Your Representation

With the US Presidential Election coming to a close with the main voting day today, it seemed only appropriate to mention politics in your student life.

A Brief Announcement for Americans

First off, to any students and parents reading this, I’m not an American nor a massive fan on national politics (check my Instagram account if you can find it for our British elections and EU Referendum polling days) but if you haven’t already voted over there – hit lock on your computer, go out to your nearest polling station AND VOTE (and then come back here when you’re done!) even if it’s the one thing you do to care about the campaign. Your voice decides your future for the next few years (and maybe longer for some changes).

And Back to the Studioents

So throughout school you probably had the opportunity to be sat on various panels or to become an elected captain of something that allowed you to have a taste at making a small difference to your school for your year.

At University this is taken up just a notch. A school year becomes several thousand people, little things becomes anything from franchising or representing courses & causes all the way up to managing and spending a budget of a few million pounds. These positions often can enact changes for your social and academic life and possibly also your term-time home life. Whilst this article will focus mostly on UK  student politics, some of these elements may also apply to universities around the world in different forms of student body (Fraternities and Sororities, Student Councils and Guilds etc) and I’d be excited to hear about differences and discussions about your university culture in the comments box below.

Course Representatives

One simple form of representing your students is Course Representation.  This can be found ran either by the University or a Guild/Union.

The role of a course rep,  believe it or not is to represent their peers on their various courses programmes.  Any issues arising with unfair assignments,  poor support from a lecturer or an idea that you think can benefit your course can be sent to your course rep.

Meetings will be held between course leaders and reps and also with the governing body (University or Guild/Union staff) to discuss these issues and to vote on motions and discuss any feedback and changes that need to be enacted to benefit the students and staff for each department and programme.

If you don’t fancy going all out with politics,  but like the feeling of having a voice and the ability to help drive change,  have a look at your University website or speak to a a staff member or a Student Guild/Union member to see what your options are for signing up,  or to find out who your course rep may already be.

Student Guilds & Unions

The most popular  form of politics in British Universities is the Student Guild or Student Union. Whilst allowing you to have awesome free stuff, good student nights and the all famous shop where you can buy your university hoodies, your respective Union is an entity separate from the University representation itself that’s there to represent you as an individual whilst you study (a bit like a Trade Union for work, only you don’t usually have to pay for it).

At many universities you’re granted membership automatically when you enrol at university, with some taking a simple sign up procedure. Once you’re a member you’re able to gain the aforementioned benefits as well as represent and be represented on various issues and campaigns relating to student life. The work for this is usually done by “officers” whom are nominated and elected into the various councils and bodies by you, the students.

You can run for a variety of positions,  complete with campaigns,  hustings and a full election process.  For example in Hull University Union we had the President of the Union for both of our campuses, several Vice Presidents of various slices of the Union (Community, Education, Sports, Campus one for Scarborough etc), Smaller officers that join comittees and meet as part of the Union council panel (whom met regularly to discuss union matters and was open to all members to attend – though voting is restricted to elected officers only), Union Trustees (that sat on a special board with other staff Trustees and the President), Executive Officers that sat under each VP – the list goes on. Some of these positions will be voluntary and some like the VPs and Presidents will be full time paid positions, sometimes deferring your studies for a year whilst you help to run the union.

As mentioned above, I’ve never really been bothered about politics day to day, even with a former partner studying it I just couldn’t get interested in the content itself. On getting an opportunity to look after the revival of our smaller campus radio station however, rolling me into the running for the position of the now defunct “Media Rep” as part of the volunteered & elected campus Executive team, then getting a job in the Union shop and supporting as a staff member as well as a continuing supporter of friends within the Executive and staff teams. As an honorary life member of HUU I continue to wholeheartedly support the union in my graduate life where I can and will always offer my support when needed.

So if an average Joe like me can help support the student experience, why can’t you? If you’re curious about how other student unions work, check out the links on HUU’s referendum page (under ‘What are other Students’ Unions doing?‘) and if you’re a current student, why not ask in your local SU building to see how you can be a part of changing and enhancing your student experience and representing your friends and peers during your time on and around campus.


If you’ve already started your journey to making your mark, how have you supported or represented your peers? How does it work in your institution. Feel free to let me know in the comments below.




Sports, Societies & Socials

So, no doubt you’ve settled into your new abode and met a few new friends or been reunited with others. As many fresher’s weeks have drawn to a close and lessons are now in swing, there’s no doubt you’ve been around the fairs and the student union and been given flyer after flyer after sign up sheet, suggesting you join this and that.

If you feel a little in over your head or are beginning to question if you should have really signed up for every table you visited then don’t panic. Thankfully most of the sheets at fresher’s fairs are mostly there to gather interest and you usually don’t commit to joining a society until you’ve either paid ‘subs’ or been to the first few meetings.

Let’s break some of these groups down to get a better idea and hopefully demystify some of the assumptions.

Now bearing in mind colleges and universities around the world will operate slightly differently (sometimes inside a country itself you can have different institutions with different governance and representation), so this guide won’t fit every place perfectly. For that reason I’ve missed out specific lifestyles (such as Greek Life) and tried to cater generically to both Student Unions, Guilds and organisations alike. For the sake of translation, most student organised groups will be referred to as “societies” and teaching rooms as “labs” or “spaces” and job roles described as generically as possible.

VIP Club Nights and Dining Discounts

The offers you’ll have received here are usually vouchers for drinks deals and discounted entry to dedicated student nights. Some clubs occasionally give away or offer discounted VIP subscription to encourage you to visit them more. There’s never any commitment to do this of course and sometimes the more you connect with the better chance you’ll have of a cheap night out.

As for food discount codes and cards, it’s always worth a quick read thorough the terms and conditions, particularly when it comes to deals. Sadly most places won’t let you apply for discounts alongside deals (e.g: For Domino’s Pizza, you can either have x% off with your discount code OR you can have a deal such as ‘Two for Tuesday’ or a seasonal offer, not both), but again shop around the different takeaways to work out who will give you the most nosh for your dosh.

General Clubs & Societies

These are great little groups (sometimes known informally in their short form as as ‘socs’) often formed by students for students (with the occasional help from staff if it’s related to a subject or department), often free or for a very low joining fee. The scope of societies is as large as anyone’s imagination (within lawful reason) from chocolate to history to gaming to geocaching.

If you missed the sign up at fresher’s fair, there’s almost always an opportunity to join at a later date. Simply turn up at a meeting night or contact either a society member or even your student activities co-ordinator (if you have a specific one) and likewise if you wish to leave, give one of the above the courtesy of some notice rather than just not turning up, or you may keep hearing from them regarding events and subscription fees.

If you society doesn’t exist yet, why not start it yourself? It’s usually just a word with a student activities co-ordinator, a few signatures from your initial members, a decision on if your society will be a free and if so how you will fund activities) or subscription based one, submission of the paperwork to have it ratified by your SU/Guild council or guild to make it a formally approved and supported society and an initial general meeting (which becomes an annual requirement) in which you democratically elect a president (if not already agreed), a secretary and a treasurer. How formally you wish to enforce these rules in your society is up to you during each year in office (within many societies the title is just a formality), however bear in mind if the co-ordinator needs to enquire on something for whatever reason, these elected members will be the ones contacted first. Once you’re ratified, you’re away and the rest is up to you and your members to organise (although your guild or union will always be there to help should you need any advice or basic support on matter such as fund-raising, locations or issues with members).

If your society is of an academic nature, it’s worth speaking to your relevant department when you set it up. Whilst as non-students they may not be allowed to run the society itself, they may be able to provide support on a voluntary basis or allow you to use equipment or a teaching space in free hours (for instance, a Science Club may let you have supervised access to lab equipment or a Drama society have access to a performance space). If you have the funds you may be able to book spaces both on and off campus to host events (e.g: a play or a special night function) or seek sponsorship to get it for a discount/free provided you promote their services.

Whilst societies are often pretty relaxed, there may be some ground rules you may have to follow, particularly if it’s not a free membership. The president does have the right to exercise these within reason, so please respect them if you want to reap the benefits and memories of being in a society.

The Athletic Union and Sports Teams

Most universities will separate sporting activities into their own sub division known as the Athletic Union or AU (though not all Student Unions or Guilds have this). Alternatively the University themselves may manage the sports teams. Much like at school these aren’t strictly as formal as the ‘real world’ sports clubs, but unlike student societies will expect a degree of commitment, particularly if you’re competing in a university league or competition).

Once you’ve registered your initial interest at Fresher’s Fair, you’ll be invited to ‘try out’ for your chosen sport(s). If you meet the criteria for a position you’ll be invited to join the team. For larger universities, there may also be reserve teams, so if you make the grade but somebody else go there first too, don’t despair! Unlike a football table, University team are often fairly equal in ranking and are just as responsible to fighting for the competition and league titles.

Sports clubs are usually funded through sponsorship, either by business who will often be printed on your uniforms or by bars, pubs, taverns and clubs whom you’ll be expected as team entity (not necessarily as individuals) to visit on various nights out (sometimes on a dedicated ‘AU Night’ or ‘Socials’).

In addition to your match days, practice sessions and evening socials there’s often a chance to go ‘on tour’. This in effect is an organised semi-holiday/semi-sports week with your teams and other teams from your campus to join other university teams in  a predetermined country (which changes each year at the discretion of the tour company organisers) and often has activities geared towards friendly inter-campus and inter group activities.

University Opportunities

As the heading suggests, the University also like to get involved at the fair too, offering opportunities to students to help them out in addition to participating in the student union. This can be both voluntary and paid job roles for both immediate start and information on positions for the future.

Opportunities can involve outreach work for supporting the staff on open and applicant days & to visits to colleges and sixth forms, to becoming a university ambassador who may be part of the above in addition to further internal and public events  – representing the face of the university. There’s also opportunities to support different departments such as lab assistants for students in higher years or performance technicians and front of house staff for theatrical, musical and conferencing events.

Outside of academic roles, there’s also opportunities in the community such as wardens for student accommodation (be it a dorm/room advisor, part-time and live in residential wardens, fire safety officers or accommodation reps) which can allow both the mix of some or all of the following: reliving the fresher student life again, having responsibilities to safety or accommodation matters (all of which look great on CV and Resumé type documents) or generally just the warm feeling that you’ve made newcomers to the adult world feel welcome and supported as I’m sure you hopefully would have felt when you first started university. If you’re a fresher yourself. I wouldn’t recommend these roles for immediate start (and often it’s quite hard to get them for your current year as they usually start just before you arrive) and would wait until the second year when you will have got your head around how your university works.

Hopefully this has provided some insight to the life around uni outside of lesson time and as always I’m keen to hear your additions and comments in the comment box below if you have any.

Thanks for reading and hope the start to your respective years is going well.