The financial crisis at the Glasgow University Union (GUU) is a worrying development, but hardly surprising.
Student unions across the country – at Glasgow Caledonian, Aberdeen, Napier and, most recently, Stirling – have been beset by problems in recent years as they lose out to increasing competition from local bars and clubs and, so they complain, cut-price supermarket drinks deals. It might be tempting to think of Glasgow as being immune to the troubles that are crippling Scotland’s other student unions, but the current situation is proof that age and tradition are no protection against market forces.
The full reasons behind the financial collapse of the GUU will be revealed when accounts are completed later this month, and business students may be particularly interested to discover how it is that an organisation which neither has to pay for a building to house it nor pay the board members that ostensibly run the place can find itself in such a dire situation.
The plight of the GUU should be particularly illuminating when compared to the Queen Margaret Union (QMU), which has stated that it has no financial troubles to report. As the University decides whether or not to provide an emergency bail-out to see the beleaguered GUU through its present troubles, management may well choose to reconsider the unique situation that sees Glasgow boasting two student unions rather than the customary one. Though many university unions have a number of premises around their campuses – Edinburgh, for instance, has four – most only have one board of management to pay for, with all the free food, alcohol and clothing allowances that that entails.
It is entirely possible that those in charge of allocating University funds to the unions – which, though financially distinct from the University, depend on Court to provide a generous allowance each year – may decide that students could get by with just one board of management running the show.
The separation of the two unions was initially ensured by the male/female split between them, but this has long since disappeared. It may well be that in order to fend off the onslaught of professionally run catering and drinking establishments, the two Glasgow unions have to set aside their friendly rivalry and join forces. Everyone at the GUU knows that the QM-ers are a bunch of sweaty goths, while most in the QMU will happily warn you off the drunken rugby-playing chauvinists at the GUU – but, as controversial as it would inevitably be, it may soon prove necessary for the unions to set aside their differences and join hands in holy matrimony. It might be a marriage of convenience, but their very survival could depend on it.
30 April 2008