Tag Archives: URNU

Recruiting the new intake – the OTC, UAS and URNU on campus

The new academic year is about to start, Newcastle University’s campus will soon fill with people advertising student events, organisations and activities, and my thoughts turn again to that old chestnut, recruitment to the university armed service units (USUs) on university campuses.  It’s an interesting one to ponder, not least because of the diversity of views this generates.

The university armed service units – the Officer Training Corps (OTC), the University Air Squadrons (UAS) and the University Royal Naval Units (URNU) – are open only to university students.  University campuses are an obvious place for these organisations to recruit.  The fact of this happening elicits some fairly divergent opinions.  For some, this is no big deal.  For some, the unit activities on campus are a fabulous opportunity for people to consider joining an organisation they otherwise wouldn’t know about.  For some, recruitment to the units is a practice which should have no place on a university campus.

We did some research on the USUs a few years back, and one of the things we found (we did a survey of current participants across all the units) was the high a proportion of students for whom Freshers’ Week activities were a key source of primary information about the units.  In fact, it was the single most important source of information identified by people, looking back on their experience of joining.  There were of course participants who arrived at university with prior knowledge of the existence of these units, usually from family, friends and cadets, for example.  But for a significant proportion (about 30% overall) Freshers’ events were the primary source of information.

The gender split on this was also revealing.  For example:

  • For the OTC, 31% of women said Freshers’ events were significant, compared with 26% of men.
  • For the URNU, 48% of women said Freshers’ events were significant, compared with 26% of the men surveyed.
  • For the UAS, 30% of women said Freshers’ events were significant, compared with 18% of the men.

We thought then, and I am reminded of this again this year, that there is a fairly basic argument about equality of access to opportunities at play here, which the discussion about ‘recruitment on campus’ often overlooks.

This is not to say that USU recruitment practices and their effects are, across the board, exemplary strategies for encouraging diversity in the armed forces.  The picture is a whole lot more complex than that, not least because of the differential presence and reach of the units across the university sector.  To put this simply (if crudely), the logics of the history and geography of higher education in the UK mean that the dominance of Russell Group universities echoes across the USUs, their recruitment and existence, and the USUs may be absent entirely or only vaguely visible in many of the post-1992 institutions.  Our research did not explicitly look at differential access, whether in terms of class, ethnicity or other markers of social identity or difference.  But, I wonder whether there might be some use in a piece of research which looks in more detail than we were able to, at differential access to the units, and the way that this socially structured?

This would make a very good dissertation project for a USU-participating social science, sociology or geography student, at any rate.

Rachel Woodward


The research referred to above was conducted by Alison Williams, Neil Jenkings and Rachel Woodward, Newcastle University.

You can read The Value of the University Armed Service Units (the full book of the research findings) for free here.

We also published a paper in Political Geography on the connections between the universities and the military in the UK, available for free download here.