ULU closure backed by London college leaders

College leaders have voted to scrap the University of London Union after backing a review which said the student union’s federal structure was outdated and offered poor value for money.

May 3, 2013

Source: Kaihsu Tai

Members of the university’s collegiate council voted today to approve the review’s recommendations, which said Europe’s largest student union should be wound up and its Bloomsbury headquarters put in the university’s hands.

Instead, it is proposed there will be a refurbished student centre offering the same services, including a swimming pool, fitness centre and bars.

ULU’s role in running London-wide sports services would likely be transferred to another body, possibly British Universities and Colleges Sports, while its campaigning function could be run by the National Union of Students.

Paul Webley, director of Soas, University of London, who led the review, said many of ULU’s functions were now obsolete because individual colleges now had their own thriving student unions.

“It made sense in the 1950s when ULU was created because the largest college only had a few thousand students and most had under 500 students,” he said.

But several individual institutions now had more students than the entire student population at the University of London back in 1955 – around 24,000, he said.

“This is not about switching money away from students, rather it is addressing the federal structure that duplicates a lot of services already provided by student unions,” he added.

“We, at Soas, have made a commitment that all the money that went to ULU will now go straight to our own student union.”

Professor Webley also drew attention to the fact that fewer than 3,000 of ULU’s 120,000 student members voted in the latest university-wide elections.

“The best turn-out ULU has ever managed was 2 per cent,” he said, adding that most London student unions saw a turnouts of 15 to 25 per cent at their own ballots.

The review was commissioned after a letter by five college student union presidents last year that stated they had considered leaving ULU, which receives £800,000 in annual subscriptions from the colleges.

A review of the union’s “services, processes and governance” was needed, they added.

Michael Chessum, ULU’s president, said reforms were needed, but the review group had been a “cover” for the university, which wanted to “steal” the Bloomsbury building and turn it into a “profitable students services centre”, while also sidelining dissenting voices of student union activists.

“Any move to abolish ULU…would be totally illegitimate and hugely negative for the students in London,” he added.

“It would set a dangerous precedent for university management to move in with no mandate and shut down democratically-run unions.

“Universities and colleges need vibrant, democratic organisation and debate as part of their academic culture.”

Several leading London political figures, including former mayor Ken Livingston and Hackney North MP Diane Abbott, have also opposed ULU’s abolition in a letter to The Guardian published on 3 May.


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Reader's comments (1)

Interesting that it was the director of Soas who led the review. ULU building is close to Soas. Are we sure Soas --or Birkbeck, next to ULU too; or any of the other UL centres in the area-- would not benefit in any way from that extra space?