Great Britain

Student unions ‘cost taxpayers £165m a year but don’t represent undergraduates’


STUDENT unions are costing taxpayers £165million a year but are failing to represent undergraduates, a new report finds.

A damning study says the bodies are perceived as ineffective, lack legitimacy and undermine freedom of expression.

The organisations have worsened free speech across university campuses by banning speakers and blocking the sale of publications, the Adam Smith Institute says.

The government published free speech rules for universities last year saying speakers shouldn’t be banned just because they “offend, shock or disturb”.

Barely half of students, some 56 per cent, believe their union represents their academic interests - despite universities overall having 80 per cent satisfaction rates.

The student union bodies should be split up into different components dealing with sports and academic functions and any political wing should be optional and only funded by students who join, the think tank propose.

Ex-Chancellor and Home Secretary Sajid Javid MP said the proud tradition of bringing students into contact with new ideas is “under threat”.

He said: “British universities are meant to be places of open debate and intellectual freedom.

“An intolerant minority is seeking to silence those they disagree with under the banner of no-platforming and safe spaces.

“Their campaign of censorship is an assault on one of our most precious and fundamental rights – freedom of speech.

“Championing students by protecting legal free speech should be one of the higher education sector’s top priorities.”

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan last night said: “This report raises serious concerns about the funding and operation of student unions.

“For instance £160million could support a lot of bursaries. It is vital students have a voice but the report highlights there are also issues around the extent to which student unions represent student cohorts and their needs.”

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