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The enormous benefit of student trusteeships

Saturday 12-11-2016 - 09:00

This week 7 - 13 November is National Trustees Week. A week to celebrate the work of trustees who generally volunteer their time to ensure effective strategy development and implementation, and provide scrutiny and oversight on all issues including financial. 

There is much to celebrate about the work of approximately one million trustees across the UK, including in the student movement. I want to take this opportunity to thank all trustees - students, student officers and lay trustees that make the student movement such a healthy and thriving sector.

There are also some stark diversity and skills issues which the student movement can make a real contribution to addressing. Like trustees everywhere, those in students' unions provide hundreds of thousands of hours each year to ensure SUs are delivering for their members and play a critical role in the student experience.

In higher education, students' unions across the UK have a board of trustees. Some of these are officers who have already been elected as full time sabbatical officers, some will be voluntary part officers and others will be elected from the wider student population. Most SU boards also have a small number of lay trustees from the wider communities.

The average age of trustees is according to the Trustees Week website 59 in England and Wales, 55 in Northern Ireland. In stark contrast the average age of SU boards will be at least one or probably two decades younger (we don't currently have national data).

Similarly we know that charity trustee boards generally need to strengthen the diversity of their trustee boards to reflect the diversity of the populations they serve. SUs are increasingly seeing more Black students and Women students standing for, and winning sabbatical elections thus their trustee boards are becoming ever more diverse. 

Whilst SUs are far from perfect, their boards are generally more diverse than the wider charity sector as a whole.

In addition to the specific trustee roles students occupy, students volunteer an enormous amount of time to run specific campaigns and societies that they are passionate about - academic and social societies, social justice campaigns LGBT+ groups, sports clubs and fundraising societies. All of this develops their interest in participating in civil society, and their competence and skills to participate and make a contribution in their community including on charity boards. 

When I was CEO of Brook, we recruited a trustee who was a sabbatical officer at the time. We had not specifically targeted colleges and universities but I am glad he found us. He played an exceptional role on the board and brought a myriad of new perspectives and ways of thinking which provided insight and challenge.

NUS published its strategic framework NUS 100: manifesto for a just and sustainable future earlier this year. Under the goal of shaping education and empowering individuals we set out the need to recognise and strengthen our work to support Students' Unions with volunteering and enabling student to develop employability skills. Trusteeships contribute to this. 

Some charities and students' unions already have very good relationships; overall, however, there is still much more opportunity to connect students who already want to get involved in their communities, those who don't know much about how charities work and charities who need trustees together.

Charities could do well to learn more about their local student populations and institutions and understand they are a rich source to recruit trustees from. We as a student movement in turn can do more to inform, advise and support the extensive pool of talented, motivated and diverse students and officers that have a range of formal and less formal positions in students' unions to think about getting involved in as a trustee of a charity. The benefit for everyone could be enormous.

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