Our partnerships

Where possible, UNISON works with employers to run learning programmes for members in a variety of subjects. To deliver this, we work in partnership with a number of well-known networks and programmes.

Open University

The Open University and UNISON partnership is based firmly on a shared goal – to widen access to education and training to extend learning opportunities to those who have previously been unable to access them. To achieve this goal, both partners bring their own unique contribution and style. Together, we are committed to ensuring lifelong learning is a right, not a privilege and we are able to offer a flexible programme of learning and skills development that will help you to realise your personal and professional goals. We have a very successful track record with over 6,500 UNISON members having studied an accredited OU course since the partnership was established in 1997.

The UNISON/OU partnership website contains a wealth of information about how UNISON and the OU work together, easy access to free learning resources and advice and guidance on progression to Open University study.

UNISON/Open University website

Our one-day workshops see an expert facilitator visiting a workplace, local UNISON branch or OU office to deliver a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) session. This is either a half day or full day’s taught session which takes participants through a variety of materials, activities and discussions in order to improve knowledge and understanding around a specific topic. Topics include dementia awareness, behaviour management in schools and counselling skills.

Social Partnerships Network

UNISON, the Open University and other partners in the Social Partnerships Network are also working to create a more diverse Higher Education system.

The aim of the network is to jointly drive the social inclusion agenda and develop ways of reaching out to potential adult learners. We are working together to develop strategies to meet the needs of diverse learners, supporting lifelong learning, social mobility and workplace learning.

The network membership includes The Open University, WEA, unionlearn, NIACE, NEC, NCVO, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Learndirect and the Association of Colleges.

Download the Social Partnership Network vision

The Workers’ Educational Association (WEA)

UNISON and the WEA have a long-standing partnership dedicated to bringing free learning opportunities to adults from groups who have traditionally felt excluded from education or workplace training. WEA tutors teach many of the courses listed above, including Return to Learn and Women’s Lives.

Founded in 1903, the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) is a charity and the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education.

National Extension College (NEC)

The NEC offers educational opportunities and second-chance learning to people for whom attending regular classes at a school or college would not be possible.

The NEC provides distance learning course which include GCSEs and A Levels, and qualifications in childcare and early years.

The NEC offers a 10% discount to UNISON members on all its courses.


Unionlearn is the learning arm of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). It offers support and advice to all union members and to Union Learning Representatives (see below), it administers the Union Learning Fund (see below) and it works with Government and other organisations to represent the interests of unions and their members.

NHS Social Partnership Forum (England)

We have worked closely with the NHS Social Partnership Forum (England) on the ‘Learning for Life’ campaign to raise awareness and encourage learning and skills development for all NHS staff.

The campaign supports the role of union learning reps, and makes the business case for the benefits of workplace learning and the positive impact on patient care.

A campaign toolkit with supporting information, a model workplace learning agreement, resources and case studies is available on the social partnership forum website: