Supporting student trustees to succeed

Susan Dosangh is a Governance Specialist at the University of Nottingham Students' Union

Hayley Williams is Employability Manager at the University of Nottingham Students' Union

When the Charities Act 2005 was introduced in England and Wales, most SUs had to form a “trustee board” rather than merely rely on their executive committee of elected officers to act as the main legal controlling body.

NUS documents at the time recommended that there be three categories of trustee – elected sabbatical officers, usually the “main union office holders” as per the Education Act 1994; lay or external trustees appointed on the basis of their skills, knowledge and diversity; and student trustees.

This generated an interesting debate on whether student trustees should be elected or appointed which to some extent continues today – although the slow trend has been towards appointment rather than election.

But beyond the method of appointment, there’s been little focus on the development of and support for student trustees. Anecdotally, many SUs suggest that student trustees struggle to make their voice heard. And we wanted to change that.

Get networking

At the University of Nottingham Students’ Union (UoNSU), we hosted our inaugural Student Trustee Networking Event on the Wednesday 1 March, an event which welcomed Student Trustees from unions across the Midlands region and as far afield as Exeter.

The purpose of the event was to create learning and development opportunities for Trustees as well as growing their network. Here at UoNSU we’re passionate about enhancing our current development offer for student trustees and looking at how we can open this up to the broader student community.

As an SU we recognised that a lot of support is offered to our student leaders and volunteers, and something that was not always replicated for student trustees who contribute so much of their time voluntarily to shape the direction and lead strategic decision making for the union.

They are responsible for making significant decisions affecting the SU and take on a legal duty to be responsible for the charity – and whilst they do not get involved in the day-to-day running of the union, they oversee and make decisions on legal, financial, or reputational issues affecting the SU.

Therefore, it is vital they feel supported to have their voices heard and we continue to put students at the beating heart of its decision making.

The role of student trustee is rather unique, and although we hope all of our trustees feel valued and supported, we wanted to take this one step further and offer an employability enhancing networking opportunity that extended beyond just the University of Nottingham.

Get a job

The event included a workshop on how to make the most of their role from an employability perspective, to enable them to advance their professional development, a session on strengths based authentic leadership, where we looked at strengths as a concept, a review their individual profiles, of which they completed prior to attending the session, and how this translates to being an authentic leader within the student movement.

They also had a great opportunity to spend time during a speed networking session with trustees and non-executive directors to receive career hints and tips as well as enjoying a tour, a lunch with peers and some additional informal time for networking and sharing insights into their roles with each other.

We believe such an event is the first of its kind across the sector, so took the opportunity to obtain feedback from attendees to help inform and shape our future thinking.

I really liked the strengths assessment resources and I’ve been wondering how to include my SU experience so that was very relevant.

I liked getting to share similar experiences with other student trustees, career specific advice about how to talk about our position in the best way possible and sharing best practices.

It was great to network with Trustees from other SUs, as this is an opportunity we don’t get usually. I believe that there is so much we share and can help each other with ideas and conduct.

It was an amazing and invaluable event. I learned so much and got to meet so many wonderful people. I can definitely say my confidence was boosted from this day and I am thriving and enjoying my role as a student trustee.

We’ve been thrilled with the feedback and thoroughly enjoyed meeting student trustees from other institutions. If you’d like to find out more or would be interested in sending your trustees to next year’s event, please do get in touch.

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