This administrative history of the student body has been arranged into three chronological sections:
- 1880-1900 relating to the Mason College Union
- 1900-1930 relating to the development and early organisation of the student body at the University of Birmingham under the management of the Guild of Undergraduates committee
- 1930- relating to the Guild of Undergraduates under the management of the Guild Council, covering several periods of restructuring and reform, and the expansion of administration. The Guild of Undergraduates became known as the Guild of Students in 1971
This is followed by a separate section on student buildings and facilities throughout the whole chronological period
It was resolved to form an association of students at a student general meeting held during the first academic session of Mason Science College. This association was for present and former regular day students, and was modelled on the association for students that had been formed at Owens College [Manchester]. It was to be known as Mason College Union, and the affairs of this student society were to be managed by a committee. The founder of Mason Science College was to be the life president of the society, and the professors and their wives were appointed vice-presidents. Later on the Bailiff of the College served as president. The rules of the society state that any sub-committees would report to the general committee, and that ordinary meetings were to be held every other Friday, with an annual business meeting to be held early each academic session. The general committee included the editor of the Mason College Magazine, which was run by an editorial board. During the 1890s, sub-committees were formed to deal with specific activities of the Union, the most active of which seems to have been the dramatic sub-committee, formed c.1893. There was also a canvassing sub-committee by 1895.
Ordinary meetings of the Mason College Union seem to have had a primarily social function. Lectures and papers were given; debates were organised; and notices of forthcoming social events organised by the Union were read out to those attending. Organised cultural events included readings, plays and musical evenings in which College staff also took part. A common room for students was opened in 1884, and College societies including the Botanical society, Chemical society and Physical society were formed. As well as the athletics club, there were also leisure interest clubs for cycling and tennis. Some of the societies published magazines. These included the Queen's Medical Magazine, the official organ of the Medical Society, established 1895.
Following the establishment of the University of Birmingham, Mason College Union became Birmingham University Union. The Union, run by the general committee, continued to organise social events for the student body. This organisation later became known as the Union Committee. Unlike other universities, the 'Union' at Birmingham continued to refer to the facilities used by the student body, rather than the student body itself. The use of the term Union also became synonymous with the physical buildings.
The Guild of Undergraduates was set up as a body for undergraduates, for the furthering of their common interests, provided for by the Charter of the University, although it appears to have only been formally constituted in 1907. The functions and activities of this student body were managed by the Guild of Undergraduates Committee, elected annually by the undergraduates. It was intended to be the recognised means of communication between the undergraduates and the Court of Governors, Council, Senate and university authorities. It was authorised to make representation to the Council or Senate on any matter affecting the interests of undergraduates, and according to the 1906 Guild Handbook, from its beginnings had representatives on the Court of Governors. For the first few years of its existence it appears to have held very few meetings and it seems that it confined its attention to educational problems. It also only catered for undergraduates, that is, those reading for a degree. The Guild of Undergraduates established a Students' Representative Council [SRC] in autumn 1901, following discussions between the general committee and the Athletic Club, to administer issues relating to self-government of the student body. The stated aims of the SRC were to represent all students, whether reading for a degree or not, in matters affecting their interests; afford a recognised means of communication between the students and university authorities; and promote athletic and social life and unity among students. In effect, the SRC dealt with practical aspects of student life while the Guild of Undergraduates Committee seems to have confined its influence to educational matters during the early years of its existence. A constitution for the SRC was drawn up by a provisional committee, and the SRC took over the management of the student athletic and social societies and the University of Birmingham Magazine from the old Mason College union committee. In the 1902-1903 academic session the SRC consisted of about twenty members elected annually by students; officers of the Guild of Undergraduates; and an Executive Committee. The SRC appears to have been dissolved in May 1903 following a dispute over restrictions on the control that the committee had over how funds from entrance fees provided by University Council were allowed to be spent on athletic and social activities. The SRC's proposal for amendments to arrangements whereby it would become more of an executive and less of an advisory body was turned down, and as a result the committee carried out a resolution to resign. From this point the Guild of Undergraduates began to taken on a greater role as the representative of the entire student body, through the Guild of Undergraduates committee. However, a large proportion of the members of the university were not represented on the Guild of Undergraduates committee because they were not undergraduates and were therefore not eligible for membership of the Guild. This committee decided policy and took major decisions, but the bulk of the work of the Guild of Undergraduates was delegated to sub-committees. Officers of the Guild during the early twentieth century consisted of a Warden, President, Vice-President, Honorary Secretary and Honorary Treasurer. The Warden, Secretary and Treasurer were permanent positions. During the 1920s, a clerk was appointed to the Guild to deal with wage payments, receipt of Union cash, applications for rooms, filing, typing and book-keeping, as well as to act as clerk for the Union Committee and to the Guild of Undergraduates committee, if required. This appointment was recommended by the Union Commission.
Guild Council replaced the Guild of Undergraduates committee in 1930, coinciding with the culmination of the work of the Union Commission and the completion and opening of the first dedicated building for student use on the Edgbaston campus, the Guild or Union building off Edgbaston Park Road. Again, the majority of the work of Guild Council was delegated to sub-committees, but these sub-committees were designated standing committees reporting to Guild Council. The number and nature of these committees, as in the period before 1930, fluctuated to varying degrees over time. There are some committees known to have existed for which no records survive. Brief information about these committees can be found in the description for UB/GUILD/C. There are also administrative histories for some committees and other bodies in section descriptions elsewhere in this catalogue.
The Guild of Undergraduates was, and remains, ultimately accountable to University Council, although the policy of Council is to allow it a large measure of autonomy in order for it to have authority over its own affairs and responsibility for the well being of the student body. Representatives on Guild Council were elected from constituencies formed amongst the academic departments which each returned councillors for one academic session only. These councillors sat as full members. The make-up of Guild Council was completed by the President and Vice-President, elected for one session only, and by the co-option of the chairmen of the sub-committees, later standing committees, that represented the main Guild activities and interests. At first meeting of each session, Council elected the remaining officers of the Guild from its number or from other full members of the Guild, and these officers formed the Executive, who were responsible to Council for the day to day running of the Union buildings and facilities. The Executive acted as the steering committee for Guild Council and in effect initiated Guild policy. It was responsible for the sub-committees, later standing committees of the Guild, and the chairs of these committees sat on the Executive in addition to the Guild President and other senior, later called sabbatical officers of the Guild. By the early 1990s, the Executive committee was made up of thirteen students elected by cross campus ballot which ran the Guild on a weekly basis and were responsible for running Guild campaigns.
Guild Council met fortnightly under chairmanship of the President of Guild, proceeding on the lines laid down by the constitution. General Meetings could be called by President or one hundred members of Guild Council. From the 1938-1939 academic session Guild Council meetings were held in open session. Under the constitution, Guild Council was empowered to make bye-laws to enact the manner under which principles of the constitution were put into effect.
By the 1933-1934 session the clerk, a post created in the 1920s, was responsible, under the Treasurers, for accounts of the Guild, Union and Entertainments committees and also assisted with Athletic Club book-keeping. Income of the Guild was used in the support of Athletic Club, Union and Mason College branches and consisted of membership fees paid by students. The Guild Secretary was responsible for the secretarial work of the Executive, Guild Council and General Meetings, and also for the explanation of interpretation of the constitution and bye-laws. Other administrative work was undertaken by the small number of permanent staff employed by the Guild. As student numbers expanded in the years after the Second World War, the officers responsible for the management of the Guild also increased. By the 1956-1957 session, for example, officers consisted of a Warden, Senior Treasurer, President, Vice-President, Guild Secretary, Guild Treasurer, Union Secretary, Union Treasurer and Guild Club Secretary. There was also a Chairman of External Affairs, an Internal Affairs Representative and a Permanent Secretary. The Guild Treasurer acted as secretary to the Finance Committee, and the Union Secretary was responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Union building as well as being secretary to the Union committee. The Union Treasurer was also Chairman of the Union Catering committee and represented the Guild on the University Refectory committee. By 1965, this post was known as Chairman of the Catering committee.
By the 1962-1963 session, additional posts included the Assistant Guild Secretary, who acted as secretary of the Executive committee and was responsible for the conduct of Guild elections; and the Guild Relations Officer, responsible for publicity within the Guild and general public relations. This post was created for the 1960-1961 session. The creation of other officers to join the Executive committee continued during the 1960s with the creation of new standing committees. The chair of the External Affairs committee, the National Union of Students committee chairman, from 1963, and the chairman of the Guild Athletic Union, from 1965, became officers on the Executive committee. The Internal Affairs Representative, responsible for the provision and organisation of entertainment within the Guild was also chairman of the Entertainments committee. The posts of Union Secretary and Union Treasurer had been abolished by the late 1960s, and their responsibilities presumably taken over by the chairman of the Union Services committee. It appears to have been traditional for the President of the Guild to be male, and for the Vice-President, most years, to be female, although Elizabeth Stephens Impey was first female President of the Guild of Undergraduates for 1907-1908, and a male was elected to the Vice-President post in 1969-1970.
As part of the changes introduced following the 1968 dispute between members of the student body and the university authorities concerning the level of student representation within the university, the Arts and Science and Engineering faculties gained student representation on Faculty Boards by 1970-1971, co-ordinated by Faculty Councils, which were democratically elected bodies bearing responsibility for presenting student opinion to Faculty Boards. There was also a Faculty Council of Commerce and Social Science. Students were also represented on the University Centre committee by 1971-1972. In addition, by the 1974-1975 session there was also a system of student representation through Junior Common Rooms in halls of residence. These were initially completely autonomous of the Guild, although there was co-operation on matters of policy concerning Halls which were increasingly being decided jointly. The Guild represented all hall students on other issues. Reforms to Guild Council including the establishment of an independent Chairman were introduced for the 1975-1976 session, and during the early 1980s there were further reforms to the composition of the Executive. In addition to the President, officers during the 1980-1981 session consisted of Vice Deputy President, Vice-President Internal, responsible for running the Union building and other administrative tasks, Vice-President External, dealing with the Guild's relationships with the city of Birmingham and the university authorities, and Vice-President Academic Affairs, as well as Guild Secretary, Guild Treasurer, the Independent Chairman of Guild Council and the Deputy Independent Chairman of Guild Council. There was also a short-lived post of Vice Deputy President during the early 1980s. The Vice-Presidents chaired a number of standing committees each during this period. Further re-structuring of officers took place during the late 1980s and 1990s to reflect the changing focus of Guild activities. Officers for the 1989/90 session consisted of President, Vice President Welfare and Finance, Vice President Services and Building, and Vice President Education and Communication as well as Guild Secretary and Guild Treasurer and the chairs of standing committees in existence at the time. More officers were to be elected to the Executive Committee including sports officer, officers acting for groups like the Women's Association and for International students, and officers without portfolio.
The 1992-1993 annual report of the Guild of Students uses the term 'Sabbatical Officers' for the roles of President, VP Education and Welfare, VP Finance, VP Communications and VP Services and Buildings, indicating that these were paid positions. The other members of the Executive were non-sabbatical officers, and by the 19961-1997 session these included the Guild Secretary, Women's Officer, International Students Officer, Sports Officer, Campaigns Officer, Residence Liaison Officer, Postgraduate Students Officer, and Union Users Officer. Further re-structuring of the roles and responsibilities of the sabbatical officers was implemented for the 1997-1998 session. The role of President was now shared by the President and General Secretary, who also took on the role previously carried out by the VP Communications. The work of the VP Finance was now split between the VP Sport and Student Activities and the VP Leisure and Resources. This latter post replaced that of VP Services and Buildings. Finally, the work of the VP Education and Welfare was now undertaken by a VP for Education and a VP for Welfare. For the 1998-1999 session further changes seem to have been implemented; the Executive was made up of the President, VP Welfare, VP Education, VP Internal Affairs, VP Finance and Services, VP Sports and Student Activities, Union Users Officer, Residences Liaison Officer, providing a link between the halls of residence and the Guild, and two non-portfolio officers. During the 1990s, a division appears to have been made between the activities of standing committees dealing with Guild commercial services and those dealing with Guild welfare services. Permanent staff at the Guild from the mid 1990s consisted of a permanent secretary, deputy permanent secretary, director of the Guild Athletic Union, Director of student activities, Director of marketing, and Director of Finance and Planning.
In February 2008 the student body voted in a Referendum to change the way the Guild of Students was legally structured, resulting in the re-writing of the constitution and bye laws, and the review of the structure of key committees. The Guild became a Charitable Company Limited by Guarantee.
Union buildings and facilities
The first student facilities consisted of a Club House in Great Charles Street which was opened in 1905 with the support of lay Vice-Chancellor Beale. Membership of the Club was voluntary, and it was used mainly by Edmund Street students. For students at Edgbaston there were common rooms and a refectory. In 1909 facilities on both sites were open to all students and a compulsory annual subscription fee was introduced. By the time Charles Grant Robinson was appointed as vice-chancellor and principal in 1919, there was a growing realisation that students would need a dedicated building on the Edgbaston campus. Grant Robinson was interested in student life, and made efforts to better organise Guild financial affairs, and to call for better social facilities for students at Birmingham, culminating in the construction of a dedicated students' union building at Edgbaston. This was made possible by an unconditional gift of £100,000 by Sir Charles Hyde in 1925, who specified that part should be used for that purpose. The 1923-1924 annual report refers to the existence of a sub-committee discussing the possibility of a Union building, but indicates that the report had not yet been compiled. The Union Commission was established by the 1925-1926 session to investigate the possible merger of the various clubs under a central management and to prepare a scheme for the construction of a Union building. The Union Commission was made up of representatives of the Guild of Undergraduates; the Council; the Guild of Graduates; the Men's and Women's Clubs; and the Athletic Club. Recommendations were made after visits by members to other Students' Unions. The committee recommended that the Students' Union building be under the control of a Union Management committee responsible to the Guild of Undergraduates, consisting of fifteen members: eight appointed by the Guild of Undergraduates committee; two by the Council of the University; two by teaching staff; and two by the Guild of Graduates. The remaining member was to be the Treasurer, who would not be a member of the Guild of Undergraduates, but would be appointed by the Guild of Undergraduates committee, on the nomination of the Union Management committee. The President of the Guild of Undergraduates would be the President of the Union Management committee. The Commission also recommended that a Students' Union building be erected at Edgbaston 'on or about the site immediately East and South-East of the Physics building, where there is at present a bowling green, property of the staff'. The report gives details of the accommodation to be provided in this new building. By the time of the 1927-1928 annual report of the Guild of Undergraduates, the University had purchased the site on the corner of University Road and Edgbaston Park Road and final plans for the Students' Union building had been approved by the Union Commission and passed by the University Council. Building was to commence in 1928. A Temporary Advisory committee was set up by the Guild committee March 1928 to consider the launching of a Union Appeal. Four sections were appointed by the Union Commission during the 1928-1929 session to deal with matters concerning the Guild of Undergraduates, the Athletic Club, the University Club and the Women's Club. The building was to be named the Guild of Undergraduates Union. The Union Commission completed its work during the 1929-1930 session and presented an interim report and final comprehensive report to the Guild committee, which was passed 27 May 1930. This report contained a complete draft constitution and bye-laws for the Guild and Debating Society since changes were necessitated by the inclusion of arrangements for the management of the Union. The Guild of Undergraduates committee was dissolved, and replaced with the Guild Council. Management of the Union buildings and facilities remained under the control of the Union committee.
Before the union building was established at Edgbaston, and even afterwards for students on the Edmund Street site, there was a Men's Club and Women's Club in the city centre. The Men's Club in Great Charles Street consisted of the Founders room, used for concerts, socials and meetings, a dining room, billiard room and a room for reading and writing. Rooms granted to University Club members at buildings at Edgbaston included a common room and dining hall during the 1920s, but social events and functions had to be held at Great Charles Street because of the lack of space. Before the 1923-1924 session, the University Women's Club consisted of the Edmund St branch with a sub-section at Edgbaston with its own sub-committee. There was also a separate Education Department Club. Following a change to the constitution in 1923-1924, the Women's Club now consisted of three sections: Edmund St; Education Dept; Edgbaston. There was one president and each section elected its own vice-president and officers and was self-governing. No student could belong to more than one section. During the 1927-1928 session, the Edmund St and Education Dept sections of the Club were merged. The Union premises at Great Charles St were converted into the University Overseas Club by the British Council during the 1942-1943 session, to provide a meeting place for social and cultural activity in Birmingham for members of Allied and Dominion forces stationed near Birmingham who were graduates and undergraduates of Birmingham and other universities. The Club was administered by a committee containing representatives of the University, the British Council, the Guild of Undergraduates, and the Guild of Graduates. The British Council withdrew from the Club at Christmas 1945 and the Club was to again become a Union branch. There had been a Student Reception committee and Programme committee for the Overseas Club, and a Finance committee was also started. The varied membership was seen to be an improvement on the days when it was a simple 'Union Branch'.
Improvements to facilities at the Union building at Edgbaston included the construction of a catering wing, which opened in June 1951. This wing provided two dining rooms known as Priestley and Vernon halls. Evening meals were provided in addition to lunches. Further extensions to the Union building were completed in 1960-1961 and the university buildings at Edmund St and the University Guild Club premises at Great Charles St closed down July 1960 due to the consolidation of all university departments on the Edgbaston site. Women students living in University House and men students living in Chancellor's Hall and Manor House during the 1950s were catered for in the evenings, but by 1969 all the Vale halls of residence had opened, allowing many more first year students to eat in hall rather than being catered for in the Union building. However, the eating places and bars in the Union continued to be heavily used, along with the other social and leisure facilities there, managed by the Union committee, later known as the Union Services committee, which was eventually replaced by the Finance and Services committee.