Union Futures 3: What’s a students’ union worth?
  • September 3, 2018

Union Futures 3: What’s a students’ union worth?

Union Futures 3 will evidence the lasting impact of a Students’ Union, explore why it is relevant, important, and valuable and also signal what the union model should look like in the future.

What’s the lasting impact of a Students’ Union?

Union Futures 3 is a collaborative research project to evidence the lasting impact of a Students’ Union and signal what the union model should look like in the future. The outcomes of the project will be used internally for strategic development and student engagement, and externally to engage key stakeholders (e.g. partner institutions and the new Office for Students).


The higher education sector continues to face change at an unprecedented pace; the role of the students’ union is continually challenged and, in some cases, being marginalised. Students’ unions are facing increasing pressure from partner institutions to demonstrate value for money; students’ expectations are rising, and the Union’s place in student life is being threatened.

Currently, the national measure of success (NSS Q26) is narrow. But, what is a students’ union worth? What value does it have? What impact does it have on people’s lives? Crucially, why is an organisation that has ‘student leadership’ at its core, relevant, important, and valuable?

Union Futures 3 will ask both students and alumni some of these tough questions, to reveal the lasting impact of a Students’ Union. Some of the findings may be challenging for the sector, but we will create a powerful evidence base for positive change.


The emerging research objectives include:

  • What impact does a students’ union have on the lives of students whilst at university and later in life?
  • Is there a need for an organisation built on a ‘student leadership’ model? Why?
  • What role does a union play in developing the skills, networks, opportunities and experiences that students value and need whilst at university and beyond?
  • What value would students/alumni place on union membership?  and what financial value would students/ alumni place on membership?
  • Which aspects of union activity are most valuable to students? Do alumni have the same views retrospectively?
  • How would students/alumni prioritise union spending across key areas?


The project will explore perceptions of value and impact from two perspectives: the ‘here and now’ by seeking the views of current students, and the longer-term impact and value by seeking the views of alumni.


  • We will conduct a national survey of university alumni
  • Unions will have the option to promote the survey to their alumni if they would like comparative data
  • We will conduct focus groups with alumni to explore themes.


  • We will conduct a national survey of students
  • Unions will have the option to run the survey locally with their students, with your data benchmarked against the national sample
  • We will also bring a group of students together from unions who run the local student survey in a qualitative research community to explore experiences, perceptions and views in more depth.


  • Full report and recommendations, for internal use only
  • Comparative student data for institutions who have run the surveys locally against the nationally representative samples
  • Option to produce a report for national publication (will be decided based on data and views of group)
  • Attendance at:
    • A collaborative planning session at the start of the project
    • An action-planning workshop based around the results
    • An annual review of progress one year on.


£9,950 (excl. vat). Given the strategic ambitions of the project, there will be a maximum 12 places available– symbolically, we want to get everyone around ‘one table’.  Student Life Pulse partners will have first refusal for a place, as well as 15% reduction in the fee.

Recent Projects with SUs:

Union Futures 1 – A national study exploring ‘the impact of NSS Question 26’ on students’ unions.  18 students’ unions came together and over 17,000 survey responses were received.

Union Futures 2 – 14 students’ unions took part in ‘Being well, doing well’ which is one of the largest-ever studies of student mental health, with over 12,000 students surveyed.

See more of Alterline’s recent Students’ Union projects.


How do I join or find out more?

Contact Neesha Patel on 0161 503 5760 or email neesha.patel@alterline.co.uk to find out more about this and other SU projects.