University of Birmingham Guild of Students

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University of Birmingham Guild of Students
Birmingham guild of students logo.gif
Institution University of Birmingham
Location Edgbaston Park Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, England
Established c. 1876
President Ellie Keiller
Sabbatical officers
  • Activities and Development Officer: Natalie Cox,
  • Representation & Resources: Brandon Hattiloney,
  • Education: Chris Wilkinson,
  • Housing and Community: Izzie Nicholds,
  • Postgraduate: Rose Bennett,
  • Sports: Georgie Freeman,
  • Welfare: Ross Strong
Members c. 34,000
Affiliations National Union of Students, Aldwych Group, National Postgraduate Committee,

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


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 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 that 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 just 'the Guild'), 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 to 1928 and has been added to and amended, most significantly in the 1950s, when a south wing was added, and again in the 1960s, when a much larger west wing was built. At 10,000 square metres, it 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 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 in 2007, intended to replace the previous 'BUGS' brand, which had been 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 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 £3,000 top-up fees (a campaign that 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 and other procedures. 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 these 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 have 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 finished a £4 million redevelopment in July 2010, with the ground floor of the building being completely overhauled, creating for the first time a dedicated membership area with all of the key services in one place. In addition, the brand new bar started serving food, and the Guild opened its very own letting agent, the SHAC.

Despite these activities, the only ones that matter to the vast majority of students at the University of Birmingham are the bi-monthly Sports Night and the weekly FAB during term times.

Societies & volunteering[edit]

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; all manner of groups, such as Fetish Society, Rock Music, Circus, InterVol (International Volunteers), Mountaineering, and Jazz and Blues, come in between.

The Guild publishes a newspaper called Redbrick. It also has a radio station, BURN FM, which broadcasts on 87.7 FM twice-yearly and all year round online, and Guild Television, the University's student TV station. All three media outlets are editorially independent and are 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 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[edit]

The University of Birmingham Astronomical Society, generally known as AstroSoc, is the official astronomical society of the University of Birmingham,[3] and was formed in the 1920s. The society meets weekly for general meetings; these include observing nights, talks and presentations.[4]

The society also runs programmes to improve the public understanding of astronomy.[5] These include a series of public talks known as the Patrick Moore Lecture Series, Tea, Talk and Telescope.[6] AstroSoc also participate in the University's Astronomy in the City events, which include astronomy and astrophysics talks, and the chance to observe the night sky.[7]

In 2006, the Society won the Institute of Physics' Best Student Group.[citation needed] In 2003 and 2005, the Society won the best website of a student society. Past Chair of the Society Samuel George won the 2007 Guild Awards Ross Barlow Memorial for most outstanding individual student for his work with AstroSoc.[citation needed] In 2009, it was awarded 'Best Event' at the University of Birmingham at the annual 'Guild Awards'.[citation needed]


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

InterVol[8] was set up as a society in 2003[9] by a group of students brought together by the Involve (now Student Development) department at the University of Birmingham Guild of Students.[10][11][12]

InterVol focuses on student-led sustainable development projects in seven developing countries that aim to make a long term difference to children, communities and the environment. InterVol works in close partnership with local NGOs in each country.

InterVol became a registered charity in England and Wales in May 2010.[13] 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[edit]

The University of Birmingham Debating Society is the only student-run debating society on campus; it practises 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[14][15] 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[16] The society is currently ranked 96th in the World based on the last five World Debating Competitions.[17]


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; the role of the Guild is to 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.[18]

This decision was made following a Referendum that took place in February 2008 and was approved by over 4,000 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 By-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 four Sabbatical (Officer) Trustees, three Student Trustees, three (external) Lay Trustees, three University Alumni Trustees and one University Trustee.


Day-to-day, and in the absence of Guild Council over University vacation periods, the Guild is run by a Committee of Executive Officers. The makeup of the committee changed for the 2006-7 academic session as Guild Council adopted the outcomes of an executive review, albeit with numerous amendments.

There are 19 Executive officers, eight of which are full-time Sabbatical Officers, with the remaining eleven being student 'non-sabbatical' officers. Four of these are Liberation Officers, whose remits focus on the liberation of certain groups that are considered socially oppressed.

Other officers[edit]

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

Chair of Guild Council[edit]

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, the role is often compared to that of a Speaker of the House. The position also fulfills a number of investigative and disciplinary functions that could be described as judicial. Since September 2010, this system has replaced the previous one of three Independent Chairs.


The Warden's role is to act as a safety net and make sure that the Guild is always in the right hands. Unlike other officers, the Warden may not be a student, and holds a three-year term of office. He/she has an advisory role and some disciplinary duties, but the 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 in 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.[citation needed]


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 2004-5, 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 these 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[edit]

Over the 2005-6 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 policy of banning gay and bisexual men (those with sexual experience being regarded as potentially dangerous) from giving blood for life.[19] This policy remained in effect until it was overturned at the start of the 2009-10 academic year.[20]

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 not to allow non-Christians to become members, have the outgoing leaders appoint new leaders (rather than have the members elect them), and require members to sign an evangelical doctrinal quasi-contract. Although the Union later agreed to hold elections, the Union members felt that 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 of 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 .[21][22]

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,[23] which was met with widespread criticism, even making The Times national newspaper.

Further controversy was revealed in 2016 as it was exposed that despite being a union that 'represents' the students, it marks up the price of the popular alcoholic beverage 'VK' by 266%, making it one of the least affordable Students Unions in the country.


  1. ^ (Cheesewright 1975, p. 35)
  2. ^ (Hughes 1950, p. 17)
  3. ^ "Astrosoc". Guild of Students. University of Birmingham. Retrieved 29 November 2015. 
  4. ^ "Events". AstroSoc. University of Birmingham. Retrieved 29 November 2015. 
  5. ^ "Public Outreach". Astrophysics & Space Research Group. University of Birmingham. Retrieved 29 November 2015. 
  6. ^ "Tea, Talk & Telescope". University of Birmingham. Retrieved 2010-07-21. 
  7. ^ "Astronomy in the City". Astrophysics & Space Research Group. University of Birmingham. Retrieved 29 November 2015. 
  8. ^ "Official InterVol Website". University of Birmingham. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  9. ^ "Details of InterVol set-up by Tamzin Kensett" (PDF). University of Birmingham Buzz Magazine. p. 2. Retrieved 29 May 2010. 
  10. ^ "Notes international volunteering projects at the Guild of Students" (Official Website). University of Birmingham. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  11. ^ Graham Allcott. "Details creation of InterVol" (Official Website). Fruitful Consulting. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  12. ^ Our Shared Resources Website. Reprinted from Turn Your Organisation Into A Volunteer Magnet, 2nd edition (ed. Fryar, Jackson & Dyer), 2007. Accessed 28 May 2010.
  13. ^ "Details of InterVol's charity status". Charity Commission Website. Retrieved 1 June 2010. 
  14. ^ Winners between 1993 and 2005
  15. ^ The Birmingham IV 2010
  16. ^
  17. ^ World Debating Rankings
  18. ^ "Trustee Board". Guild of Students. Retrieved 2011-12-26. 
  19. ^ "Students protest gay donor ban". 
  20. ^ "Blood drive back on campus after a four year ban". 
  21. ^ "Birmingham CU readmitted to students' union after 7 years". The Christian Institute. 
  22. ^ "Ban for exclusive Christian body". BBC News. 2006-01-25. Retrieved 2010-07-21. 
  23. ^ "Student apology for Thatcher call". BBC News. 2006-06-06. Retrieved 2010-07-21. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Foster, A. (2005), Birmingham (Pevsner Architectural Guides), London: Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-10731-5 
  • Ives, E. (2000), The First Civic University: Birmingham, 1880–1980 – An Introductory History, Birmingham: University of Birmingham Press, ISBN 1-902459-07-5 
  • The University of Birmingham Yearbook 2002–2003 
  • Cheesewright, M. (1975), Mirror to Mermaid, Birmingham: The University of Birmingham Press, ISBN 0-7044-0130-4 
  • Braithwaite, L. (1987), University of Birmingham architectural trail, Birmingham: The University of Birmingham Press, ISBN 0-7044-0890-2 
  • Hughes, A. (1950), The University of Birmingham : a short history, Birmingham: The University of Birmingham Press 

External links[edit]