Credit: AJ Duncan

Cough up: Glasgow unions lowest funded of all non-collegiate Russell Group universities

By Luke Chafer

Kings College London provide £266 per student to their student union, whilst figures show Glasgow University provided £53 per student in 2020/21, despite a £45.7m profit made the previous academic year.

Information gathered by The Glasgow Guardian, via a series of Freedom of Information Requests (FOIs), shows that out of all the Russell Group universities, the University of Glasgow provides the lowest levels of funding to their student unions of any non-collegiate institution. Between 2016-2021, the University of Glasgow provides on average £1,438,345 annually to its four student bodies; less than half of what the University of Edinburgh provides its one student union.  

In total, out of the 23 universities that have provided The Glasgow Guardian with data (Queen’s Belfast are yet to reply), the University of Glasgow ranks 20th. The only institutions in the Russell Group that provide lower levels of funding to their student unions are the University of Cambridge, Durham University and the University of Oxford. As these universities are collegiate they provide funding to their central student unions, but also their colleges, who in turn then fund their own “common rooms” – known as “JCRs” and “MCRs” – which hold many of the same functions as a student union. It has not been possible to acquire the amount of funding given to each JCR, explaining why collegiate universities rank at the bottom of this list.

As a result of the pandemic, the University of Glasgow did provide additional funding to its student bodies. The total grant for the academic year 2020/21 was £1,743,560, which equated to a mere £4 rise in funding per student from the previous year, from £49 per head in 2019/20 to £53 in 2020/21. This is in comparison to £266 per student provided to the student union at Kings College London. This lack of increase in funding at the University of Glasgow was despite posting a profit of £45.7m in 2019/20. 

Credit: Luke Chafer via Datawrapper

Out of the four student bodies on campus, the SRC receives the most funding annually. In the academic year 2020/21 it received 46% of the total funding provided by the University for student unions, receiving £769,984, while the GUU received the lowest of all four unions, accounting for just 16% of the total grant receiving £285,320. In 2016/17 and 2017/18 the GUU and QMU received the same amount of funding year on year, however, since 2018/19 there has been a divergence with the QMU receiving an extra £68,559 more in the last academic year. In four out of the five years for which The Glasgow Guardian holds the data, GUSA received the second-highest amount of funding. However, this changed last year when it received £316,182 in comparison to the £353,879 received by the QMU. 

The issue of funding provided to the University’s unions was raised in the University Court back in February 2018 by then-Rector Aamer Anwar. The court minutes note: “The Rector had met with the unions and believed there was a lack of understanding by the University that while the overall grant for 2017/18 might be at the same level, there had been a cut in real terms. The GUU had already had its grant cut between 2016 and 2017, with the QMU’s and GUSA’s frozen from 2015. Additional support was needed to allow the union boards to enhance the student experience and address the needs of students.” Anwar went on to say that he didn’t feel the University understood the “function of the unions” and without increased funding, their “viability was threatened”. Since that statement was made the funding to student unions at the University has only increased by £7 a head.

A UofG spokesperson said: “We are really proud of our four student organisations. Comparing funding between universities is highly misleading as the balance of responsibilities between union and university varies enormously across the Russell Group.

“UofG has increased the grant to our student bodies substantially over the past five years and will invest more in the future.”

This article has been updated on 7 February 2022 to include the following:

Since publication, The Glasgow Guardian has now received a response from Queens University Belfast. Their average grant to the student union over the last five years would place them 19th in the Russell Group, above the University of Glasgow. 


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Greg P

If UOG think these tables are misleading then they should explain in more detail how they make up the difference and what a fairer reflection might be. I bet the vice chancellor and senior leaders at UOG are taking home nice pay rises in the period in question? Maybe your next FOI campaign should focus on the pay of the Russell group leadership ?


And the Glasgow Guardian was silent when the unions laid off most staff at the start of the pandemic despite the possibility of furlough and despite the lack of employment opportunities elsewhere during lockdown
Makes you wonder who is running GG and how independent they actually are?


I think you’ll find the unions kept staff furloughed until the end of their contracts, where there was an end date, and permanent staff were kept furloughed until they could come back to work.