London's student union bars may be on the brink of extinction as competing pub chains slash prices and poverty-stricken students socialise less.
The rise of student-targeted pubs such as the It's A Scream chain means fewer students are heading for the union after lectures. Meanwhile, the introduction of tuition fees has meant that part-time work has replaced drinking for many undergraduates.
At the University of East London, student union general secretary Garry Chick said: "Since the changes in student funding we have seen a significant drop in bar takings. The bars have been making a loss for several years. If the situation continues, we might have to close them. That is something we have been trying to avoid as the bars provide a social space and help build a student community."
Loss of bar profits is potentially serious for unions as the cash is used to subsidise campaign and advisory services.
Mr Chick said: "The bars used to make a profit that would fund central services. For the past two years, we have had a very restrictive central budget funded directly from our block grant, which has never been enough."
Other unions have seen attendance drop, too. Pierre Le Brun, president of South Bank student union, said the union had cut the price of a pint to get more punters in. It badly needs to make some money because the block grant it receives from the university was cut by 25 per cent last year. "We have only two student advisers for 17,000 students," he said.
Matt Pledger of Thames Valley student union in Ealing said unions in new universities faced greater problems than those in traditional campus colleges. "Thames Valley is a non-traditional institution. About 60 per cent of undergraduates are non-white, most are mature and many live at home. People have to really want to come to our bars."
He said the union's bars were steadily losing trade, although services such as coffee shops and car parks have been profitable. "We need revenue to subsidise our welfare services," he said.