Letter: Students' unions

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Sir: John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, must know perfectly well that the students' unions in our universities are devoted to providing services for students. But he also knows that 'union-bashing' is a popular means of rallying the Tory masses, and I am sorry to see him guilty of semantic deception. Students' unions are not trade unions. Using the phrase 'closed shop' about them misleads his followers, as well as any voter without knowledge or experience of university life.

I have taught in universities in several countries, including Sweden and Germany, and have spent more than 20 years on the staff of two British universities. Nowhere have I found organisations that provide such a range of services as the student union in Britain. Overseas students and visitors commonly remark upon this. If 'voluntary membership' is introduced, the Secretary of State will be undermining an essential element in our university system, one that contributes vitally to the welfare and the sense of community our students enjoy.

I understand that Mr Patten was once a university teacher. He should know better. I trust he will think again.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN SPENCER

Blockley, Gloucestershire

9 October

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