Changing services and missions of students' unions

The fundamental mission of students’ unions has always been around creating and developing a great student experience in all its forms. We have seen over the last decade a decline in successful commercial provision (although there are exceptions). This has been driven by a number of factors, including competition from the high street and changing demography of the student body in addition to the impact of new fee regimes. Students are ever more demanding of the quality of services, and there is evidence to suggest they do not care who provides them. In the future, students unions will need to embrace the idea of student engagement and enhancing the quality of education. This will help them pass the public benefit test in the new regulatory framework brought about by charity registration.

What are the implications?

  • A potential shift from providing services for students to enabling students to do things for themselves (see co-production in education).
  • Students’ union commercial services may no longer be competitive with a further decline in the national buying consortium.
  • Possible changes in funding sources or a reliance on narrow income streams as services change.
  • A need for more diverse skills in the workforce of students’ unions.
  • Students may have to go elsewhere for certain services
  • A potential reduction in affinity or attachment of students to their unions if they are not seen as places of social provision.
  • Students unions may find it easier to hold universities accountable when they concentrate on their core function

Moving forward

  • Have you reviewed your mission, vision and values and undertaken a strategic review of your organisation?
  • Have you reviewed your portfolio of services to test the relevance for your membership now and in the future?
  • Have you undertaken a skills audit of your organisation and identified gaps to be filled?
  • Does your organisation need to improve how it assesses and demonstrates the impact it makes?
  • Can you enter into strategic partnerships with other local organisations to deliver services (eg. advice)?
  • Have you thought about developing social learning spaces?
  • Have you undertaken work to look at the relationship with your parent institution?
Last updated at 16:28 Mon 19/Oct/09.


How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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