This was a short piece that I wrote for last weeks feature article on universities in the Socialist but didn't get published. I published it here, as it discusses issues quite pertinent to the role of students unions.
Over the last few years many Student Unions have held disaffiliation ballots with the argument that the affiliation fees better spent on NUS could be better used on other things, in particular Student Union Sports Clubs and Societies. Most Unions get their money through a block grant usually paid termly from the University to which it represents Students in. As NUS’ own briefing on block grants explains, block grants were introduced in 1981 “to give colleges more control over the affairs of students’ unions”. Prior to this students unions had been given payments directly by the Local Education Authority (who most students get their loans from today) of their student members.
The block grant system gives a university or college a large amount of influence over how a Student Union operates by holding the control over its funding. In addition to this several Student Unions staff (including sabbaticals) are employed directly by the University rather than the Student Union, similarly many Student Union buildings are owned by the University and then leased back to the Union.
All of this means there are a million ties between Student Union officials and University chiefs, which explains many a union bureaucrats run in fear of militant campaigning, especially ones over issues like course cuts which will ruin their cosy relationship with the University.