Queen’s University Belfast Student Union
Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union (QUBSU) is the official representative body for students at Queen’s University Belfast. Membership in the Union is automatic and currently totals 24,560, making it one of the largest Unions on the island of Ireland, and one of the largest in the United Kingdom. The Students’ Union derives its existence and authority from the University’s Statutes, and so is not entirely independent of it, and must have amendments to its constitution approved by the University Senate. It aims to represent students’ interests both with the University and the wider community, to create a sense of student spirit and provide services that aid the students during their time at the University. The Students’ Union can trace its origins to the nineteenth century, and has been based on University Road, directly opposite the University’s main ‘Lanyon Building’, since the 1960s.
The history of the Students’ Union can be traced back to the late nineteenth century and to what was then Queen’s College, Belfast, which was founded in 1845 and became a separate university in 1908. Student facilities at the College remained minimal until the establishment of the all-male Students’ Union Society (SUS), which began fundraising with the support of the College’s management to build a dedicated Students’ Union building providing services to the College’s 400 students. The SUS was responsible for managing the Students’ Union building which was located on University Square and was opened on 19 January 1897 by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, George Cadogan, 5th Earl Cadogan during celebrations to mark the College’s Golden Jubilee and had been built at a cost of £8,000. The facilities offered by the Students’ Union included a shop, cloakroom, billiards and smoking room and meeting and debating chambers as well as a dining room, which was the only part of building always opened to women students. Women had first been admitted to Queen’s in September 1889 and in response to the male make-up of the SUS, the Women Students’ Hall Society (WSH) was established in 1927 and became based in numbers 20 and 21 on the opposite side of University Square to the Students’ Union building.
In 1900, the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) was established to provide representation to the institution’s students in relations with management and staff, this was in contrast to the mainly social activities of the SUS and the WSH, who were both recognised societies of the SRC. The SRC had offices on University Square, close to the WSH premises and held its meetings in the Union building. These three student organisations came together in 1965 to address ways that they could work better and be more inclusive of all students at the University, in advance of the opening of a new Union building opposite the main Lanyon Building on University Road. This resulted in the establishment of a combined constitution for the three which were to be known as the Students’ Representative Council of the Students’ Union, which took effect from 1 October 1966. Its name was shortened to the Students’ Union in 1975, with the SRC renamed the Students’ Union Council in the early 2000s.
As student numbers grew throughout the twentieth century (reaching 2,500 by the 1950s), the University tried to procure a new location for the Union and purchased a premises adjacent to Belfast City Hospital which had formally been the Deaf and Blind Institution, but the state of the building meant that another alternative had to be found. The University then decided to demolish the Queen’s Elms building at the corner of University Road and Elmwood Avenue, and build a new Union from scratch, which was opened in 1967. A plan to demolish the Union building and replace it with what was called ‘Lanyon II’ three decades later was denied planning permission and so the decision was taken to redevelop the existing building and bring it up to modern standards. The original building had been constructed to cater for 6,000 and was struggling to cope with a student population that had reached almost 25,000 by 2005. The result was a £9 million facelift which began in 2005, and officially reopened on 21 March 2007. The work had been funded through donations from the University and Alumni, but the bulk came in the form of large loans being taken out by the Union.
The Executive Management Committee of the Union comprises the five sabbatical (full-time) officers, which was reduced from seven from the 2016/17 academic year, and the Director and Deputy Director. The Union Speaker is elected at the first meeting of the SUC in November and also sits on the Executive. The Committee is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day work of the Union and works with the Management Board in setting strategy and measuring outputs, with the Board also having a number of external ‘trustees’ and representatives from the University.
The sabbaticals are elected in March every year, take office from 1 July and represent the students in dealings with the University and other groups.
The current officers are:
- Union President: Seán Fearon
- Vice-President Student Activities: Paul Loughran
- Vice-President Education: Oisín Hassan
- Vice-President Equality and Diversity: Stephen McCrystall
- Vice-President Welfare: Jessica Elder
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