Let's start with a general guide to what Student Unions are, then we'll look more specifically at HWUnion.

A Student Union is a student-led organisation that exists to represent the students at a University or College. Nearly every University or College has a Student Union (although they are sometimes called something different such as Students Association or Guild) and as a registered student at Heriot-Watt you are now a fully-fledged member of Heriot-Watt University Student Union (that's us!).

A Student Union is independent of the University and many (including us) are affiliated to the National Union of Students. Our main purpose is to represent the best interests of all students on the issues they may face (whether that's locally on campus or nationally).

Student Unions are mostly led by elected students, who are typically current or recently graduated students from the Uni. Student Unions raise money in a number of ways - often largely financially supported by the University, they sometimes also hold social events or run commercial services such as bars, cafes and shops.

The term "Student Union" is often associated with a building where the Student Union is based, however, it's important to understand that even if the building wasn't there - the Student Union would still exist. It's the people that really make a Student Union - not the building.

If you have a problem you can reach out to your Student Union for help. Student Unions can help in a number of ways, even if the problem you have is personal, and isn't directly linked to your academic studies of the Uni, such as a problem with your landlord.

A Student Union is also a great first place to go if you have an idea of how things could be improved at University.


Student Unions talk a lot about "representing" students - so it's worth getting your head around that early on.

Let's take an example:

You think there is something that could be done better at University. How do you tell the right people so it can be done? How do you know if it's just you that thinks this or if others do too? Will the University listen to just one student? The Student Union can find out if your idea is popular, gather input from students and then use that collective power to speak with the University and find a solution. This is an example of being represented.

Let's take another example:

The University want to change their methods for assessing your knowledge after each module. Realistically it would take ages to speak to each individual student, lecturer and staff member that would be impacted. Instead, the Student Union will consult with Students and then an elected Officer will represent the students as a whole to the University, and make sure their opinions are taken into account. This is another example of being represented.

Academic situations like the example above are just one type of representation. Student Union's also represent your views on:

  • University community
  • Campus life
  • Wellbeing support
  • Equality and Diversity

Student Unions are powerful organisations, but only have the ability to make changes if they have students who engage with them - so make sure you get involved. Whether that's completing a survey, voting in the elections or standing to be one of the Student Representatives. Together students can achieve more.