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The student union is often the beating heart of a university. From organising parties, to helping students with their day to day needs, it should be one of the first places you visit at university.
The role of students’ unions encompasses much more than just social events. They are there to ensure that students are getting the education they deserve and have paid for, while also working to provide a safe, welcoming atmosphere.
A students’ union is much more than cheap drinks and ear-splitting music - here are 6 reasons you should get to know yours.
Starting university, especially in a new town, city, or even country, tends to come with a mountain of questions. Where do I get my post? I’ve lost my key, where can I get a spare? Where’s lecture room C238? What’s the meaning of life?
Feeling a little lost is perfectly normal, and the students’ union should be your first port of call.
There’s no need to waste your time being fearful of asking questions you might think are stupid. The people working in the students’ union will almost certainly have heard many of the questions before.
No doubt the students’ union is filled with pleasant people who may go on to be your best friends, but it’s normally through the links that the Union provides that you’re likely to meet plenty of new people.
Students’ unions will normally organise social events throughout the year, as well as clubs, sports, volunteer programs, and much more.
For those new to the university, these kinds of events are a great way of meeting new people and making friends. And if you don’t find a social group that quite fits you, then why not start your own? Students’ unions are a representation of the students themselves, so if you think the university needs a chess club, well, there’s no time like the present!
Some people claim to have gone through their entire university experience without any major problems. I don’t personally know anybody like that, but I have heard rumours. For everybody else, life at university is bound to throw up plenty of very normal problems, both big and small.
Your students’ union should be one of the first places to go if you are experiencing a problem.
It might be as easy as answering some simple questions about university procedures, or for more complex matters they can always help to arrange student guidance counsellors or medical specialists to assist you.
As we said right at the start, the students’ union is the life-blood of any university, and often acts as the focal point of the student community.
In large universities with thousands attending, it can be easy to feel like you are simply a tiny part of a massive organisation, but everybody has the right to be part of the university community.
The students’ union will often be looking for students to help out with various aspects of university life - whether it’s helping to organise an event, be a tour guide for prospective students or volunteer in outreach programs in the local area.
Do you see yourself as a budding politician? Students’ unions typically hold elections in which people can run for various positions - including the lofty title of ‘Student President’.
That might sound like a bit of a glorified, symbolic position, but those elected to roles within the union often have real power to make the changes that they believe in. OK, you probably won’t be allowed to ban homework, but if you have certain ideas for how you think your university could be improved, why not give it a go?
Being able to include work for your students’ union on your CV can be very attractive to employers. It shows them that you were able to dedicate some time away from your studies and social life for something beneficial for the wider cause.
Students’ unions were originally designed to act in much the same way as unions in employment. To protect student’s rights and to act as a collective with stronger powers than individuals.
It’s important to see your students’ union as a place where you can discuss issues about the university freely.
They are a separate organisation from the university, so you can go to them with university-related problems. In fact, this should probably be the first place you go. If you have any doubts regarding your rights, take a look at an article we did a couple of months ago on student rights.
Your students’ union is there for you - to provide assistance, advice, support but also that gateway into the larger student community. If you haven’t started getting to know yours, what are you waiting for?
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Oli lives in London and is a writer and photographer.