University Service Units (USUs)

The University Service Units (USUs), sometimes known as the university armed service units in recognition of their connection with the armed forces, comprise the University Royal Naval Units (URNUs), the University Officer Training Corps (UOTC) and the University Air Squadrons (UAS), which have, respectively, the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force as their parent services. USUs are funded through the defence budget, and affiliated to either a single university or a regional consortium of universities.

The USUs are open to British and Commonwealth students at UK universities. The USUs are selective, and participants are paid for their participation. USUs provide students with a taste of military life and training over their three years of participation.  Significantly USU students are not obliged to proceed to a military career following graduation, and this research has focused on the value of the USU experience to graduates who do NOT go on to serve in the Armed Forces, and to the UK military establishment in light of the fact that ‘enlistment’ is not the sole, or even main, value of USUs.

Why are the USUs of interest?

Anecdotal evidence and our pilot research suggested that the USUs have value to a number of different constituencies.  However, there was little consensus as to what, exactly, this value is, what it means to the different constituencies and how it is manifest. This question has continued to be particularly pertinent, given that USUs cannot be simply evaluated as recruitment tools for officers within the British Armed Forces. The research has addressed the question of USU value for the constituencies identified below, but not as a cost-benefit analysis in terms of recruitment and retention of officers.

The constituencies for whom USUs have value

There are five constituencies this research shall address:

1. Student participants in USUs who may (or may not) see value in their USU experience, through development of their transferable skills and the enhancement of their CV and their employment prospects that participation might bring. This was examined through a survey in spring 2013 of current USU participants.

2. Graduates of USUs who may (or may not) see value in their past USU experience, in terms of the personal attributes and transferable graduate-level skills which their USU participation may have inculcated. This was examined using semi-structured interviews with 54 graduates of OTCs, UASs and URNUs.

3. The three Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence which may (or may not) see value in funding the USUs, for recruitment purposes and for the opportunities the USUs present for informing a wider public of the roles and ethos of the British Armed Forces. This was explored through semi-structured interviews with a sampling of commanding officers from the OTC, UAS and URNU.

4. Universities which may (or may not) see value in hosting USUs, both for the opportunities units provide to students in developing graduate employability, and for the profile and marketing benefit which hosting a USU might bring. This was assessed by interviewing representatives from a small number of different types of higher education institution. 

5. Employers of USU graduates who may (or may not) see value in the USU experience, in terms of the skills and attributes developed in employees and brought to the labour market by job applicants. Data on this was generated primarily through the use of student, graduate, commanding officer and university reflections on their perceptions of the utility of the USU experience in the graduate labour market.