State of the unions

This report from UK think tank the Adam Smith Institute looks at how to restore free association and expression to student unions.

This paper, by students Maximilian Young and Lucky Dube, explain how student unions cost taxpayers and students, lack democratic legitimacy, and undermine freedom of association and expression, and are in serious need of reform: Student unions are student-led groups that are supposed to represent students on campus to university administrations, provide useful services, and support clubs and associations. Student unions cost taxpayers and students £165 million per annum, an average of £75 per student per annum or £225 over a three year degree course. This is evenly split between taxpayers and students. They employ 600 full-time student sabbatical officers. Student unions are perceived as ineffective by students, lack democratic legitimacy, and undermine freedom of association and expression. To address ineffectiveness, extremist activities, and lack of democratic legitimacy, student union system should be reformed by: splitting a student union into social activities, a sports association, and a academic council, elected through a system of class and faculty representatives rather than centrally; limiting funding from university grants to social, recreational and entertainment activities; student societies; sports; and academic representation. making student societies independent from unions and directly supported by universities and members; returning excess funds to students; allowing establishment of broader student representative councils, but with voluntary membership and without compulsory student funding; preventing pass-through funding of student or taxpayer money to national bodies, like the NUS; not allowing student bodies to limit freedom of expression; and strengthening provisions in law to prevent universities from limiting freedom of expression, including by using procedural mechanisms to frustrate freedom of expression or passing along security costs to student societies.

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