.


India has developed a complex tradition of student politics dating from the era of Congress Party domination. Student unions are organised both within universities, like the Student Council of IISc and across universities, but affiliated with political parties, as in the case of NSUI, ABVP, SFI, etc. The latter compete in elections to control posts in the former. Examples of activist unions include the Delhi University Students Union.


In Japan, the student body is called 学生自治会 (gakusei-jichi-kai). In Japanese, the word 学生自治会 (gakusei-jichi-kai) means students' self-government-organizations. The student body in Japan promotes extracurricular activities. Usually, a cultural association, 文化会 (bunka-kai), and a sports association, 体育会 (taiiku-kai), are included within a student body as autonomous organizations. A student belongs to one or more students' organizations, and he or she does extracurricular activities through these students' organizations. However, the extracurricular activities of universities and colleges have been declining since the 1990s.


Malaysia has 20 public institutions of higher learnings. Each of them has one Student Representative Council (Malay: Majlis Perwakilan Pelajar or MPP) which is the ultimate legislative body among the students. The MPP holds the highest administrative authority in the Student Union of each university. A general election is held every year, usually in September, to elect representatives to the Student Representative Council. The percentage of voter turn-outs are usually high (70% to 95%) largely due to enforcements from the universities' governance which at the same time acts as the Election Committee.

Every year, the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education would set meetings and arrange programmes with all MPP. Nevertheless, each MPP has their own autonomous right to govern their own student body. The size of the MPP differs from each university, from as little as 12 person to as many as 48 person. Notable Student Representative Councils are the MPP of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and the MPP of Universiti Putra Malaysia. (note: There are no sabbatical officers in the Malaysian Students' Union system. All members of MPP are part-time officers)


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.

New Zealand

Students associations have a strong history in New Zealand of involvement in political causes, notably the Halt All Racist Tours campaign during the 1981 Springbok Tour. All universities, and most polytechnics and colleges of education have a students association. Since the economic reforms of the 1990s and the introduction of user pays in tertiary education, students associations and the national body have shifted their focus to challenging inequities in the student loan scheme and high levels of student debt. Part-time work along side the introduction of internal assessment and the change of semester structure has been attributed to the declining involvement in extracurricular activities and a shift in focus of the student movement from mass protest to lobbying.

Previous to 1998 membership of Students' Associations was compulsory at all public Tertiary Education providers (universities, polytechnics and colleges of education). In 1997 the right-wing National party proposed the Voluntary Student Membership amendment to the Education act which would have made membership of Students' Associations voluntary at all Tertiary Education Providers.

However the National Party relied on support from the centrist New Zealand First party to pass legislation. The New Zealand First party preferred that Tertiary Students themselves choose whether their provider should be voluntary or complusary and pushed through a compromise to the amendment that allowed for a Compulsory Vs Voluntary referendum to be held at every public Tertiary Education Provider. The amendment also allowed for subsequent referendums which could not be held until at least two years had passed since the previous referendum and only if a petition was signed by 10% of the student populace.

The first wave of referendums were held in 1999, in which several Polytechnics and two Universities (the University of Waikato and the University of Auckland) elected to become voluntary. In 2002 a second referendum was held at the University of Waikato and students choose to return to compulsory student membership. Similar referendums at Auckland University in 2001, 2003 and 2005 have all elected to retain voluntary student membership.

Most of New Zealand Tertiary students' associations are confederated under the New Zealand Union of Students' Associations.


In Norway, every 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.


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

United States


ee also

*Student activism
*Student court
*Student voice
*Class President
*American Student Government Association (ASGA). A professional association for collegiate Student Governments across the United States, providing databases, research, best practices, training conferences, and consulting.
*ESIB - National Unions of Students in Europe - an umbrella organization of 44 national unions of students from 34 European countries.
*National Union of Students of the United Kingdom

External links

* [ The SG Consulting Group] The SG Consulting Group is a firm specializing in training and consulting for collegiate student governments in the United States.
* [ NOM - The Nordic Presidential Meeting (Nordiskt Ordförande Möte)] - The network is a consultative meeting of the National Unions of Students of Nordic Countries who are members of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

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