(Studentkår, in Swedish)

An organization of students that students are required to join to be allowed to study at a university in Sweden.

Student Unions and Student Associations exist in UK universites and colleges, in the eyes of many students, as drinking establishments.

They do, however, provide other services. For example, cheap shops, subsidised canteens, a laundrette, financial support for clubs and societies, and upholding the interests of the students. Oh, and they have cheap beer.

Some unions also have concert halls, and many bands have toured student places before moving on to larger venues.

You'll often find a travel agent (like STA Travel or USIT), and an insurance firm (Endsleigh). And most definetly more than one bar, and a club.

The student union is generally somewhere people head en masse following an exam, the last lecture of term, or, well, instead of a lecture for a cheap drink on campus. And just about everybody gets chucked out of it at some point in their time at uni.

Some universities have a choice of union - for example, Glasgow has the Glasgow University Union and Queen Margaret Union providing shops, bars, food and clubs, societies, and venues. The Students Representative Council has shops, food, student support, and student publications. Everyone is covered by the SRC, and students can then join the GU or QM.

Many student unions are affilliated with the National Union of Students

In my experiences with American student unions they're a bit like an airport, but without the messy business of having planes coming and going.

American unions tend not to have bars although a few sell alcohol in some areas (ours only in the bowling alley), usually this is only domestic 3.2 beer. Instead the two most frequented spots in the union are likely the bookstore and the food court.

Almost every single union I've been to has a campus bookstore selling more or less all the books and supplies needed by students along with various clothing, trinkets, and ephemera associated with the school. The sorts of things one might wear or take to a sporting event. Often they will also sell computers and small electronics as well or offer a seperate store for this purpose. This is typically in competition with an outside, off-campus bookstore, but it may not. At Kansas State University the bookstore was recently outsourced to the only other college bookstore and the only other place selling books of any sort in town (unless you count B. Dalton, Hastings, or the small used bookstore)in a rather monopolistic, but oddly unopposed move.

Likewise the food court tends to be a fixture providing a place to eat for off-campus students and staff who don't bring lunches or have an opportunity to leave campus. Depending on the school there is often a variety of school-owned and national chains providing about 6-7 choices in an average-sized state school. Taco Bell seems to crop up rather often likely due to being a student favorite (cheap and fast) as well as their strategy of putting the things in everywhere up to and including high schools.

Along with the above fixtures coffee shops, convenience stores, meeting spaces for campus organizations, conference rooms, auditoriums of various sizes, bowling, pool tables, arcades, banking (if only a line of ATMs), postal services, stationary services, etc. are all common. Many unions host bands, films, and other forms of entertainment, but it largely depends on who's in charge of the place and how large your school is. Even Erskine College, a rather small school in Due South, SC with only a few hundred students had a union consisting of mailboxes, a snack bar, and some pool and ping-pong tables.

Generally the student union is a place to stop off during the day between classes to run minor errands or purchase things related to the school. Occasionally people will hang out there or the school will utilize open areas for student functions (campus elections being popular for this), but it serves a good deal less as a student club and much more as a small indoor strip-mall owned by the school and catering primarily to off-campus students.

Student Unions in the UK's newer universities (which includes so-called "old" universities like Southampton or Durham) have Student Unions which are created as separate corporations under the university's charter. This gives them the legal capacity of natural persons, except as circumscribed by the charter, their charitable status (if any) and by legislation (Although, as bodies corporate, they are not natural persons). I can't comment on the creation of Student Uniosn in the old universities, like Oxford or Cambridge, whcih additionally have their own "Union"s which fulfilled much of the role of a modern student union, before either had an "official" student union.

Student Unions basically exist to provide fun stuff for students, as well as miscellaneous services like legal advice, and are typically given representation on the ruling bodies of Universities, at least in an observer capacity. Inevitably, they operate under a certain legislative framework, which is represented today by the Education Act 1994. The most important rules regulate who can be a member, and the constitution and conduct of the union. Not that this legislation is binding upon the associated university, who should try to see these rules followed, rather than upon the union itself.

The first of these is that:

  • any full-time student of the associated university must be allowed to join;
  • Any student must be allowed to not join;
  • No student who not a member may be discriminated against in any way: they must be free to enjoy the facilities and services as if they were a full member, and they must be allowed to stand for any office within the union.
Clearly the last is the surprising one. The second provison I mention provides that the university should try to ensure that the union is democratic and financially accountable, and that elections take place. It provides that external affiliations should be reported to the student body, but does not mandate that a positive act be made to affiliate to an external organisation. This matters to the NUS.

Student unions are typically affiliated to the NUS, but do not have to do so; the NUS is not a statutory body of any sort.

At San Antonio College, our student center is near the library, hence near where my classes are. This means that if I walk quickly enough, I can swing over there for a boiling mug of coffee or cocoa and run with it into the classroom and plunk my fat ass down right before class is due to begin.

my experience with the food there is a good one. They serve a very decently sized hamburger, cheeseburger salad, or chicken sandwich for about $4. If you spend another $1.50, you get a 32-oz drink (they have Mountain Dew]!) and a large serving of "Crispy Crinkle" or "Golden Crinkle" (I can't remember which one) fries. The iceberg lettuce you get on your sandwich is not the shredded wilted variety you'd find in most fast food joints. It's newspaper-sized sheets that you must somehow avoid pulling out with your first joyous bite.

The Student Center also has a small concert hall, and every Friday they offer free concerts, spa Day (you get a free massage before an exam) And cheap coffee or cocoa.

The coffee is $1.39 for a 12-ounce cup and I don't know what they put in the cocoa but it's addictive as all hell. It appears to be 10 cents per ounce but I could be wrong. Our student center also accepts debit or credit cards, which is really really nice if you rarely if ever carry cash on hand.

In short, pay attention during orientation when the office of student life is speaking about the services they offer. Even if you're attending for only one semester it's worth knowing what's out there. Have fun, study, and pass those classes!

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