It claims student unions come with a price tag of £165million a year – the equivalent of £225 per student over a three-year course. The report states that although unions employ around 600 sabbatical officers, only a small minority of students participate in elections. Accusing many unions of using cash to pursue a “narrow political agenda,” it reports attempts have been made to stop youngsters “wearing sombreros, putting on fancy dress, buying Bacardi rum, clapping, whooping, cheering and eating meat.”
The report, State of the Unions, warns these bodies have sought to limit free speech by banning publications, barring groups from freshers’ fairs and banning speakers.
It says this has made “Jewish students, Christians, conservatives, and traditional feminists” feel “uncomfortable on campus”.
Former Home Secretary Sajid Javid welcomed the report, saying: “British universities are meant to be places of open debate and intellectual freedom.
“Their proud tradition of liberalism is foundational for bringing students into contact with new and challenging ideas.
“That tradition is under threat. In student unions across the UK, an intolerant minority is seeking to silence those they disagree with under the banner of no-platforming and safe spaces.
Their campaign of censorship is an assault on one of our most precious and fundamental rights – freedom of speech.
“Protecting legal free speech should be one of the higher education sector’s top priorities.”
The report calls for the recreational, sports and academic functions of unions to be separated. Only those elements, it argues, should receive university funding.
A National Union of Students spokeswoman said: “This is a poorly researched publication that contains a number of serious errors and/or outright misinformation.
At a time when people are worried about where to get trustworthy information online, it’s concerning to see high-profile politicians supporting something like this.”