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University of Birmingham Guild of Students

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Title: University of Birmingham Guild of Students  
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Subject: InterVol, List of students' unions in the United Kingdom, University of Birmingham, Aldwych Group, Sydney Checkland
Collection: Students' Unions in England, University of Birmingham
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University of Birmingham Guild of Students

University of Birmingham Guild of Students
Institution University of Birmingham
Location Edgbaston Park Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, England
Established c. 1876
President Poppy Wilkinson
Vice presidents
  • Activities and Development: Wadim Wesolek,
  • Democracy, Resources and Sustainability: Bethan Dovey,
  • Education: Joe Armer,
  • Housing and Community: Jack Malby,
  • Sport and Nutrition: Molly Browne,
  • Welfare: Francis Greenwell
Members c. 28,000
Affiliations National Union of Students, Aldwych Group, National Postgraduate Committee,
Website .com.guildofstudentswww

The University of Birmingham Guild of Students (previously Birmingham University Guild of Students; BUGS) is the officially recognised body which represents around 28,000 students at the University of Birmingham. The Guild functions as a students' union as per the Education Act of 1994.


  • History 1
  • Activities 2
    • Societies & volunteering 2.1
      • The Astronomical Society 2.1.1
      • InterVol 2.1.2
      • Debating Society 2.1.3
  • Governance 3
    • Executive 3.1
    • Other officers 3.2
      • Chair of Guild Council 3.2.1
      • Warden 3.2.2
  • Finances 4
  • Media controversy 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


The Institution had its first foundations in the Mason Science College in the centre of Birmingham around 1876. The University itself formally received its Royal Charter in 1900 with the Guild of Students being provided for as a Student Representative Council.[1] As a consequence both the Guild and the University officially celebrated their centenaries in the year 2000. Mason College had had a union of sorts with a club house opening in Great Charles Street in 1905. The Guild of Students having been provided for in the 1900 Charter was formed in 1909 as the Guild of Undergraduates, being based at Edgbaston.[2]

The Guild possesses archives which go back to the First World War, establishing a very long tradition of what is referred to as "modern Students' Unionism". Alongside Liverpool Guild of Students, the Guild was a founding member of the National Union of Students.

Guild building
Bronze mermaid by William Bloye in the Guild courtyard

The Guild of Students occupies the Union Building (often referred to as the Guild itself), situated at the edge of campus by the East Gate, for a peppercorn rent from the University. The building itself, by Holland W. Hobbiss, dates back to 1928 and has been added to and amended, most significantly in the 1950s adding a south wing and again in the 1960s building a much larger west wing. At 10,000 square metres is one of the largest Student Union buildings in the UK.

It is not known for certain why the organisation is named a Guild of Students as opposed to being named a Union of Students, in line with the vast majority of its English peers. It shares its name with five other student unions, including Liverpool Guild of Students, Exeter Guild of Students, and Aston Students' Guild.

The Guild introduced new branding as of 2007, intended to replace the previous "BUGS" brand adopted in 2000.


The Guild provides representation to all students at the University and campaigns to create change on issues affecting students at a local and national level. This is achieved through regular meetings with University Senior Officers and Senior Managers, as well as through lobbying Birmingham City Council, the Government and other bodies. The Guild also runs campaigns focused on particular issues; recent campaigns have included a drive to see wheelie bins across the city, an initiative to improve campus security and have the University install CCTV across all halls of residence, and strong participation in the NUS campaign against the introduction of £3000 top-up fees (a campaign which continues, despite the measure being approved by Parliament in January 2004).

The Guild boasts 24/7 welfare support channels for its members. The Advice and Representation Centre (ARC) provides professional and impartial advice on all manner of student issues, from academic problems, financial woes, immigration and other international troubles, housing worries, and employment rights.It also arranges individual representation for students facing academic appeals, disciplinary hearings, or other measures. All students in halls of residence can seek similar advice from their team of Student Mentors, who are on hand day or night for emergency issues, while Niteline provides a confidential listening and information service through telephone and email overnight. The Guild's welfare services are complemented by the Job Zone, which seeks and promotes part-time student vacancies, and the liberation associations.

With one of its three constitutional objects being to promote "social intercourse" the Guild maintains social space, bars and event nights, all of which provide an income without which initiatives including campaigns, the ARC, Job Zone, Niteline, and many student groups would struggle to exist. The major weekly night is Saturday's "Fab 'N' Fresh", with other popular events including "Very Important Tuesdays" (VIT) which hosted acts such as Samantha Mumba, Wheatus and Cyndi Lauper, society-themed evenings such as "The Mix", student group events and irregular gigs and comedy evenings. Further commercial revenue is generated through marketing and retail activities, including a supermarket, and the Guild acts as the official retailer of University branded merchandise for this purpose.

The Guild has finished a £4 million redevelopment in July 2010 completely overhauling the ground floor of the Guild building creating for the first time a dedicated membership area with all the key Guild services all in one place. In addition the brand new bar started serving food and the Guild opened its very own letting agent; the SHAC.

Societies & volunteering

The Guild also supports around 200 student groups and societies, actively promoting student involvement, volunteering and social participation. Its oldest society is Carnival, the Guild's charitable RAG (Raising And Giving) society, while one of its newest is Rocketry Appreciation Society, with all manner of groups such as Fetish society, Rock music, Circus, InterVol (International Volunteers), Mountaineering and Jazz and Blues in between.

The Guild of Students publishes a newspaper called Redbrick, has a radio station, BURNFM.COM which broadcasts on 87.7FM twice-yearly and all year round online, and Guild Television, the university's student TV station. All three media outlets are editorially independent and encouraged to hold the Guild Executive to account. However, as the groups and the Executive are all part of the same organisation, the trustees reserve the right to edit content that poses legal or other risks to the Guild, which at times has caused friction amid claims of political censorship.

The Guild of Students has a Student Development department which hosts and supports a large variety of student-led societies and volunteering projects. Notable societies and projects include:

The Astronomical Society

The University of Birmingham Astronomical Society, generally known as AstroSoc, is the official astronomical society of Birmingham University,[3] and was formed in the 1920s.

The Society meets weekly for general meetings, these include observing nights, talks and presentations.[4]

In 2006 the Society won the astronomy,[5] a key part of this is a series of public talks known as the 'Patrick Moore Lecture Series, Tea, Talk and Telescope'.[6]


InterVol's Original Guild of Students Logo

InterVol is an international volunteering charity that was founded at the Guild of Students, notable for being the first Guild volunteering project or society to become a registered charity in the United Kingdom.

InterVol[7] was set up as a society in 2003[8] by a group of students brought together by the Involve (now Student Development) department at the University of Birmingham Guild of Students.[9][10][11]

InterVol focuses on student-led NGOs in each country.

InterVol became a registered charity in England and Wales in May 2010.[12] InterVol's charitable objects are to act as a resource for international volunteers at universities in the United Kingdom while promoting development projects that focus on education, health, conservation and the relief of poverty.

Debating Society

The University of Birmingham Debating Society is the only student run debating society on campus which practices debating in the British Parliamentary Style as do other University debating societies, such as Oxford Union, Cambridge Union and Durham Union Society.

The society runs weekly workshops and holds regular public debates, where anyone at the University of Birmingham can see guest speakers debate.

The society holds an annual Inter-Varsity competition[13][14] and regularly competes in national and international Inter-Varsity debating competitions, such as the World Debating Championships. In 2009 the society was ranked 11th in the UK according to[15] The society is currently ranked 96th in the World based on the last 5 World Debating Competitions.[16]


The Guild is a students' union for the purposes of the Education Act 1994. Under section 67 of the Act, all students of the University are by law automatically members of the Guild unless they deliberately opt out, and the role of the Guild is to democratically represent this body of membership. However, the University of Birmingham does not disclose any details of its students to the Guild, which naturally makes the Guild's job of democratically representing its membership something of a challenge.

The Guild's Constitution sets out in detail how the organisation should be run.

The Guild's sovereign body and Union Council is Guild Council, made up of elected councillors representing academic, student group and hall of residence constituencies, as well as 12 who have a cross-campus mandate. There are 130 seats on Guild Council. The role of Guild Council is legislative: it hears, debates and votes on policy proposals to guide the Guild Executive; it holds the Executive to account over their actions in pursuit of approved policy and their duties generally; and it has a role in setting the Guild's priorities.

In August 2008, the Guild moved from its previous model of an unincorporated association to become a charitable company limited by guarantee (CLG) and as result; a Trustee Board was established to provide guidance, expertise and strategic oversight of the Guild of Students. The Guild became a charity in 2010.[17]

This decision was made following a Referendum which took place in February 2008 and was approved by over 4000 students, the Executive, Guild Council and the University. Key to the governance review was a need to clarify how decisions were made and by whom, especially in respect to the role of the Trustee Board and Guild Council.

The Trustees have ultimate responsibility for the day-to-day management of the Guild, which is delegated to the Chief Executive and Management Team. They ensure the Guild remains legally compliant and solvent, in accordance with Memorandum and Articles of Association, the Bye-laws and Guidance and Strategy documents.In the past, when it had far fewer members than today, this group of trustees was Guild Council. The Trustee Board is made up of 4 Sabbatical (Officer) Trustees, 3 Student Trustees, 3 (external) Lay Trustees, 3 University Alumni Trustees and 1 University Trustee.


On a day to day basis and in the absence of Guild Council over University vacations, the Guild is run by a Committee of Executive Officers. The makeup of the committee changed for the 2006/07 adademic session as Guild Council adopted the outcomes of an executive review, albeit with numerous amendments.

There are eighteen Executive officers, seven of which are full-time Sabbatical Officers, the remaining eleven being student "non-sabbatical" officers. Four of them are Liberation Officers, whose remits focus on the liberation of certain groups which are socially oppressed.

Other officers

The Guild has a number of other officer posts outside of the Executive.

Chair of Guild Council

There is a Chair of Guild Council (with one Deputy), whose principal function is to chair and facilitate Guild Council meetings independently of the Executive. In this regard they are often compared to a Speaker of the House role. They also fulfil a number of investigative and disciplinary functions which could be described as judicial. As of September 2010, they replace the previous system of three Independent Chairs.


The Warden's role is to act as a safety net and make sure the Guild is always in the right hands. Unlike other officers the Warden cannot be a student, and holds a three-year term of office. They have an advisory role and some disciplinary duties, but their main task is to step in and administer the Guild in the unlikely event that all of the Executive Officer posts become vacant. (Without the Warden it is likely under English Law that under this circumstance, administration would pass to the University). While seemingly unlikely there has been an occasion in the Guild's history when Guild Council saw fit to dismiss the entire Executive, at which point the Warden of the day stepped in and immediately held fresh elections.


The Guild has an annual turnover of approximately £5.5 million.

A large portion of that money is the block grant, an annual sum of money from the University. In 2004/05 this was £1.2 million, equivalent to approximately £50 per student. The Guild also receives money for the performance of several service contracts. One of the most significant of those is the £350,000 for the Student Mentor Scheme, equivalent to £75 per hall resident. The Residence Associations also receive grants from the University equal to £100 per hall resident.

Most of the rest of the Guild's turnover is through its venues trading activity.

Media controversy

Over the 2005/06 academic session, the Guild made national and international press over several controversial issues.

The year started with President Richard Angell banning the National Blood Service from the Guild's popular Freshers Fair over the service's policies of banning gay and bisexual men (those with sexual experience are regarded as dangerous) from giving blood, for life.[18] This policy remained in effect until it was overturned at the start of the 2009/2010 academic year.[19]

In January 2006 a row erupted as the Guild became aware of and subsequently took issue with some of the policies sought by its Evangelical Christian Union society. The Union sought to not allow non-Christian members, have the outgoing leaders appoint new leaders (rather than have the members elect them), and require members to sign an evangelical doctrinal basis. Although the Union later agreed to hold elections, the Union felt their religious beliefs prevented them from being able to make any more concessions. The Guild stated that they believed the law prevented them from accommodating the society, as student unions are required to make all their activities available to all students. The Christian Union stated that they believed they were being deprived of their legal rights. Guild Council ultimately derecognised the society although it was subsequently re-admitted to the Guild in 2013 .[20][21]

At Guild Council in June 2006, President Richard Angell proposed a motion titled 'Ding Dong the Witch is Dead' that the Guild should "have a party" on the occasion of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's death,[22] which was met with widespread criticism, even making The Times national newspaper.


  1. ^ (Cheesewright 1975, p. 35)
  2. ^ (Hughes 1950, p. 17)
  3. ^ BAM Agency Ltd. "Birmingham Guild of Students - The Home for Birmingham Guild Students". Retrieved 2010-07-21. 
  4. ^ "Birmingham Space Day: Welcome". 2006-03-19. Retrieved 2010-07-21. 
  5. ^ "Astrophysics & Space Research Group :: Contact & Location Information". Retrieved 2010-07-21. 
  6. ^ "Tea, Talk & Telescope: Welcome". Retrieved 2010-07-21. 
  7. ^ "Official InterVol Website". University of Birmingham. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  8. ^ "Details of InterVol set-up by Tamzin Kensett". University of Birmingham Buzz Magazine. p. 2. Retrieved 29 May 2010. 
  9. ^ "Notes international volunteering projects at the Guild of Students" (Official Website). University of Birmingham. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  10. ^ Graham Allcott. "Details creation of InterVol" (Official Website). Fruitful Consulting. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  11. ^ Our Shared Resources Website. Reprinted from Turn Your Organisation Into A Volunteer Magnet, 2nd edition (ed. Fryar, Jackson & Dyer), 2007. Accessed 28 May 2010.
  12. ^ "Details of InterVol's charity status". Charity Commission Website. Retrieved 1 June 2010. 
  13. ^ Winners between 1993 and 2005
  14. ^ The Birmingham IV 2010
  15. ^
  16. ^ World Debating Rankings
  17. ^ "Trustee Board". Guild of Students. Retrieved 2011-12-26. 
  18. ^ "Students protest gay donor ban". 
  19. ^ "Blood drive back on campus after a four year ban". 
  20. ^ "Birmingham CU readmitted to students’ union after 7 years". The Christian Institute. 
  21. ^ "Ban for exclusive Christian body". BBC News. 2006-01-25. Retrieved 2010-07-21. 
  22. ^ "Student apology for Thatcher call". BBC News. 2006-06-06. Retrieved 2010-07-21. 

Further reading

  • Foster, A. (2005), Birmingham (Pevsner Architectural Guides), London: Yale University Press,  
  • Ives, E. (2000), The First Civic University: Birmingham, 1880–1980 – An Introductory History, Birmingham: University of Birmingham Press,  
  • The University of Birmingham Yearbook 2002–2003 
  • Cheesewright, M. (1975), Mirror to Mermaid, Birmingham: The University of Birmingham Press,  
  • Braithwaite, L. (1987), University of Birmingham architectural trail, Birmingham: The University of Birmingham Press,  
  • Hughes, A. (1950), The University of Birmingham : a short history, Birmingham: The University of Birmingham Press 

External links

  • Guild of Students Website
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