#LTHEchat 221: Student Unions’, the Student Experience and the University. Led by Colina Wright @colina_wright

Naassom Azevedo via Unsplash

Please note that the use of the term Students’ Union within this discussion is intended to cover Student Associations and Student Guilds. 

I love working within Students’ Unions (SU’s), having done so since graduating over 20 years ago. I got involved in my SU when, as I approached Christmas in my second year, I had to rethink whether university was right for me. I was a young black female, the first in my family to attend university but fortunately supported by the fact attending university was the norm within my (white) stepfather’s history. I struggled with a lack of understanding with regards to what university was. This was before the discussions about BAME attainment gaps, the language didn’t exist and if it did, it would actively have been discouraged from broader conversation, through fear of institutions being perceived as racist organisations. 

It was my engagement with a volunteering project, led by the SU with young girls from an underprivileged area of the city, that got me through my university experience. My SU introduced me to the widening participation agenda and the empowerment of young people – both students and those projects set out to help them – and created a desire in me to pursue a career whereby I could have a positive impact on the community. And so my journey began…

Sadly SU’s are increasingly coming under fire for stereotypical behaviours: initiations and anti-social behaviour demonstrated by some sports teams, encouraging or preventing freedom of expression within societies and unfortunately, not for the positive contributions they make within their respective cities/towns. These positive contributions include, but are not limited to: contributing to the local economy, raising money for charities, numerous volunteering projects with local citizens or generally providing developmental opportunities for university students.

I believe there is something truly unique about the opportunities SU’s present and the difference they can make to students and the community; they have the ability to genuinely be life-changing in addition to contributing positively to university recruitment and retention. They exist to enhance the student experience but can often be perceived within the university context as parasitic, rather than symbiotic relationship. 

This tweet chat aims to explore:

  • The relationships academic and professional services staff may and could have with SU’s 
  • What  SU’s can do to ensure that we work together to achieve our collective mission, that is, to enhance the student experience and create leaders of the future. 

Further Reading

Amirianzadeh, M., Jaafari, P., Ghourchian, N. and Jowkar, B., (2011) Role of student associations in leadership development of engineering students. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 30, pp.382-385. https://pdf.sciencedirectassets.com/277811/1-s2.0-S1877042811X0023X/1-s2.0-S1877042811019008/main.pdf 

Atilade, T. and Wickremasinghe, R. (2021) Where are the black squares now? WonkHE 9/7/21, https://wonkhe.com/blogs/where-are-the-black-squares-now/

Blake, S. and Roberts, L. (2021) Is partnership possible in a pandemic?, WonkHE 24/9/21, https://wonkhe.com/blogs/is-partnership-possible-in-a-pandemic/ 

Dickinson, J. (2021) What on earth is student representation for? WonkHE 1/6/21, https://wonkhe.com/blogs/what-on-earth-is-student-representation-for/ 

O’Donnell, P. Brabner, R. and Dickinson, J. (2021) Students will build back community better – if we support them to do so, WonkHE 11/6/21, https://wonkhe.com/blogs/what-have-students-ever-done-for-the-community/ 

Phipps, C., (2020) “We already do enough around equality and diversity”: Action taken by student union officers to promote LGBT+ inclusion in university sport. Sociology of Sport Journal, 37(4), pp.310-318.


Colina Wright

Colina Wright @colina_wright is currently the CEO of the University of Sunderland Students’ Union and will become the CEO at the Union of Students, Derby, in the new year. She has a strong background in membership engagement following other experience gained at De Montfort University, Sheffield Hallam and New College Nottingham. Her experience within both FE and HE Students’ Unions’ followed her own experience of being an Elected Officer at Sheffield Hallam University (Multicultural and International Students’ Officer) and her passion for student voice, inclusive practice and the power of Students’ Union to create real impact and change has continued to characterise her career to date. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from De Montfort University and an BA (Hons.) in Communication Studies from Sheffield Hallam University. She has served as a Trustee for Buckinghamshire New University SU and Wearside Women in Need.

Q1. What do you consider to be the role of the Students’ Union in the student experience?

Q2. From your experience what are the main issues and/or successes of your student representation system? How do you think this can be enhanced?

Q3. Excluding the Student Rep system, to what extent have you worked together with students/ the student voice to contribute to the overall learning experience and with what outcome?

Q4. The Students’ Union can be an effective mechanism to support internal / external student barometers (eg NSS). What does the Student Union involvement within your institution look like and how do you think it could work more effectively?

Q5. Are there (or have there been) collaborative opportunities/ student led projects within your area of work that can either benefit from (or have benefited) from student engagement? How has this made a difference to the learning environment?

Q6. How can you work more effectively with your Student Union to ensure your students take advantage of leadership and developmental opportunities and enhance students’ employability?

https://wke.lt/w/s/9m422Y via Wakelet 

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