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EXCLUSIVE: More student unions could pass their debts onto students

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A number of UK universities could pass their debts on to students in the case of financial failure, we can reveal. 

Yesterday we reported that the University of South Wales (USW) added rules in 2013 allowing its students' union to pass its debt onto students and graduates. 

In her statement to us, USWSU President Megan Wilson implicated five more student unions that hold students liable for their debts saying that "this clause is typical of many other Students' Unions,' including, but not limited to, Durham, Sussex, Nottingham, Keele, Leeds and Oxford."

According to an annual report ending June 2016, the University of Oxford has made losses of £14,709 and was expected to end 2016-2017 with a deficit of £83,000. 

Whilst their unrestricted funds stood at £119.310 in 2015 (after ending the year on a £145,452 surplus), the more substantial loss in 2016 decreased reserves to £75,992

Section 7 of OUSU's Article of Association, titled 'Liability of Members,' states that there is the potential to incur a liability fee if the union ceases to exist, each member is expected 'to contribute to the assets of the Union in the event of its being wound up while he or she is a Member.' 

The clause goes on to add that members may be asked to pay towards the union's debts and liabilities if the union folds within one year of an individual's graduation or membership withdrawal. 

Students at all five universities are automatically opted in to be members of the union, with an option to opt out at any time depending on the union. 

On their website, University of Manchester SU states that members are entitled to opt out of the union within 10 working days of registering with the university, meaning that students will have to remain members after this time period - they will be liable to a fee if the union ceases to exist. 

Whilst the liability at Oxford with a population of 23,195, Sussex (17,319) and Nottingham (44,520) is limited to £1 per student, the union would be able to generate a combined tens of thousands in fees, even more, if they charge recent graduates.The liability fee is separate from the membership cost listed on some union pages. 

The constitutions go on to list that the money would be used to cover the unions' debts and liabilities and expenses of winding up the organisation. 

We also discovered that there are more universities with the same clause in their constitutions.

The liability of student union members of Coventry, DerbyLondon Met, Manchester, Queen Mary's  is limited to £1, whilst Chester SU is limited to 1p and King's College London to 10p.  

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