The biweekly council meetings have been held over Zoom since the start of the academic yearLouis Ashworth

SU discusses potential changes to the Cambridge term

Undergraduate President of the Student Union (SU), Ben Margolis, led a discussion regarding student workloads, stating his support for reorganising the existing structure of the Cambridge term in order to improve students’ social lives.

In the SU Student Loneliness Report last year, 62% of surveyed students felt the intensity of the Cambridge workload was a barrier to a healthy social life. Margolis said that in SU studies of the “Week 5 Blues”, it was made clear that students were becoming “burnt out halfway through term time”.

The Student Council discussed the addition of a reading week in the middle of term in order to allow students to catch up on work and actively pursue academic interests without deadline pressures.

There was also a suggestion that the University transition to a Monday-Friday week structure in order to provide students with more designated time for self-care and extracurriculars. Margolis called the current arrangement, with the week commencing on a Thursday, “really damaging to student social lives” and argued that adjusting the placement of the weekend could have a “cultural effect” on student wellbeing.

During the discussion, the Council also noted positive feedback from JCRs on the success of a full Freshers’ Week in Michaelmas 2020, to allow staggered moving-in for students as a result of the pandemic. It was generally agreed that, with the aim of making the settling-in period for new students a less rushed process, maintaining a full Freshers’ Week next year was something worth discussing further in future SU meetings.  

Council votes in favour of Rent Strike support

The Council voted in favour of supporting the demands of the Cambridge Rent Strike campaign, with 65% voting in favour, 23% against, and 12% abstaining.

The passing of this motion, in practice, means that the SU will support the demands of the campaign, promoting them to the University on the behalf of the campaign, support the rights and welfare of strikers, and publicise information relating to the campaign.

The SU notes state that “the University and Colleges are currently failing in their duty of care to their community.” 

In the preceding discussions at the meeting, a representative of the Fitzwilliam JCR noted that the proposals could “antagonise” colleges, which are already facing financial difficulty due to the pandemic. 

SU proposes further support for transgender students 

A motion to support the rights of transgender students was proposed by the SU Women’s Officer, which, if passed, will mandate the SU to push for a centralised Gender Expression Fund. 

This fund would aim to help students purchase items that allow them to feel more comfortable in their gender expression, such as binders, and to mitigate the high costs of these items which can make them inaccessible, according to the notes provided at the meeting.

The notes added that “No student should face barriers from accessing appropriate support [...] due to their gender identity,” and reported that “close to 50% of trans and non-binary respondents [to the 2017/18 Big Cambridge LGBT+ Survey] found the process of changing their pronouns and names on the University’s systems to be complex or very complex.”

If passed, the SU will also commit to promoting gender-neutral options in all application and registration systems at the University, and “more accessible and inclusive admissions policies” at female-only colleges, citing Murray Edward’s policy to accept anyone who “has taken steps to live in the female gender.” 

The motion will be voted on by the Student Union’s next council meeting, on February 15th.

Funding Extensions for final year PhD students discussed

The Student Council also discussed a motion proposed by Jennifer Ward George, requesting funding extensions for current final year postgraduates until they complete their studies. With postgraduates struggling to continue research in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, the Council heard how the University’s completion rates are currently being put at risk. This is a problem that has particularly affected international students, some of whom are facing visa issues.

While it was raised that the SU does not want to disadvantage incoming PhD students by prioritising final year postgraduates, the extent of the disruption faced by an entire cohort of postgraduates across ten months was emphasised fully by the proposer.


Mountain View

Cambridge Student Union calls for University to “equalise accessibility” for international interviewees

The motion will be voted on in two weeks time: if passed, the SU will commit to promoting a minimum 6-month funding extension for final year PhD students, and will publish a statement of support for PhD students.

Motion to resolve International applicant difficulties unanimously approved 

The Student Council voted unanimously in favour of resolving the difficulties faced by international applicants to Cambridge.

As detailed in a recent Varsity article, this will aim to equalise accessibility for international interviewees, with the SU resolving to lobby the University to “maintain and develop more extensive online interviewing services beyond the pandemic”, “give at least three-weeks interview notice for international applicants” to attend in-person interviews and expand interview opportunities to “Africa, Oceania and South America.”

In a brief discussion accompanying the vote, one student representative voiced hopes that this would trigger a move towards also increasing interview accessibility for disabled and financially-disadvantaged UK students.