Student Activist Rights in the UK
Students' Unions are independent organisations that represent and support students at universities. We hold charity status, and whilst we rely on universities for our funding, our main purpose is to lobby the university on behalf of our members - students. As a student-led charity, we have the right to campaign on issues that are relevant to our students, like tuition fees, student welfare, and cost of living.
Any student can get involved in student activism or a campaign within the SU, and we encourage it. Student activism has played a huge role in campaigning across the UK. Here are just some of the current national campaigns:
- Fossil Fuel Divestment: Student-led campaigns like those from People & Planet have successfully pressured universities to divest from fossil fuel companies, aligning their investments with environmental sustainability.
- Climate Action: Students have been instrumental in urging universities to declare climate emergencies and take concrete steps towards reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainability. Check out S.O.S for their sustainable student campaigns.
- Decolonise the Curriculum: Through their activism, Black and Asian students across the UK have been pressuring universities to take action and review their curriculum, asking them to centre less colonialist thought and have a fairer representation in academic discussion. The Free Black University is a great example of this, founded by Melz, an activist who created the campaign “Why is My Curriculum White?”.
- Sexual Assault Prevention: Student-led campaigns, like Not on My Campus, have contributed to the implementation of policies and support systems aimed at preventing and addressing sexual assault on campuses, ensuring a safer environment for all students.
Freedom of Expression & Right to Assemble
One of the fundamental rights that student activists have in the UK is the freedom of expression. As citizens, students have the right to express their opinions, beliefs, and concerns without fear of censorship or retaliation. This right extends to both online and offline platforms, allowing students to engage in public debates, protests, and demonstrations. Universities may penalise you for specific actions, but only if it goes against their Student Code of Conduct, which you agree to when enrolling at the University. As an SU we welcome students to express their opinions, challenge ideas, and hold debate, but it is important to adhere to academic standards and engage in respectful dialogue with fellow students and faculty members.
As a Students' Union, meaning we have charity status, we are not allowed to back a particular political party, and can only campaign on issues that impact “students as students”. Students are allowed to as individuals, which is why you may see Conservative and Labour student societies in some SUs.
Student activists also have the right to assemble peacefully. This means that they can organise protests, marches, and gatherings to bring attention to their cause. It is important to engage in peaceful dialogue, respect differing opinions, and follow legal guidelines while advocating for change. While participating in activism, students still have the right to privacy. Personal information and activities should not be monitored or disclosed without valid reasons or legal justifications.
We're currently working on our Campaigns Toolkit, guidance around Freedom of Expression and our Protests and Vigils Procedure. If you have any questions, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.