The University of London Union, the largest student association of its type in Europe, faces being dismantled by the university´s governing body and its campaigning functions replaced by a London-wide body to represent all students in the capital, including those at colleges outside the University of London.
The University of London´s collegiate council met on Friday to consider a recommendation by a working party that ULU be wound up, with the university taking over the union´s headquarters in Bloomsbury – the venue for decades´ worth of aspiring student politicians, musicians, journalists and activists.
But the university says that this place will be a refurbished student centre offering the same services, including a swimming pool, fitness centre and bars, while ULU´s federal role in running London-wide student sports and political representation will be parcelled out to new bodies.
Paul Webley, the University of London´s deputy vice-chancellor and chair of the review group, said: "Our view is that ULU made sense in the 1950s, when there were 30 colleges and medical schools. Most of them had under 500 students, and the total population was 25,000.
The administration says the review followed a letter to the vice-chancellor last year signed by presidents of five college student unions, which outlined "significant concerns" with ULU´s operations. The review also pointed out that fewer than 3,000 of ULU´s 120,000 student members vote in ULU´s university-wide elections.
The union is funded by subscriptions from the university´s constituent colleges totalling about £800,000 a year, from which it pays rent to the university for occupying its Malet Street offices.
"If we´d wanted to muzzle student campaigners, we wouldn´t have said we think a pan-London operation for campaigning, lobbying and representation for London students was a good idea. But we do think it´s a good idea," said Webley, director of the nearby School of Oriental and African Studies. "What we don´t think is a good idea is what we have at the moment, where we have got, essentially, a somewhat illegitimate union."
Instead, the university backs a London-wide student representative body, to include the rapid growth in the city´s higher and further education institutions outside the University of London. Similar proposals have been supported by the National Union of Students.