LSE Students' Union

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LSE Students' Union
LSE Students' Union Logo.jpg
Institution London School of Economics
Location East Building, Houghton Street, London, United Kingdom
Established 1897[1]
General secretary Nona Buckley-Irvine
Sabbatical officers Tom Maksymiw (Education Officer)
Sebastian Bruhn (Community & Welfare Officer)
Alastair Duncan (Activities & Development Officer)
Mahamid Ahmed (Postgraduate Officer)
Members 9914[2]
Affiliations National Union of Students
National Postgraduate Committee
Aldwych Group
BUC Sport
Mascot Biggles the Beaver

The London School of Economics Students' Union (sometimes referred to as LSESU) is the representative and campaigning body for students at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Like other Students' Unions, it also supports and funds a range of student activities of campus, including societies, sports clubs through the Athletics Union (AU), the Media Group and Raising and Giving (RAG) charitable fundraising initiatives. It is the only SU in Britain to have a weekly Union General Meeting (UGM).

The Union is affiliated with the National Union of Students (NUS), as well as being part of the federal Union for University of London students. It is also a founder member of the Aldwych Group, the national group of Students' Unions which mirror the members of the Russell Group, the top twenty research-intensive universities in the country.


Founded in 1897, LSE Students' Union is one of the oldest Students' Unions in the UK and is often regarded as one of the most politically active in the country, a reputation it has held since its origins, when it held fortnightly political debates known as the 'Clare Market Parliament'. The LSESU became notorious in the '60s as a hotbed for left-wing radicalism.

In 1905, the Students' Union founded the Clare Market Review journal, which ran until 1973 and has since been revived in 2008.[1]

After the First World War, the Students' Union expanded the range of societies and sports clubs its offered, aided by then Director of the LSE, William Beveridge, who expanded the LSE estate, including securing the Berrylands sportsground at New Malden, Surrey.

The political nature of the organisation continued in the 1930s, when the Communist Party were banned by the School from being active at LSE and a communist Students' Union President was expelled and deported. In 1937, the Students' Union gained its first premises, which became the Three Tuns Bar.

The Athletics Union (AU) was created as a constituent body of the Union in the 1940s, and The Beaver newspaper was established in 1947.[1]


LSE Students' Union made international headlines in the late 1960s during the well documented LSE student riots in 1966-67 and 1968–69,.[3][4] In 1967, David Adelstein, president of the Students' Union, and Marshall Bloom, president of the Graduate Students' Association (that then existed as a parallel Union for postgraduates), were suspended from the School for taking part in a protest against the appointment of Walter Adams as Director of the School, in which a porter died of a heart attack. Adams had previously been in Rhodesia and was accused of complicity in the regime's white minority rule. The suspensions were reversed five days later, after students began a hunger strike in opposition to the move.[5] An American citizen, Bloom committed suicide in 1969 when he was called up to fight in Vietnam.

The Union once again made the news during 1969 for its student activism when students closed the School for three weeks.[6] The protests were again against the appointment of Walter Adams as Director of the School and his installation of security gates at LSE. These initial security gates were removed by students.[7]

On 24 October 1968, Adams, fearing an occupation and growing support by the students for the anti-Vietnam War demonstration on 27 October, decided to close the LSE for the weekend. As this questioned the right of the administration to close LSE against the wishes of lecturers and students, the move led to 3,000 students occupying. During the occupation, the School was policed against intruders, and cleaned; teach-ins and discussions were organised; and medical services were set up and staffed. The occupation ended that Sunday night.[8]

In 1969, a "Free LSE" was organised at ULU in response to the suspension of lecturers Robin Blackburn and Nick Bateson. The radical tradition of the Union continued in the 1970s. However in 1971 there was a reaction against the student activism of the previous 5 years when Ian Camlett was elected President of the Student' Union. Ian was well known as a bit of a comedian and a very successful poker player and subsequent union meetings became major comedy events. His appointment made most of the major papers and he appeared on radio as well. It was seen as a major swing against the student activism of previous years but after his term ended the Union returned to its previous status albeit far less activist. The banner of the Students' Union in the early 1980s stated "Arm the workers and students - Education is a right not a privilege". Occupations of LSE occurred throughout the 1980s, including the 1983 occupation to secure the LSE Nursery. The name of the lead officer of the Union was changed from 'President' to 'General Secretary' during this period to show solidarity with striking miners. Meanwhile, Raising and Giving (RAG) Week activities were set up by future New Zealand MP Tim Barnett in the same period.[1]

In 1986, LSE students occupied the Old Building for 7 days, to protest against LSE investment in South African companies supporting the apartheid regime, following a decade of earlier such occupations and protests on US campuses.[citation needed] When the riot police attempted to storm the building, the students left immediately en masse without confrontation, marching to South Africa House to protest outside the Embassy, leaving the police at the Old Building in confusion.

In 1989, the Students' Union elected Winston Silcott, one of the Tottenham Three who were originally convicted of the murder of PC Keith Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm riot, as Honorary President as a protest against miscarriages of justice. Silcott was released when the evidence used to convict him was found to be unsafe, but the Students' Unions decision led to national press attention and a large amount of hate mail, including death threats sent to officers that led then General Secretary Amanda Hart to go into hiding.

In 2005 the athletic unions 'Barrell' event led to students doing a "fun run" down to Kings College and causing £30,000 of damage to the college's buildings.[1] There has always been a great rivalry between the LSE Students' Union and Kings College. Students from LSE stopped MP Enoch Powell speaking at Kings by occupying the lecture theatre and blowing whistles, followed by a small section of Kings students retaliating by leading a violent attempt to steal election ballot boxes during the 1983 officer elections.[citation needed]

In 2015 the Vera Anstey Room in the Old Building was occupied for six weeks by Occupy LSE, an organisation not officially affiliated with the LSESU, in protest against the perceived and largely unproven "neo-liberalisation" of LSE and the UK Higher Education system. The occupation ended after nine of their demands were met by the LSE management. In this time they also proclaimed the establishment of "The Free University of London" and complained about the depoliticised nature of the LSE campus, including the LSESU.


The Students' Union occupies the East Building, on Houghton Street, which is located in the heart of the School's City of Westminster campus. At the building's heart is 'The Quad', a multi-purpose venue with indoor seating, s stage, and social space, which is a Cafe during the day and doubles up in the evening as a club and live music venue. Two bars, the Three Tuns and the Underground, two shops, a print shop, a Gym, and squash courts also form part of the Union. The building also hosts Alpha Books, a second hand book shop.[1]

The Executive Committee has offices, known as the Kingsley Rooms, inside The Quad. The rooms are named after David Kingsley OBE, the first Sabbatical Officer President of the Students' Union during the 1950s. Upstairs, the Media Group have offices and studios. On the mezzanine floor of The Quad, there is a room known as the Activities Resource Centre, which houses a number of the Students' Union staff and which offers societies, sports clubs and other activities meeting and computer space, as well as printing services.[1]

Much of the centre of the Union, including the bars, was refurbished over summer 2009 at the cost of £200,000.[9]

Off campus, LSE rents a 25-acre (100,000 m2) sportground, known as Berrylands, in New Malden, Surrey, where the LSESU Athletics Union (AU) sports clubs play.[1]

New building

In 2009, LSE began a £35m project for to build a new building that will house the Students' Union. The project known as the 'Saw Swee Hock Centre', forms the second part of LSE's wider estate investment plan, following the opening of the New Academic Building (NAB) in 2008. The centre will be the first new structure on the School campus for more than forty years, and has an aim to be the "best student building in the world". Approximately 80% of the new building is entirely Students' Union space, including a 1000-person capacity venue, a new pub, smoothie bar, gym, aerobics studio, advice centre, media room (with radio booths), 6th floor roof terrace and Union offices (including Sabbatical Officers'). The building also houses LSE Residences and Careers department. The building opens in January 2014.[10]


The governance of LSESU has changed little in its history, run by a 12-strong directly elected 'cabinet', known as the Executive Committee ('Exec') who are also the Trustees of the union.

Five of these positions (General Secretary, Education, Welfare & Community, Activities & Development and Postgraduate) are full-time positions, known as Sabbatical Officers or 'Sabbs'. These are LSE students who have either completed their degree and elected to stay on another year, or students taking a year out from their studies to fulfil the role. Unusually, the Postgraduate sabbatical officer works part-time, but is paid. A salary of £27,000 per academic session is paid for each of the full-time roles. The Postgraduate Officer is paid two fifths of the full-time salary. A recent UGM motion capped their salaries after criticism that their pay was too high, however it remains the highest in the country compared to other students' unions. They are paid the average LSE graduates' starting salary. Sabbs hold no more constitutional weight on the Executive than the part-time officers, each holding one vote.[11]

The remaining eight positions on the 'Exec' comprise part-time, unpaid positions. These positions are LGBT Officer, Disabled Students' Officer, Anti-Racism Officer, Ethics and Environment Officer, Women's Officer, International Students' Officer, RAG (Raising and Giving) President, and AU President. The Union also has representative positions for PhD Students', Part Time and Mature Students' Officer and General Course.

Until 2010, the 'Exec' (except AU President and Returning Officer), were all trustees of the LSESU, and legally represented the Union, entering into contracts and representing the organisation in court. These trustees were all individually legally responsible for the Union's activities: they ensure the Union is compliant with legislation, they oversee its financial management, and they prioritise its resources on behalf of all the members.[12]

As of June 2010, a new separate trustee board, elected from students, has taken over this role.


Until February 2010, there were two principal sub-committees to which students were elected to assist in the governance of the LSESU. As a result of the reforms referendum held in February 2010, these were scrapped and replaced with a new committee, the Democracy Committee, to oversee constitutional appliance.

The Constitutional and Steering Committee (C&S) comprised seven members, who ensured the actions of the LSESU and Executive are in accordance with the Codes of Practice. They screen each motion of the weekly UGM. In February 2010, just weeks before their abolition following a referendum result, they were no-confidenced at the Union General Meeting and are no longer an existing body.

The Finance and Services Committee (FSC) has ten members and assists the Union Treasurer in the preparation of the annual budget and acts as a check on the financial actions of the LSESU. As of March 2009, their membership comprises the four sabbatical officers, Societies Officer, Environment & Ethics Officer and four lay-members.


The SU holds two sets of elections throughout the academic session, in October and March, to elect new officers and sabbatical officers. Use of the Single Transferable Vote and Alternative Vote PR systems has operated in recent years. These are one of the most well-attended SU elections in Britain, with LSE students taking their democratic view and opportunity extremely seriously, and there are strong campaigns by students each year prior to election days. The elections themselves are broadcast live throughout the night on both the School’s radio and television stations.

The 2010 Lent Term elections took place on Wednesday 3rd and Thursday 4 March, with the results announced between the evening of the 4th. For the first time in history, all voting was conducted through an online system. There was a turnout of 2,547 voters, up from 2,002 in 2009.

In the 2013 Lent Term elections, there was a record turnout of 2999 votes. Jay Stoll was elected as General Secretary with a record 1104 votes.

The Returning Officer

The Returning Officer has oversight for democracy in elections. The officer's role involves organising ballots of all student Union members with the assistance of the Union Staff, specifically the Democracy Co-ordinator. The Returning Officer is elected by the Democracy Committee from its members.

Notable achievements include the development of online voting by Adrian Beciri. In 2009, the rules were changed to allow candidates to utilise online campaigning. In 2009/10, the voting system was run entirely through online for the first time.

Union General Meeting (UGM)

The UGM is the sovereign body of the Union, and the LSE is the only university in the country which retains a weekly Union General Meeting open to all to attend where motions and ideas are discussed and debated. This is opposed to an annual gathering. Reasons for this largely stem back to the LSE’s radical past in the 1960s, but it has been upheld today, and meetings are well known to get heated, almost violent at some points. It is not uncommon for paper (and even other objects) to be thrown onto the stage of the Old Theatre whilst students debate and discuss motions, although the creation of a new role of "Keeper" is designed to prevent this. The UGM can remove any elected union official from office and sets union policy to which all elected officials must adhere, linked with the Constitutional & Steering Committee (C&S).

Any two people can move a motion on any subject, which is then debated at the UGM. These motions can be serious, setting policy and making major financial decisions, or can be much more light-hearted. Recent activity, including the linking with a Palestinian university has been met with much debate amongst the student cohort, especially in the wording of a letter sent from the General Secretary to Freshers at the beginning of the 2007 academic session. Regular meetings are also held with the School’s Director, and the heads of both ULU and the NUS.

Notable Sabbatical Officers

Recent Campaigns


In 2005, the Union campaigned successfully to secure a Living Wage for the cleaners on campus and within the LSE's residences. The campaign was led by students, cleaners, academics and The East London Citizens Organisation (TELCO) and has involved several protests, petitions, motions and lobbying of the School's administration in an effort to lift cleaners out of poverty pay.[13]

In 2006, the Union also voted to divest from fourteen listed arms companies and are currently lobbying the School to do the same.[1] In 2008-9 the priority campaign of the Union was to save the on-campus nursery from closure. In 2009-10 the Union lobbied LSE to allow students to have resits in their examinations.

In protest to LSE's ties to Libya's Gaddafi regime, the Students' Union led demonstrations and occupations, including one of the Director's office. The Union was chiefly responsible for LSE agreeing to convert all £300,000 it had received from Gaddafi into scholarships for Libyan students.[14]

Following a motion passed in March 2011, the priority campaign for 2011-12 was The Only Way is Ethics, campaigning for an ethical investment policy after the recent LSE Libya Links scandal, as well as a one person, one vote system for electing a new Director after Howard Davies' resignation.[15]


The LSE Students' Union, and particularly its Palestine Society, has campaigned in solidarity with Palestine and Palestinian students.

In 2007, the Union voted to twin with An-Najah National University Students' Council in Nablus, Palestine, and to affiliate to the Right to Education Campaign in support of the Palestinian Right to Education. In the same year LSE students elected as Honorary Vice President Khaled Al-Mudallal, a Bradford University student of Palestinian origin who was detained in Gaza.[16]

In January 2009, a 40-strong cccupation of LSE's Old Theatre by the Union's Palestine Society occurred in protest to the Gaza War, as part of a wave of occupations across British universities.[17] Students and alumni of the London School of Economics also began a campaign to allow a student, Othman Sakallah, to be able to leave Gaza and continue his studies at the university, which was supported by the Students' Union.[18]

In late 2009, the LSE Students Union passed a resolution to twin with the Islamic University of Gaza and support the Right to Education for students in Gaza.[19] In 2011 the Students' Union successfully ended LSE contracts with Israeli water company Eden Springs.[20]

At the 2014 Annual General Meeting, the Union departed from this line of activism and affiliated to 'Save a Child's Heart', an Israeli-based international humanitarian project, whose mission is to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children from developing countries who suffer from heart disease. This was seen as a symbolic move by the Union to recognise the importance of coexistence in the region.[21]

Fees and Education

The 2010-11 priority campaign was to fight against tuition fee increases in a campaign called Freeze the Fees. The Union's mascot was temporarily altered to a penguin. The LSE Students Union was central in the demonstrations against cuts and a trebling of fees in 2010. The campaign at the LSE was named the "strongest organising drive of any campus in two decades" by the leadership of the National Union of Students (NUS). Students went into occupation for 9 days and were profiled on Newsnight, CNN, Sky News and dozens of other news organisations.[22] Often protesters of fee costs, would write LSE as £$€.

The priority campaign for 2012-13 was entitled 'Defend Education', with a focus on supporting Graduate Teaching Assistants and improving the feedback that students receive.[23]


The priority campaign for 2013-14 signalled a new approach from LSESU. Rather than focus merely on one particular remit or issue, the sabbatical officers wished to show the breadth of work and influence covered by the Union, and therefore had four key components of the 'ONE LSE' strategy. Outlined in the ONE LSE video,[24] the four parts were: One home for sports and leisure (better facilities for sports and performance on LSE campus), ONE voice for international students, One standard of Education (in parallel with major changes proposed at the school level to increase departmental autonomy and larger classes), One housing network (online community network to allow LSE students to share private properties, navigate the London property market and learn the facts about tenants rights).


The Activities and Development Officer is responsible for ensuring the running of the Athletics Union, Media Group, Raising and Giving (RAG), and societies.[25]

Athletics Union

The LSE Athletics Union (LSEAU) is the body responsible for all sporting activity within the university. It is a member of the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS). Sports teams are wide-ranging from football (where the School excels nationally) to fencing, squash, badminton, aqua-hoc, polo, ultimate Frisbee and raquets. Particular rivalry is found with King's College London and also University College London. The Union operates the Gym in the Old Building, as well as numerous squash courts, badminton courts, a gymnasium, an indoor basketball court and tennis courts at the School’s central London location, with ownership of twenty-five acres of playing fields at Berrylands in south London, easily accessible by train and also by coaches which depart each day.

Students are permitted to use the facilities of other University of London colleges and those at Student Central comprising its own sports halls, courts, multigym and swimming pool. LSE’s cricketers use the indoor and outdoor facilities at Lord's Cricket Ground year-round. The LSE has a particularly strong association in rowing and has a boat house situated on the River Thames at Chiswick.

In comparison to the ‘blues’ awarded for sporting excellence at Oxford and Cambridge, London’s outstanding athletes are awarded ‘purples’.


The AU is governed by an elected Executive. The AU President, Harold Craston, was elected by all members of the Students' Union. The President is a Student Member of the Union's Executive. The AU Executive committee is elected by the members of the Athletics' Union at the end of the preceding year. Candidates for these positions must continue their studies the following year.

Media Group

The Beaver

A weekly student newspaper, The Beaver was founded in 1946, and as such is one of the oldest student publications in Britain. It has gained great clout in recent years, investigating campus, national and international issues and stories, including the issue of costly postgraduate degrees, student loans and examination pass rates. It has a weekly readership of approximately 5,000 and is distributed free across campus every Tuesday.

Clare Market Review

The Clare Market Review, established in 1905 and published termly, is an interdisciplinary academic journal run by students, and provides a critical forum for students and faculty.

PuLSE Radio

Pulse! Radio is the School’s own radio station, which was relaunched in October 2007 and broadcasts twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week on campus and online, as well as providing regular podcasts.

Raising and Giving (RAG)

Held every February, RAG Week is one of the biggest weeks in the LSESU calendar where every society, sports club and media outlet comes together in an effort to raise as much money as possible for charitable causes. Highlights often including the Pulse RAGathon - a week-long broadcast of the Union's radio station, with participants unable to leave campus, the Hacks vs. Jocks gunging event, inter-halls sports day and much more.


The Union is responsible for supporting and funding student societies ('socs') on campus, of which more than 200 are currently enlisted catering to a wide variety of interests.[26] There are over fifty national societies, reflecting LSE’s position as arguably the most international higher education establishment in the world, with around 65% of students coming from outside the United Kingdom. Additionally, there are societies reflecting the School’s background and interests including business, investment banking, NGOs and government organisations, arts societies and countless political societies.

Likely the oldest society at LSE, the 'LSESU 'Grimshaw International Relations Club, was founded in 1921.[27] It arranges study trips abroad. In 2013 it was central in controversy over a BBC Panorama documentary on North Korea, filmed inside the country with LSE students recruited through the society.[28]

LSESU International Week, initiated by Michael Lok in 2011,[29] is an annual event held in Week 5 of Lent Term (term two), during which the School's national and cultural societies unite for a week celebrating the international nature of the School through activities, sport, food, music and other events.

LSESU Debate Society has enjoyed successes on both the national and international debate circuits, for example in the finals of the World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC) in 2010 and 2011.


Grimshaw Club Trip to North Korea

Founded in 1923, the Grimshaw International Relations Society is one the oldest, and one of the most prestigious student organisations on campus. The IR group has had several controversial figures speak before such as Benazir Bhutto.[30][31] David Irving had been in negotiations to speak at LSE, before he was invited to speak at the Oxford Union to national outcry, in 2007.[32] During 2013, Grimshaw was caught in a maelstrom over a BBC Panorama documentary on North Korea, filmed inside the DPRK ..[33][34] The 'academic trip' caused international media attention, as a BBC journalist was posing as a doctoral student, undercover.[35] There was debate as to where this put the student's lives in jeopardy in the repressive regime if a reporter had been exposed.[36][37] Whether the LSESU or LSE themselves had sanctioned the reporter going undercover was hotly debated.[38] There were also fear of reprisals from North Korea agents, and if the Panorama episode should be broadcast at all.[39][40][41]

Censorship by Students' Union

The LSESU threatened members of the LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student Society with physical expulsion from the 2013 Freshers' Fair for wearing Jesus and Mo t-shirts.[42][43] A new Jesus and Mo comic was published in response.[44] The students complied with LSESU's demands to cover their shirts under the direct observation of LSE Security. In 2012, the LSESU passed a resolution condemning a similar Jesus and Mo image posted on the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student Society's Facebook page, and threatened the group with administrative action.[45][46] LSESU had had controversies before over the Israel-Palestine conflict with several sit in protests, and a mock Israeli check-point in regards to the defence wall in the West Bank run by LSESU Palestinian Society supporters.[47][48][49]


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External links