Setting up a union in further education

Most further education colleges in the United Kingdom have a students’ union, though many are not in operation. NUS supports students’ attempts to start or resurrect unions and make them fully operational.

How to start

The first step is to contact your college’s Clerk of Corporation. The Clerk can give you:

  • Any existing students’ union constitution (an agreement between the college and its students on what the union should do and how)
  • The college Learner Involvement Strategy
  • Contact details for the member of staff who runs elections on behalf of the college corporation
  • Contact details of the student members of the corporation. They should be involved in any attempt to set up a union and should be on the student union executive committee in the first instance

Holding elections

The elected leaders of a students’ union are often called the executive committee. Elections must be held so the executive can claim legitimately to represent the student community.

The college corporation is legally responsible for ensuring the elections are free, fair and cross campus. Guidance on how to carry out the elections should be in the constitution. This could include:

  • The opportunity for all students to participate
  • A candidates’ pack
  • A question time session
  • A photocopying allowance for candidates
  • The opportunity to vote across a whole college week
  • A secure way of voting

Setting up

If elected, you can prepare for being a students’ officer by obtaining:

  • The students’ union constitution
  • Handover information from the previous officer
  • A college calendar of meeting dates
  • College procedures including complaints, appeals (EMA, Disciplinary, Academic, Admissions) and bullying and harassment

You should arrange as soon as possible:

  • An introductory meeting with senior management
  • A union calendar with dates for executive meeting, student parliament and student union elections
  • Training for the new student officers
  • Staff support from the college
  • IT support including a union email address 

You can also register at NUS Connect to access further resources from our student officer and staff specific extranet website.

Doing things

Once the student leaders are elected, they need to decide what issues they want to bring forward to the college and what services they want to provide.

These decisions should be made either in the executive committee meeting or in the students’ parliament for bigger strategic decisions. (A students’ parliament is a cross-section of the college community chaired by students.) 

All decisions, particularly financial, should be recorded in minutes available to the public. 

Money

Students’ unions in further education colleges raise funds in two principal ways. The first, which accounts for most of the funding, is the block grant.

This is granted annually from college corporation funds for students’ union activity, and ranges from £50 to £125,000.

A college corporation doesn’t have to give you a block grant, though it’s obliged to provide you with any resources outlined in the Learner Involvement Strategy.

The second funding stream is revenue generated from the NUS Extra card. This money belongs to your union, not the college. 

What happens if the college doesn’t co-operate?

Most colleges will be glad you’ve expressed an interest; however, if your college is not supporting your efforts, you might consider the following:

  • Complain to the college corporation for failing to comply with the 1994 Education Act
  • If the college continues to be uncooperative, contact the regional director of the Learning and Skills Council to complain about the college
  • Contact NUS for more help.