How we do democracy at RHSU

From elections and Bright Ideas, to referenda and consultations, find out how our democratic structures enable student voices to be heard en masse across all aspects of the Students' Union.

Democracy genuinely underpins everything that we do within the Students’ Union. From elections and Bright Ideas, to referenda and consultations, the student voice is heard en masse across all aspects of the Union.

As you heard from Kate yesterday, we utilise both direct democracy (where everyone gets the opportunity to vote on the outcome of a decision) and representative democracy (where people elect officials to make decisions that reflect the wishes of those they represent). Both these types of democracy are seen across the Union.


You can’t really avoid elections when it comes to students’ unions. Be it electing your department reps and Collective convenors when you first start the academic year, to voting for the sabbatical officers who will be leading the Union for the next academic year, or handing over the leadership of your club or society at the end of the year – your vote is your voice.

To vote, you just need to be a member of the Students’ Union (don’t worry, you automatically become a member when you enrol at Royal Holloway). Some elections will have specific audiences based on the representative nature of their role (for example, the Music department rep can only be voted in by Music students) or will be limited to a specific membership (i.e. only those with a membership to the Pokémon Society being able to vote for their next committee).

Elections are, generally, needed to ensure representative roles are filled, and it is these roles that ensure your voice can be heard without needing to have all 10,000+ of you in a room to do so!

Meet your SU Elections candidates


But it is not just elections that need a vote!

A referendum is essentially the way in which members can make changes to the way in which the Union is run. The option to call a referendum can be used in six situations, as set out in Byelaw B of our Constitution, to agree, amend or reject union positions or to hold those in a trustee or sabbatical position to account if that is not being done in other avenues.

In the past, we’ve held referenda on whether the Union should support the UCU strike action, passed a policy on ‘No Platform for Hate Speech on Campus’, as well as changing our Constitution following our Democracy Review way back in the 2018/19 academic year.

There are other ways too.

Sometimes, democracy and voice aren’t as obvious or high level, but there are still ways for you as a student body to have your voices heard.

Bright Ideas, which returned last week after a year long hiatus, is a platform where you can submit your idea for making change to the University, Students' Union, or local area, and the wider student body can upvote or downvote the idea based on whether they think it’s a good thing for the Union to take forward.

The three VPs each oversee an Executive that receives termly (or more often) updates on their work and help to generate ideas to move forward. Each member of the Executive is elected to the committee, either through direct election or through it being a responsibility of their position (such as school reps and Collective convenors).

As you can tell, democracy is fundamental to everything we do and we aim to make it as transparent and accessible as possible. The areas listed in this article are just some of the ways that you, as a student, can have a direct impact on our work through democracy – by running for one of our representative roles, and by voting for those who represent you!