National Union of Students (NUS) case study


Hilary Barnard provided design and consultation support in 2012 and 2013 to establish a generic competency framework for University Students’ Unions.  HBRL Consulting, of which he is co-founder with Ruth Lesirge, was commissioned by NUS Charitable Services to be their partner in this development.

Preliminary consideration by NUS had established that a customised competency framework was needed to reflect the specific tasks and conditions of University Students’ Unions.  Hilary drafted a detailed survey of Students’ Unions, to which there was a strong 52% response rate.  The survey identified Students’ Union needs in strengthening staff performance, and their experience with and views on competency and similar frameworks.   An early feature of the consultancy work was a series of consultation sessions, including a Values Workshop, with Students’ Union Chief Executives and HR specialists.

Hilary undertook a detailed literature review, including international comparisons, of competency development and comparable tools and methods that could raise and reward the performance of Students’ Union permanent staff.  This led to a positive choice for a behaviours based model for competencies.

Hilary developed an initial working model for a competency framework, which he then led in piloting with 5 Students’ Unions (of different sizes, student intake, finance, commercial activity and geography).  Based on feedback received, he refined the model to fit the needs of diverse Students’ Unions, around definition of key competencies, indicators and sources of evidence.  He led the development of an accessible workbook to support implementation of the competency framework.  He presented the competency framework model to dedicated workshops at two major NUS Conferences (SU2012 and SU2013).  Much awaited by University Students’ Unions, the framework has been widely welcomed and adopted.



The competencies framework complements existing definition of job roles and person specifications in Students Unions.  It makes explicit the expectations Students Unions have of their permanent staff, and assists line managers in coaching and developing staff to exceed those expectations. 

The competencies framework addresses the important and complex relationships needed between elected Sabbatical Officers, charitable Boards and staff in delivering the best services and experience to the student membership.

At the same time, the framework has scope to be adapted to meet specific local needs and requirements of Students’ Unions.