Letter: Wrong to call students' unions 'closed shops'

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The Independent Online
I WAS distressed and saddened by Donald Macintyre's article on the abolition of student unions ('Patten to abolish students' closed shop', 4 October).

Student unions are not 'closed shops'. Their comparison with trade unions is common but incorrect. On joining a university, students automatically become a member of the students' union in the same way that they become a member of the library.

The idea that National Union of Students' campaigns in recent years have been anti-Government is a misunderstanding. The implementation of student loans and the removal of income support and housing benefit have forced many students into severe financial hardship. The campaigns run by students were anti-legislation rather than specifically anti-Tory. The abolition of student unions is not going to prevent students organising against rulings that directly affect them and put them at a disadvantage.

It is obvious that Mr Macintyre did not consult the NUS when preparing his article. If he had, he would have known that the voluntary principle already exists. Student unions represent individual students, who decide whether to join the NUS. He would also have known that the current leadership of the NUS totally refutes the need for change by legislation.

The proposals made by Sheffield University Students' Union were put forward as a discussion document only, and represent the views of a small group of people, not the whole student movement. They do not reflect the views of Sheffield Hallam University Union of Students.

John Patten's proposals are totally impractical. Universities are neither prepared nor willing to take on the services provided by student unions. 'Voluntary membership' would therefore prove extremely problematic.

Students have never needed their student unions more than they do today.

Liz Woollard

President, Sheffield Hallam

University Union of Students