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Published: 02 April 2014

Student representatives: Partners or activists?

What balance should student-union officers strike between partnership with university managers and campaigning on behalf of students? Research by Professor Rachel Brooks examines the changing role of student representatives.

The public perception of a student-union officer's activities would probably include a placard, a megaphone, a march and a sit-in. But is this an up-to-date image of student representation?

Though high-profile (and sometimes controversial) student demonstrations and occupations do still occur in the UK, research by Professor Rachel Brooks suggests that student leaders are increasingly functioning as representatives who work with university management, rather than as campaigners and activists.

The research (reported in The Guardian and to be released by the National Union of Students and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education) included an online survey of student representatives, 70% of whom said they had been involved in writing their institution's strategy. Most reported increasing respect for their opinions and the student union's work from university managers.

Student leaders are increasingly functioning as representatives who work with university management, rather than as campaigners and activists.

"Student-union leaders said this shift was a good thing," commented Prof. Brooks, Head of the Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey. "But if that has closed down their activist, campaigning role, is that a shift in what student unions ought to be doing and their purpose?"

Read the full Guardian article on Prof. Brooks' research.

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