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Team Task
Building SU Culture – Working with Student Leaders

Half Day and Full Day Training Packages


Students’ unions are student-led organisations. They are unique, special, and transformative, and generally attract people that care about education, social justice, and morality. Students’ unions are complex organisations that are regulated by two different bodies - the University, and the Charity Commission (England & Wales) / OSCR (Scotland). In addition to its role as a regulator, the University (in most cases) is also the primary funder of the students’ union which adds an additional layer of complexity to working relationships, structure, and a broad range of expectations from a variety of stakeholders. 


Coole Insight’s indicative data suggests that there is a growing tension in students’ unions between full time career staff and elected student leaders due to a diverse range of competing demands. For example, when student leaders were asked about the biggest challenges in their role, in 2021/22 “SU Staff” featured at number two on the list. This is not to say that SU staff are intentionally putting barriers in place, however our experience tells us that the following factors could be contributing to the tension that exists in a number of students’ unions that we work with:


  • Fatigue – The adjustment of working from home and going back into the office coupled with a change of pace has been difficult.

  • Resilience – Our data suggests that the resilience of student leaders is much lower than perhaps it has been in previous years.

  • Motivation – There have been several examples of student leaders leaving their posts much earlier for better paid employment, with officers highlighting ‘personal development’ as their main reason for standing in the election.

  • Professionalisation – Students’ unions have professionalised dramatically over the last decade or so, which has put a greater emphasis on where staff spend their time in terms of ‘running the operation’ and getting on with their ‘business as usual’. This in turn has fueled a culture where the work of student leaders is almost viewed as ‘additional work’ by staff, as opposed to trying to embed student leader support within a clearly defined routine for how each SU staff role interacts with them in terms of planning, providing information, and decision making.


There are more factors that can be added to the four that Coole Insight has highlighted, which is why we have developed the following support package for students’ unions. Our approach pays specific attention to the individual culture of each students’ union we work with, and is designed to blend sector expertise with good ‘in house practice’ and self-help.

Who is this for?

  • ALL SU staff roles and student leaders.

What are the benefits?

  • Greater clarity regarding individual SU roles

  • Improved understanding between colleagues and teams

  • Helps to embed organisational values and improve accountability

  • Safe, practical space to test assumptions

What's Involved?

  • A short, pre-training survey that informs a large part of the content for the day

  • Half / Full Day of staff development training

  • Follow up report which captures the session outcomes

How is it delivered?

  • The session is delivered using a combination of group work, open conversation, question and answer, interactive exercises and scenarios.

How much does it cost?

1 day session: 

  • Student Officer Support Programme (SOSP) Members: £700 + VAT

  • Non SOSP Members: £850 + VAT


½ day session:

  • SOSP Members: £525 + VAT

  • Non SOSP Members: £675 + VAT


We also ask that reasonable accommodation and travel costs are covered.

What People Say...

All Hands In

Graeme Kirkpatrick, Chief Executive Officer, Aberdeen University Students' Association.

“Coole Insight spent the day with our officer and staff team working on culture change and strategy.  Steve was able facilitate some very challenging conversations and get our team thinking about and debating subjects we had previously been too afraid to explore.    


It has already made a tremendous difference to the approach we take in all our work and I couldn’t recommend highly enough"

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