Speed of Light reduced to meet cuts

Vince cable today announced that due to necessary budget cuts the speed of light, the universal and unchanging constant of the universe, is to be changed to 224844343.5 m/s in line with departmental cuts of 25%.

Setting out the future of science policy in the UK, Granddad Cable also added a ban on Deuterium as being ‘an inefficient and wasteful’ use of valuable taxpayers neutrons in the age of austerity, and made clear that British Science will have to ‘just make do’ with normal Hydrogen.

Prof. Armpatch of the Institute of Studies decried the impact of spending cuts on Britain’s ability to innovate and compete on a Global basis, adding “with 1% of the world population, Britain produces 8% of the worlds science papers producing 12% of citations, but I guess that will all change if we have to make do with pi being reset to 2.35619 while the Yanks get to keep theirs at 3.14159”.

Before nodding off for a nice afternoon nap, Cable also made it clear that other non-economic science was potentially in the firing line that he could replace the Noble Gases with a more democratic group of elements “committed to delivering a more equal society”.

The only group happy with the announcement was the Homeopathic Institute who were looking forward to the increasing effectiveness of their studies by reducing the amount of work actually done, meaning that the 25% cuts should increase the efficacy of their claptrap bullshit at least four times over

//inspired by the daily mash//

Demand Better: A new quality framework for nonprofits

-Should the third sector rely on frameworks developed for businesses? Or should are they a different type of organisation? This article is taken from sister blog Project Crimson (linky) under a creative commons licence.

What is Quality?

Before proceeding to answer the question, ‘What does managing quality mean’, it is important to develop the concept ‘quality’ for a TSO. It is also important to define the scope of the inquiry; in this essay the focus will be on establishing quality of an organisation, rather than the quality of individual process say quality HR, communications, or services. Starting from the position that any approach that seeks to construct a rigid framework encompassing the operations of a charity with a ‘high granularity’ would be needlessly complex and unfeasible, an attempt will instead be made define the hallmarks of a quality organisation.

The distinction between quality for a private enterprise and quality for a TSO is an important one since as Reeves and Bednar [1994 p419] argue
“the definition of quality has yielded inconsistent results…the concept has had multiple and often muddled definitions”, and the third sector lacks some of the more immediate feedback mechanisms for judging quality: companies that produce poor quality products, in the absence of a monopoly, are punished by the market and forced to improve or fail through competition.

However the definitions of competition for the private and third sectors differ, and many TSOs do exist as monopoly or subsisdised suppliers to particular beneficiaries. By drawing out what quality means and setting this definition against the concepts and axioms of the third sector we can discover how a charity can be more effective.

What is ‘Quality’ for the Third Sector?

>>>>continue reading at ProjectCrimson

If Only

It would be easy to attack Lord Mandleson’s recent pronouncements on Higher Education by attacking his position as our un-elected overlord and de facto Prime Minister, however despite New Labour’s tactic of ‘play the man not the ball’ should not open the door for the rest of us to sink to such. Instead we should attack the same old tired clap track nonsense about Universities not doing enough for working class students.

Time and time again, be it the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for whatever department universities fall under this month, the President of the NUS, or indeed some unhinged Another Union is Possible wing nut, the same old stick is brought out with which to smack universities over the head with. It is depressing that my very first article on  Live was essentially about the same issue: using university bashing as a smoke screen to deflect from more fundamental and systemic issues in our education system.

To look behind the smoke and mirrors of the ‘press release politics’ we’ve experienced since 1997 is to see a Orwellian world in which new words define new ideas and realities, and the world in which the rest of us live becomes increasingly disconnected from the one that is described by the politicians.

For if all of those annual announcements on how wonderfully well this years crop of A-level or GCSE students had fared were true, then the best universities would have a childlike ease in selecting working class applicants that meet the entry requirements instead of those same students being crowded out by ‘evil’ children who’s parents paid.

If the improvements were genuine then the change would happen, if the change is manufactured and statistical, then the façade falls once the government looses the power to define success.

Fundamentally the problem comes not down to universities failing the working class, the hard truth is that the government has failed both the working class and society as a whole by not using 14 years of education to produce candidates able to get into the ‘elite universities’.

Attacking universities means not having to address the failings of government. Attacking ‘elite’ universities belies the acceptance that the rapid broadening of the HE sector has not built institutions producing respected or indeed employable graduates. And to be honest, furthering the stereotype that elite graduates are both entitled to and, and readily receive, high paid dream jobs is particularly spiteful with record graduate unemployment.

If only students had a strong national voice with which to challenge the weak premises that underlay Lord Mandelson’s comments. If only there was a national organisation that represented the 5 million FE students whom the data shows have the worst chance of all groups at getting into a good university, or the two million HE students soon to find themselves in the dole queue. If only.

Scaleable Twitter-based System for more Efficient Markets for a Charity Shop Network

-mashing up the ideals of freecycle and the infrastructure of twitter for the benefit of small charity networks. This article is taken from sister blog Project Crimson (linky) under a creative commons licence.

The fishermen off the coast in Kerela in 1997 showed how access to new forms of communication and the knowledge transfer it produces, can lead to more efficient markets and more profitable selling. But what does this mean for the third sector?

Well it can be argued that the pre-mobile phone fisherman of the coast of Kerela was in a similar state of information asymmetry as a present day branch of a charity shop. The charity shop’s ‘catch’ is it’s weekly donations from the local public, and much like the old fisherman, it’s market is often restricted, mostly to the same shop the good are donated. However as the fishermen learnt, better knowledge of the supply and demand in other markets led to better and more reliable profits all round.

Grounding this idea more firmly in our example of the Charity shop we will walk through a example of where this idea of communication breeding market efficiency can be put in place for a network of charity shops.

>>>Continue reading at Project Crimson


For discussion: The individual as the Micro-Corporation & the Micro-Bailout

Moral hazard is the prospect that a party insulated from risk may behave differently from the way it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk. Much of the criticism levelled at the various forms of bank bailout (from economists rather than tabloid writers) has decried the heightening of the moral hazard produced as a result.

In brief the worry is this: capitalism relies on individuals/colorations calculating the most efficient use of their money in a risk vs reward payoff; even though it is not a zero-sum game the creative destruction of failed enterprises is a prerequisite for continued change and growth; the motivation for managing capital (money) well is the risk of failure resulting in it’s loss; without the fear of failure capital can be employed in the riskiest regardless of the consequences; government underwriting of this fiscal and monetary collapse means that banks will calculate that in the future they will bailed out again, leading them to take on even riskier positions in the future.

That may not the most accurate or precise definition but it will do the job I hope.

Any how, the question has struck me as to the applicability of this theory to other walks of life, namely does the state create a moral hazard through employment insurance?

The only common capital we all share is our bodies and the ability to turn our activity into useful economic output. We are in effect micro-corporations (although in fact it is more accurate to say that a body corporate is actually just a legal construction of a person that is not physically manifest), and we theoretically chose how best to employ our working capital to maximise gain.

I say theoretical because often we have far less choice than we’d like. I’d choose to be the CEO of the Sutton Trust, but that option is not on the table, some people would choose to invest a few years at university in order to increase the market rate for their work through specialisation, but may not be able to make the upfront investment required to get the long term benefit.

In every day life then the decisions faced are more mundane but like a bank faced with choices as to its strategy, an individual faces different risk paths. To disagree with one’s boss at the risk of trouble, to quit one job to pursue a more exciting opportunity, to change careers to something more rewarding.

But the question arises, is there a moral hazard in that I know that if I fail, I will always receive the ‘micro-bailout’ of jobseekers allowance? In effect the state enters into a long position with me, betting that if it provides me with revenue for a while, I can restructure my CV back into a new job, and the taxes will eventually pay off the government’s investment, plus a nice return. Is one’s choice about exercising the freedom to work for whom one chooses slightly altered by the fact that one will not end up starving, unlike a medieval peasant who chooses to give up tilling the crops and instead decides they’d rather join an exciting new start-up in the crusading industry?

Does the social safety net cause people to take risks, or allow them to? I have no idea but it is an interesting question

On Marketing Democracy

NB Essay produced for course, not whilst at KCLSU, probably a bit out of date and some figure may not be 100% accurate. More for the discussion of democracy as a product

Democracy as the mechanism of expression of the will of the sovereign polity of a students union in the most sacrosanct tenant of the student movement, but is it a product? Arguably it must be the most important product that any student union markets successfully since it bestows legitimacy on all its other actions. Much like a government at a general election, or a US presidential candidate, a student union seeks a strong popular mandate to drive it forward and to re-affirm its sovereignty.

But can a ‘democracy’ be treated as a product, and marketed as such? Through the examination of the product and the marketing efforts at KCLSU that accompany elections, we shall see that ‘democracy’ is treated somewhat like a product, but more successful outcomes could be obtained through a better application of marketing theory. However due to the rather unique position of a student’s union, i.e. a statutory obligation with a single source of funds, there is not much impact to be had by marketing of democracy on fundraising.

The Product

It is not immediately obvious that it possible to condense such a nebulous set of values as the cluster of ideas and actions that are ‘democracy’. Fundamentally the first step in seeking to market democracy is to try and distill democracy in the term laid out in marketing theory, however this is no easy task.

The goods-service continuum as laid out by Shostack (Shostack 1977) makes it easier to classify the ‘product’ of democracy than more rigid goods, services, ideas triumvirate. Where does democracy fall on this spectrum? Clearly since the product has no direct tangible artifact, it must clearly fall on the extreme side of intangible dominant. However, conforming to one of the rules of product composition as laid out in Bruce (2005), there are latent physical goods and services, and without these it would be impossible to construct a narrative about democracy to sell to students.

The goods in this case are the elected students, the President and the Vice-Presidents who become the artifacts produced by this election. This leads to the service, which is student representation provided by these elected students, representation at college, local and national levels. The broadest stroke is reserved for the idea, that of participative representative democracy as a means of concentrating and communicating the collective will. For those that already buy-in to this idea, the sell comes down to the individuals running, however to the majority of people, the primary purpose of the marketing effort is to demonstrate the importance of these ideas to both KCLSU and to their academic experience.

How is the product marketed?

The election ranks along side Fresher’s week as the two most important annual events for KCLSU, and therefore historically the election has always produced a large marketing effort. The marketing plan for the election calls for two phases of marketing, the first leading up to the close of nominations is designed to entice students into putting themselves forward, the second phase is the get out the vote campaign, and will be the focus of this analysis.

Key facts

  • Total student body is circa 21,500 students (exact figure not explicitly known to the students union, and there are annual fluctuations)
  • Total number of ‘involved students’ stands at circa 7000 and represents any student who is ‘involved’ by way of club or society membership, is a registered user of our services (such as gym or academic advice), is a member of the casual student staff, or is an elected official
  • Spring elections are for the important roles of Sabbatical Officer (the President and Vice-Presidents), and since 2006 for Trustees as well
  • The period that voting was open was 7 days in 2006, 5 in 2007, and 3 in 2008
  • Total votes in those years were 1564, 1603 & 2125 respectively
  • 10% turnout target, which is considered high for a large student union, University of Manchester (more than 40,000 students) have consistently been at around 1% for the past 5 years, whereas Courtauld Institute of Art (with 456 students, of which half are undergraduate, half post-graduate) regularly gets 90% or higher
  • No separate budget line for the elections, comes out of several budgets (Operating, Policy & Advocacy, Student Services, and Marketing), and organised by an elections working group

The marketing mix (Bruce, 2005) provides a useful framework to breakdown the product and it’s marketing, and it contains several components that should be taken into account when marketing a product.

Component Details
Philosophy The philosophy of the product is the central tenant of Student Unions, that ultimately the student body as a whole is sovereign over its union, and elections empower them to use their ownership to produce changes
Price The price to the customer is free in terms of money, but costs a minute or two of time. The introduction of electronic voting has reduced the time taken to vote and has allowed for voting 24/7 over the internet, further reducing the time cost to the student. However the perception of many students is that even this low cost is too much since nothing is gained in return, and there is a reliance on buy-in to the philosophy rather than producing a gain for the customer. The cost to the organisation is high, in terms of time, staff, and resources, but this is a conscious decision commensurate with the importance of the product to the union.
Promotion Takes the form of advertising in the student media, in all of our physical spaces, and prominent adverts in our virtual spaces (website, blogs etc). Also there is a form of coalition building involved since the candidates themselves act to promote the elections by promoting themselves.
Place As described above voting largely takes place in our virtual paces, but the product is also marketed in our physical space using a bank of laptops to act as a voting booth, and the use of our spaces as places to promote the product.
People The elections being so important to KCLSU, it involves many different groups of people: all permanent staff, including the elected sabbatical officers, get involved in ‘flash mobbing’ the various campuses at different times; many of our casual staff are also used to man voting booths; external promotional staff for flyering and manning voting booths, although at a higher cost than our own staff; as mentioned above, the candidates are also involved, although the controls on their behavior are tenuous and they present a risk to the brand of KCLSU and the elections.
Physical evidence Reasons to vote are often left to the candidates, not enough is done by KCLSU to provide physical evidence of the importance of voting, or to reduce the proximity between the act of voting and the consequences, other than the results of the election itself.
Processes The electronic voting system was introduced to streamline the process, and to make it far simpler to run. The process of nominations has also been shortened and simplified to reduce the burden on potential candidates.

Gap in the market(ing)

Thanks to the creation of a marketing department, and it’s subsequent growth, more marketing know-how has been brought to bear on the election process, but more could be done to successfully market democracy to the student body.

Having analyzed the product it is clear that KCLSU has relied too much on individual candidates to construct a positive narrative about democracy and its outcomes, rather than demonstrating thought leadership in the election process. Learning the lessons from past candidates, it can be seen that the often-unknowing use of case studies to demonstrate the impact elections have had in the past is a successful strategy in leading students up the ‘apathy staircase’, towards voting.

Rather than assigning KCLSU’s past successes to the organization, the election period could be used to highlight how past sabbaticals effectively campaigned for change, thus strengthening the value of the latent physical aspect of democracy. This in turn embellishes the narrative that voting is important to express a student’s desire for change, because voting produces four full-time individuals charged with delivering this change, and the case-studies show that not all election promises are vacuous.

However even if the above were perfected, the practical application of marketing theory must come up against the constraints of reality. Paraphrasing MacDonald (MacDonald 1998) a viable market segment must also be identified in order to be more successful in marketing the product. Is it realistic to expect all 21,500 students to vote in every election? Perhaps not, since UK Parliamentary General elections have seen a deep decline in participation, and are more important. So there is a need to examine the market, segment it, and try and maximize the impact of the marketing efforts.

Of the 21,500 students at King’s College, only 7,000 are ‘known’ to the union therefore two thirds of all students are totally uninvolved in their union. The cost to attempt to win each and every one of them is very high, since there is no relationship with their union and no reason to care about its leadership. The problem of union participation is arguably a failure in the brand KCLSU, or the marketing thereof, and not something that the product of democracy can solve.

So who then is the most opportune market for this product? It is surely the 7000 involved students who do have an existing relationship with the Union. To them there is a far greater chance of getting buy-in to the philosophy of the product for if you run a sports club you are more likely to care who gets put in charge of sports. However successful marketing has a balance of all aspects and it can be argued that in the past there has been too much made of the philosophy and not enough thought has gone into the other parts of the mix, and selling the narrative discussed above. But with a market segment identified, and a re-focus of resources onto those already involved with the union, a greater return should be seen.

It is important however not to abandon the other 14,000 students to disenfranchisement, and the narrative explaining why one should care about one’s union is a compelling one. But in the short period around elections the resources available may not be sufficient to effectively work on this group, however the application of this idea throughout the year by the growing marketing department should be seen as a long-term strategy to build and broaden the voting base.

In looking for other tools for success, it is necessary to do some analysis of the successes of other unions, the closest simile to ‘other player analysis’ available since the product democracy exists as a monopoly, there are evidently some successful processes to strengthen the goods and services on offer.

Imperial college union has decided largely, but not completely, to reject a blanket approach to marketing and has sought to motivate its target market of involved students into voting in higher numbers through the use of an incentive. A more sophisticated voting system allows for a system where the voter is given fifty pence to give to any sports club or society within the union. This simple and cheap process instantly strengthens nearly all parts of the marketing mix.

Component Change
Philosophy Re-emphasises student ownership
Price The small time cost is rewarded with a nominal fifty pence
Promotion Creates a large number of coalition partners as the many clubs and societies actively encourage their members to vote in high numbers since they see the chance to get more money for their activities
People The person now approaching a potential voter is more likely to be known to the voter since it will now more often be a club teammate or society president, rather than a stranger.
Physical evidence Direct financial transaction involved in voting so the answer to the question ‘Why vote’ has a more succinct answer
Processes Requires better election software, but allows more demographic information about voters to be gleaned

With this simple addition, making a better product composition and a more balanced marketing mix, when marketed to a clearly identified target market, produces great results. ICU reports total turnout of 18%, which represents more than 60% of their involved students.

Impact on fundraising

Currently KCLSU has an operating budget of £4.5 million, with £2.5million coming from a block grant from King’s College and the rest generated through commercial services. The fact that the Education Act makes the running of a student union or association a statutory obligation would suggest that a student union can demand money from it’s parent institution, however this premise has never been tested in the courts. Clearly a strong and vibrant union can make a better claim for funding on behalf of it’s members if more of it’s members are seen to be involved in the request, something best evidenced by the mandate provided by high election turnout. It would seem to be self-evident that should an issue arrive which brings out the vote in elections to 50% or so, the mandate given to the elected Sabbaticals would be huge and it would be hard for any university to defy half the student body, but outside this extreme case, could a better marketed democracy impact upon fundraising?

There is no link between KCLSU’s block grant and voter turnout, and the risks involved in the establishment of such are not something the Trustees would ever condone. However in less tangible ways, the successful marketing of democracy at KCLSU could have an impact on fundraising since increasing voter turnout strengthens the brand of KCLSU as a whole, allowing for a better negotiating position. But since KCLSU’s funding is agreed in the long term and comes from a single source, there is not much that the marketing of democracy can do directly to affect this either positively or negatively.

Should the fundraising framework change though, it will certainly be advantageous in attracting new sources of funding to be able to boast of an active and engaged polity who have a genuine interest in their union, and who have a strong relationship with it, a relationship that might be worth something to a third party. Whether KCLSU would ever risk that trust remains to be seen, but with a well-marketed democracy feeding the heart of the union, the rest of the union will find it easier to attract the grant-makers eye.

The Snakebite Foundation?

This is a barely formatted copy and paste of my recent essay for my course.
The Snakebite Foundation? The Charities Act 2006 and Student Unions


Introduction

Student Unions have had an image problem for a long time. In the early half of the century they were seen as the toys of the sons of the establishment, whilst by the seventies and eighties they were seen as ‘infested’ with communists, and synonymous with protests, sit-ins, and strikes. More recently they have been associated with irresponsible drinking and criminal damage rather than political activism, so although there would seem to be a lack of charitable activity, Student Unions have always operated as Charities.. Until the Charities Act 2006, the governance and operation of student unions had changed little since their foundation, with King’s College London Students Union (KCLSU) being the notable exception, and had been left to the respective institutions to regulate, a position reinforced by the 1994 Education Act.

KCLSU was the first union to try to adapt itself to the new regulation brought in by the Charities Act, and has sought to be in the vanguard of reform, but just before the Act is due to come into full effect, it can be argued that the new model used is not fit for purpose. Is this because student unions are a special type of charity that the drafters of the legislation did not have in mind?

New Policy Formation: Why a new Charities Act?

If it is a principle that Justice must not only be done, but it must be seen to be done, then the same is also true of politics. The first Charities Bill was introduced in 2005, and had gone through a second reading, but fell when the general election was called. Seeing as the passage of the original Bill had largely been completed, the Labour party felt confident to include a pledge to “reintroduce the widely supported reforms”[1], and to announce the reintroduction of the Bill “to develop a vibrant, diverse and independent charitable sector” in the 2005 Queen’s Speech[2]. The assured quick passage of the Bill allowed politics to be seen to be done as well as a manifesto pledge delivered, but were there other reasons for this new policy on charities to come about?

Using the policy typology formulated by Lowi (1972)[3] to classify the Charities Act 2006 (CA) shows it has both elements of a regulatory policy (in that it introduced new regulation and changed existing regulation) , and a constituent policy (in that it established a new body, the Charities Tribunal). This typography closely matches an earlier Act of Parliament which may give clues as to genesis of the CA.

It can be argued that the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA) introduced not just a new paradigm of regulation to the financial markets , but a new paradigm to regulation in general. The Cabinet office document, Modernising Government, set out to be the key document for ‘the Government’s programme of renewal and reform’4 and set as one of the key goals ‘a new drive to remove unnecessary regulation[4]’, as well as professing a need for the adoption of a new way of thinking about regulation. This new paradigm was crystallised in the FSMA and in the “Principles of good regulation”[5] as laid out by the Financial Services Authority, the new regulator created by the Act.

The FSMA set out to do several things which can be summarised as setting out the objectives of the regulator to be about maintaining confidence, raising awareness, and protecting the public; regulating the industry; and creating a new Tribunal which hears appeals about decisions made by the regulator. By comparing this to the CA which set out to maintain confidence, to protect the public, to regulate nearly all charities by removing exempt status, and to establish a new Tribunal to hear appeals; there is a strong argument the CA is an application of a new regulatory policy.

If this new ‘meta-policy’, i.e. a policy about policy, subsequently created a climate where all regulation should be re-evaluated then is this a case of disjointed incrementalisim? Hutter (2005)[6] argues that a new regulatory role for the government had come about as the new paradigm of risk-based regulation has become central, resulting in more oversight and less intervention. This new ethos led to a “systematic attempt by government to introduce business risk management practices across the public sector”. This examination of how old policies differ incrementally from the newly formed status quo, and how new expectations of outcomes and consequences require new policy, seem to match Braybrooke and Lindblom’s (1963) definition of disjointed incrementalisim[7]. If this theory of policy formation is augmented with the application Dror’s (1968) concept[8] of the importance of ‘meta-policy’ as a tool for the design of institutions to bring about change then a theoretical picture of the formation of the Charities Act 2006 is completed. We see the ‘meta-policy’ of regulation perturbing existing charity legislation from the status quo, thus instigating a re-appraisal.

Examining Kingdon’s (1995) model of the agenda-setting process of the three streams[9] of pressure within a ‘garbage can’ or ‘primeval soup’ presents the question of what put this on the Government’s agenda? Whilst the ‘policies’ and ‘politics’ streams are present as discussed above in relation to the timing of the bill and manifesto pledge, it is not immediately apparent that there was a problem with the existing framework. It is most likely therefore that the CA is the result of what Kingdon describes as ‘policy entrepreneurs’, who have this new policy (regulation) and are looking for problems to apply it to, since there is a noticeable absence of a ‘big-wave’, or ‘focusing event’[10] -such as the failure of a large charity or a collapse of public confidence in the sector following some kind of scandal that would thrust the topic to the attention of politicians.

It would appear then that the Charities Act 2006 came about when the confluence of ‘policy entrepreneurs’ for the new paradigm of regulation, who had started to take a systematic approach to adjusting all regulation, found support in politicians eager to be seen to be delivering on manifesto pledges, thus opening the ‘policy window’ and producing action in the form of legislation.

Student Unions: A special type of charity?

An association of students governed democratically and accountable for its finances is a requirement of the 1994 Education Act[11], however associations, guilds or unions of students have been around for far longer: St. Andrews, founded in 1864 the oldest in Britain; and KCLSU, the oldest in England founded in 1899 and formalised in 1908. The Education Act states that the primary purpose of a Students Union is the representation of students to the parent academic body, which has led to a broader view as the charitable purpose of a Students Union being the advancement of education. However as an exempt charity, a Students’ Union has never had to pass a public benefit test for this charitable aim.

Student Unions have gone through many transformations as the demographics and demands of its member-students have changed. Most pre-1994 student unions started out as a form of student government and student representation, consisting solely of some kind of representative body, often called a Student Representative Council, but growing over time to have many different functions often including sports provision (sometimes separately as part of an Athletic Union), campaigning on broader social issues, welfare or representation services (academic advice, appeals representation , careers service) and commercial services (Bars, nightclubs, newsagents, gyms, food shops). Student Unions have usually taken the form of unincorporated associations[12], therefore having no distinct legal personality, with Trustees of unlimited liability. The question thus arises, what makes them different from other membership, service, or campaigning charities?

Fundamentally and uniquely for a charity, Student Unions exist in a symbiotic relationship with their parent institution, for a Student Union cannot exist without a body of students at an institution, and also are often institutionalised due to their dependence on the funding that comes from their parent institution. This contrasts with a declared independence, backed up by legal opinion[13], and a desire to be seen as separate and not part of the parent institution. Student unions are not a form of Trade Union14, though they are representative with roles in academic disputes, and membership based. However the EA makes it clear that all students are automatically members of their students union, with membership being an opt-out system, which is unique for a charity.

The membership of a Student union has a high level of churn, since the average student is at university for three years, after which they cease to be members. Since Student Unions must be democratically governed[14], the result is often an annual change in leadership, and a non-professional leadership, which is not meritocratic and is necessarily political. Student Unions are also inherently political since they seek to advance the education of their membership by representing them en-masse, but must comply with the restrictions on political activity by charities, that is a union cannot use union funds to “support any activity that is not reasonably calculated to further its charitable objects” [15], often interpreted to mean funding overtly political activity.

This unique set of conditions on membership, on funding, on activities, on legal obligations, on the role of politics both as a mechanism of decision making, representation and as an activity of the organisation as a whole, and especially their unique symbiotic relationship, means that Student Unions are not easily categorised as any other sort of charity and, it is argued should be treated as a special type.

The Impact of the Charities Act on KCLSU

The incoming changes have impacted on KCLSU in two ways; a forced change in governance, and an adaptation to the new demands of regulation. With the removal of exempt status, all student unions now how to prove that they are fulfilling their charitable purpose and are doing so for the public benefit. For KCLSU this had meant a policy of increased funding, support, and publicity for our volunteering groups, but one that has emerged from the Union Staff, not the students. There has also been an increase in impact reporting in attempt to better quantify the impact KCLSU has on its member-students and the communities in which it operates. These new demands have meant all departments have to introduce ways of accounting for each interaction with a student.

In light of the changes proposed by the Charities Bill, KCLSU became the first Student Union to launch a wide ranging and comprehensive Governance Review. The use of management consultants and the solicitors Bates Wells and Braithwaite, was unique at the time, and sought to fundamentally change the model for student unions.

The new model was significantly different from all existing Student Unions but sought to set an example of how to adapt. Since the initiation of the new model and with the full force of the CA set to be implemented with a commencement order, every student union has had to undergo some form of governance review, most notably the National Union of Students[16] (NUS), the infrastructure organisation for Students Unions. Key aspects of the CA for Student unions have been seen as the removal of exempt status, a statutory definition of charity for the first time, and a new duty to demonstrate public benefit.

The removal of exempt status has meant that Student Unions have had their principle regulator, their parent institution, replaced by the Charity commission, forcing many changes. The review and subsequent implementation at KCLSU has been guided by the document ‘The Hallmarks of a Good Charity[17]’, and especially by Hallmark 2, ‘A Strong Board’[18]. This has also resulted in KCLSU taking on a legal personality in the form of a Company Limited by Guarantee[19], ending the old unincorporated association and also removing ultimate ‘sovereignty’ of the union from the student body as a whole, and investing it in the board.

Under the previous model, KCLSU’s ultimate decision-making body was the Student Representative Council, a 90-person body made of students elected from within their Schools, and lead by a Chair. In theory this body held power, but the union was run de facto by the Sabbatical Officers, who were full-time members of paid staff, who had both political accountability and operational control. The SRC’s main function was to hold the Sabbatical Officers accountable for both policy and operations, and had the powers to remove sabbaticals by a vote, and to set organisational policy.In this system the Sabbatical Officers were the sole trustees of the union and had unlimited liability.

Under the new system a Board of Trustees was formed who were the registered Directors of the company King’s College London Students Union, and are now the four elected Sabbaticals, with the President ex offcio the Chair of the Board, four students elected at the same time, and four non-student or ‘Lay’ trustees. These four sabbaticals are paid as Trustees and operate as employees of the Union; they combine political leadership as Officers, organisational leadership, as Trustees, whilst not having operational control, a responsibility now given to the Chief Executive Officer. The Lay trustees are appointed to four-year terms with a maximum of two terms, this appointment is theoretically at the discretion of the new democratic body, the Student Council. The Board is now the body of ultimate responsibility.

The Student Council is made up of thirty students is there to give advice, in terms of policy proposals, to the board. The diagram below shows who feeds into Student Council. It should be noted, however that the dotted line from sabbaticals in unidirectional, i.e. Sabbaticals feed into Council, but are neither necessarily accountable to it, nor mandated to report to it. The diagram also shows some of the other groups and representatives who are invited to feed into council.

The new system has set out to separate the three key strands of running a Student Union: democracy, governance and operations. The ideal is that the Student Council is the vibrant, political, democratic part of KCLSU, where policy is debated and formed. The board is there to fulfil the roles of fiduciary responsibility, operational oversight and generative thinking on the organisation as a whole, and to provide good governance. The operational responsibilities of sabbaticals have been removed and vested in the CEO, who is now responsible to the board for the performance of the Union as a whole and is tasked with delivering an agreed strategy.

Criticisms of the model: Student Government vs. Student Governance

As described above, the old model of student unions combined Governance, Politics, and Operations in the offices of the Sabbaticals, a position which has been heavily criticised for putting too much responsibility in the hands of often young and inexperienced students. By separating them out in the new model it was hoped that each could receive individual expertise, and thus synergistically improving the Union as a whole.

With a Trustee Board, Student Government has been replaced by Student Governance, a separation in the more direct involvement and accountability of old. The major criticism of the old model was not that Governance was bad, but that it was non-existent. With an annual change in leadership there was no continuity from one year to the next, no long-term planning, and no strategy for the organisation. However the new model has removed direct accountability from Sabbaticals, making them responsible to the Board not to the Student Council, and breaking the link between students and their Union. With a council that has no binding powers to set policy, to hold officers to account to change the operations of the Union, the democratic heart of the union has been arrested. Council attendance has dipped below 50% by the third session (usually held by December) in each successive year. Feedback has suggested that although newly elected council members arrive full of ideas and enthusiasm, the new model paralyses them from turning this into action.

Sabbatical Officers are now in a far more ambiguous position than ever before. They wear many ‘hats’: as Officers they are politically accountable for the actions of the union yet don not have any kind of operational control; the non-Lay Trustees are elected in a political manner yet are expected to be non-political on the Board; as President and Vice-Presidents the officers are non-equal colleagues, with the President the manager of the others and each with a portfolio, but as Trustees they are equal to each other and to the other Trustees; since an office is held for a year there is a real desire to get something done in that time frame, yet as a Trustees they are compelled to think much farther into the future; they are paid for their work, yet don not fit easily into any kind of managerial hierarchy especially since the President manages the CEO in their capacity as Chair of the Board, and they are elected to ‘lead’ the organisation.

The many conflicts, tensions, and confusions have yet to be resolved three years on. The Board has found it difficult to escape politics and has yet to decide where the Sabbatical Officers fit in the organisation, the Student Council has to date failed to suggest new-policy to the board, and Officers are unable to respond to the criticisms made by member-students about Union services. This new model does not fit the demands placed on it, and the experiences of KCLSU are worrying those who have not yet reformed.

The Future for Student Unions

Is the policy of treating Student Unions as just the same as every other charity the root cause of the problems face by KCLSU? It has been argued by Hill (2005) that ‘choices about forms of governance need to be tailored to specific contingencies and will also be matters of value or ideological choice’[20]. The ideological choice, that of a government of students, by students for students, seems to conflict with a need to have a form of governance that assume that a student union is just another charity. The desire of some student unions, including KCLSU, to act as such is driven by many factors, but the result is that a model not tailored to the unique circumstances and demands of a Student Union is being straight-jacketed into place.

Although a student union is not a form of trade union14, the comparison in objectives is strikingly similar; provision of benefits to members, collective representation and political activity. This would suggest that Student Unions should look at the models of governance used by Trade Unions and their response to the CA and seek to emulate it, even if this means giving up on the idea that a Student Union is not part of the mainstream, but an exotic and rare species of third sector organisation.


[1]Labour Party Manifesto 2005 Pg 106

[3] Lowi, T.a (1972) ‘Four Systems of policy, politics and choice’. Public Administration Review, 32, pp 298-310

[4] The Cabinet Office, Modernising government, March 1999 TSO

[5] FSA, A New Regulator for the New Millennium, pg 10

[6]Hutter B.M., (2005) Risk-based regulation: accounting for the emergence of risk ideas in regulation, Discussion paper No 33, Centre for analysis of risk and regulation

[7]Braybrooke, D. And Lindblom, C.E. (1963) A Strategy of Decision. New York: The Free Press

[8]Dror, Y (1968) Public Policymaking Re-examined. San Francisco, Cal.: Chandler

[9]Kingdon, J.W. (1995) Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies, pg 19

[10]Birkland, T.A. (1998) ‘Focusing events, mobilization, and agenda setting’. Journal of Public Policy, 18 (1), p.72

[11]Part II Education Act 1994, OPSI

[12] Point 6, Appendix A

[13] Appendix A

[14]Part II Education Act 1994, OPSI

[15] NUS, Charitble Status and Ultra Vires

[16] NUS, Opening the Doors…Reforming the NUS (2008)

[17] Appendix B

[18] Appendix B, p 7

[19] Appendix C

[20] Adapted from Hill, M. The Public Policy Process 4th Edition (2005), Pearson. p.275