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The evolving role of Students’ Unions

Students’ Unions (SUs) have always played a crucial role in representing the interests of students and providing them with opportunities to develop their skills, both inside and outside the lecture theatre. 

In recent years, though, a few educational milestones have rocked the education sector and changed SUs remit. Who could forget the increase in tuition fees in 2013? And, of course, there was the Higher Education Achievement Report’s enforcement in 2012 (remember that?). Even as far back as 2005, when the National Student Survey was born, the Students’ Union remit has been in a state of change. There’s a growing focus on supporting students as they transition out of being students, and into the world of work. 

This is a welcome shift for today’s students – but there’s still more to be done. In 2022, Salesforce reported that despite 47% of students reporting they selected their institution for career prospects, only 11% felt very prepared for work on graduating. 


Timing is everything 

At the start of term, SUs provide loads of opportunities for new students to meet one another, learn about the services and support available to them, and get involved in the wide range of activities and societies on offer. Just four months later, as students return from the Christmas break, the focus sharpens onto future careers. This is prime time for SUs to support their student members to prepare for life after graduation.

Many of you will now be in this time period, and focusing on elections for your sabbatical and volunteer posts.These positions are not only fundamental to the SU operation, but also provide opportunities for students to develop a wide range of transferable skills that are highly valued by employers. A number of native employees started out their working careers in these positions, and there are many great examples of how involvement in the SU has supercharged their career path. 


Forging external connections 

Partnering with employers and industry bodies is another way that SUs have begun to bridge the gap between education and work. These partnerships provide students with access to internships, mentoring, and networking opportunities that can be essential in securing a first job. There are even SUs who have hosted photoshoots for Linkedin profile pictures. 

Another way that SUs have adapted to meet the changing needs of students is by offering career development services, such as CV and interview clinics, as well as hosting job fairs and networking events. This kind of support is particularly important for students from non-traditional backgrounds, who may not have the same level of access to professional networks and job opportunities. It also helps to cover ground that may be missed by certain degree programs – more traditional courses might focus on the academics, but they don’t always come with built-in career-building learnings. 


Vocational degrees 

When it comes to vocational degrees, the question still remains around how much impact involvement SUs have had, and are having? 

On the appetite and understanding of industrial action. What is being done to ensure any passion from student societies converts into activism once students start work?  


Final word

Just as the student experience is changing, so too is the world of work. It’s more important than ever to connect these two worlds – and SUs are uniquely placed to play a role in doing so. A lot of the basics covered in this post are fairly common to most students, but there is a long road ahead to ensure 100% of students feel prepared for work on graduation. 


As we kick off 2023, you might be asking yourself: are your plans aligned with students’ future careers? Thanks to our recent acquisition of Gradguide, native is has taken a bold step into the employability space, and we’re always keen to pool ideas of what is working. Read more about our plans for Gradguide over the coming months.