Student life: Students’ Union (SU)

A students’ union is a large organisation at a higher education institution that is run by students for students. Most universities have Students’ Unions, and so do some further education (FE) colleges that offer degree level study. They’re really important because they aren’t actually part of the university or college and so are able to work on behalf of students to make sure their place of study is supporting them, providing good quality teaching, safe and easily accessible places to meet, and the ability to socialise and study.

There are lots of different ways students’ unions work with students. Here’s a quick summary of some of the work SUs do.

Hosting student societies (which are a bit like after school clubs)

Societies are a great way for students to make friends and be around other students who share the same interests as them. We have over 400 societies at the University of Manchester. Some are for students studying the same subjects, or those from similar cultural backgrounds. Others are for students wanting to take part in the same sport or leisure activities, and you can join as many societies as you like. Maybe if you were a student at the University of Manchester you would join lots of different societies.

You could join an academic society which links with your degree subject, a sports society that helps you to keep fit, and then maybe one of the more unique societies. These include societies such as the ‘talk like a pirate society’, ‘cake-eating society and ‘computer games society’. Societies are also great places to develop your communication and leadership skills. If students don’t find a society they want to join, they can set up their own. If they get enough other people to join their new society, they are eligible to get funding from their SU to help run events and activities. Running you own society shows a future boss that you have the skills to work with new people, be organised and lead a group of people! 

Click here to check out all of the societies at the University of Manchester and try and find the most unusual one!

Providing support for students who are struggling with their studies or personal issues

Some students will find themselves in need of some extra help with their studying, or perhaps are having personal problems that are affecting their ability to study – including worries about money, essays, or their living situation. The SU support team can help a student find the right place to get help and make sure the university or college is providing them with help too. It can also be confidential if a student just needs someone to talk through their issues with and would prefer to chat to a fellow student or someone who doesn’t work for the university or college.

A place to meet up

Lots of SUs have main buildings with cafes and spaces where you can buy hot and cold food, socialise with friends, go to events like gigs and parties or attend leisure and sport classes. They also often have additional quiet study spaces for people looking for alternative places to study. If a student joins a society, chances are that the society will have some of its meetings and events in the SU main building.


SUs help students take part in campaigns and events about social causes. Each year, students are invited to elect fellow students into ‘officer’ roles where they will lead on a particular area of student wellbeing and experience. In addition, they will lead the SU events for that cause. For example, at the University of Manchester, we get a new set of ‘officers’ each year who look after areas such as women’s rights, teaching and learning, sustainability, and BAME student’s experiences. Alongside this, officers will organise large events including public marches, lectures, and debates so that students can show their support for an issue, and debate with fellow students who might disagree with them or have a different point of view. 


But don’t just take the Gateways team’s word for it –  Check out this video of everything the SU at the University of Manchester offers:

So now we’ve given a deeper insight into student unions, why don’t you move on to our next Year 8 section and find out sports and leisure in higher education by clicking on the box below.

Student life: sports and leisure

Playing a sport is the perfect way to make new friends and take a break from your work.

Read more

Why Study?

Why not check out our Why Study? page to find out what our students really think about their courses and about student life.

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