Nottingham University Students Association was established in 1878 to stem the decline inattendance of the university extension scheme in the town. The association aimed to encourage freshinterest in the scheme by bringing students closer together and providing them with a forum at whichto discuss the management of the scheme. The association was remodelled in June 1882 following theopening of University College Nottingham in 1881. The stated aim of the new association was tofurther the 'social and intellectual intercourse of students at the college'. New rules were drawnup, accommodation was found for the association in college premises and the first recorded meetingof Nottingham University College Students Association was in March 1884.
In its early years, the association organised debates, lectures, discussions, tea and coffeenights, soires, and trips to Oxford, Cambridge and Stratford Upon Avon. Other activities, such asstudent magazines and sport clubs, were maintained without association involvement. Theassociation's activities were gradually limited to organising Saturday evening social events and itceased to exist in 1909. In 1903, when the college received its charter of incorporation, a StudentsRepresentative Council was created comprising elected representatives from each department of theCollege and three members of staff acting as president, chairman and treasurer. The council tookover the main duty of organising student life and safeguarding student interests. It was replaced in1913 by the Students' Union.
The union was designed to promote unity, corporate responsibility and interaction betweenstudents. Its executive committee consisted of representatives elected by union members in the fourfaculties in proportion to their numbers. Subscription was voluntary, increased if the members wereinvolved in sports, and gave admission to all existing athletics clubs and affiliated societies. Amodest subscription to the union was made compulsory in 1920. By the charter of 1938, a unionpresident, was permitted to sit on the college Court and the 1948 charter increased unionrepresentation on the Court to three. The union occupied three common rooms in the Trent Buildingfrom 1928 until 1953 when it transferred to the newly opened Portland Building.
During the 1965/1966 session, the union was invited to introduce items of business to theSenate's Library Committee and Committee of University Halls. In May 1968, the union was permittedrepresentatives on several professional advisory committees including the Careers and AppointmentsBoard and the Committee for Military Education. In the same month, the union's president electbecame the first undergraduate to address the Senate, his subject being the proposal to create adisciplinary structure for the university. During that year, pressure grew from the nationalCommittee of Vice Chancellors and Principals and the Students' Union to widen student involvement inuniversity governance.
In 1969, a Senate sub-committee was set up to receive union submissions and this was followed inthe same year by the introduction of a Senate Board at which six student representatives could sit.In 1971, a student treasurer became the third union sabbatical officer, and the president andpast-president were invited to the unreserved parts of meetings of the Industrial Working Party andthe Quinquennial Estimates Committee. By the end of the year, following the transfer of reservedbusiness from Senate to faculty boards and boards of studies, union representation was finallysecured on the Senate. Incorporated changes to the Statutes and Ordinances in 1974 also permittedstudent representation on these boards.
The 1994 Education Act made membership of student unions voluntary and required universities toensure that their unions operated in a fair and democratic manner and were financially accountable.The constitution of the union was subject to Council approval and a code of practice was to beobserved by the union. In return, the union acquired a higher degree of autonomy and representation.In 2000, the union had two representatives on the university Council, and nine on the Senate.Membership of the union rose from about 300 in 1913 to 23,000 in 2001.