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Explained:The Students’ Association Trustee Board

ByCraig Buchan

Mar 15, 2021
Image shows the Potterow dome with trees.

With the Sabbatical Officer elections completed, the new team of five Sabbatical Officers will be running the Edinburgh University Students’ Association for the next year. 

But the five Sabbatical Officers are merely a small part of governing the Association. It is the Trustee Board who are ultimately responsible for the wellbeing of the organisation. 

Who is on the Trustee Board? 

All five Sabbatical Officers sit on the board but they do not hold a majority. There are four Student Trustees who are recruited by application from the student body and three External Trustees, chosen from out with the university for their experience and expertise. 

The Students’ Association also has a CEO and Senior Management Team who attend Trustee Board meetings, but they are there to provide advice and support, not to contribute to making decisions. 

What do the Trustee Board do? 

The Trustee Board meet every 2 months. During these meetings the Board is presented with reports and papers which they approve and sign off on.  

The trustees are responsible for the financial and legal health of the Students’ Association. Scrutinising the financial accounts and development strategy are key components of the role. 

The day-to-day running of the Association is delegated to senior staff so that the Board can focus on long term strategy. 

The Board is not supposed to be political, and the Sabbatical Officers alone are responsible for the political direction of the Students’ Association. 

What have the Trustee Board been up to? 

Much of the Trustee Board’s time this year has been spent discussing measures to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The Board’s minutes from the September meeting reveal schemes offering voluntary redundancy and hours reductions to staff to reduce long term costs were considered, as the Government job support scheme was considered inadequate. The minutes also show one trustee to be “concerned about the future survival of the organisation.” 

The September minutes also reveal discussion around a need to “review priorities” for providing services and opening buildings given reduced footfall and financial restrictions. 

The absence of Festival income is also noted, with this contributing to a £1.5 million deficit noted in the November meeting minutes. 

The November meeting featured discussion of the end of year financial audit, and the difficulty of this as “not all documents required were online,” and that this is a “business continuity risk”.  

Some financial and staff-related decisions and discussion points are redacted from Trustee Board minutes, which can be found on the Students’ Association website. 

What are the subcommittees? 

Trustees sit on at least one of the Board’s four subcommittees, which consider one aspect of the Board’s job in greater detail. 

The Governance Subcommittee ensures the structure of the Association is effective and looks at ways to improve it. 

The Strategic Development Subcommittee looks at long term plans for the services, including commercial operations like bars and cafes, that the Students’ Association provides. 

The financial security of the organisation, as well as the legal issues the Association faces, is discussed by the Finance, Audit and Risk Subcommittee. 

And the People and Culture Subcommittee looks at what the Association is like to work for, both for paid staff and volunteers. It also considers the Trustee appointment process. 

How do you become a trustee? 

One way of becoming a trustee is to be elected as a Sabbatical Officer. The next opportunity for this will be in 2022. 

Recruitment for a Student Trustee was started in January. Another Student Trustee position is due to be vacated in July, so another opportunity will arise then. 

Applicants for the Student Trustee role are interviewed by a Sabbatical Officer, a student and an External Trustee.  

Image: Flickr