The GU has survived after a University Council voteSimon Lock

The University Council has unanimously voted to continue to recognise the Graduate Union as representative of graduate students, Varsity can reveal.

The vote came after the University Council heard a report presented by a working group, which was headed by Graham Virgo, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education.

Based on a review revealed by Varsity last month, the report promised a “full and fair review to determine the best way of providing representation for graduate students”.

The report, seen exclusively by Varsity, which is awaiting final approval this afternoon, found that graduates are a “very diverse group, covering those who have just finished an undergraduate degree to later-life learners, and face the same issues as undergraduate students, but also many others, including those arising from being at a later stage in life”.

It noted that the “GU has secured part funding from the University for a second full-time sabbatical officer for two years from 2015-16...having a second full-time sabbatical officer in post will make the Union less vulnerable to weak or indifferent leadership in the sabbatical team” and also that “During the Committee’s interactions with the representatives of CUSU and the GU, it has become apparent that there are tensions in the relationship between the two Unions, with both sides reporting difficulties in progressing discussions to work together”.

It recommended, among other things, that the “two Unions should consider the effectiveness of the communication of their work to students” and that “there should be a review in five years to re-consider the question of whether there should be one student union for all students at the University of Cambridge”.

In a joint statement, the two student unions said:

"The GU and CUSU thank the review panel for conducting such a thorough review within the given time frame. Both Unions supported the aims of the review and participated constructively, and each was open to suggestions on how graduate representation could be improved and made clearer to graduate members.

"The GU is very pleased that the review panel have acknowledged its progress over the past six months, and looks forward to receiving the University’s continued support as an independent union. CUSU’s strategic aim to bring together the unions more formally was not fully endorsed, but  both unions will continue to seek opportunities to reduce duplicated effort and better communicate their work on graduate-specific issues to their members.

"The Unions are eager to learn more of the panel's views on what an integrated administrative structure entails. Discussions will undoubtedly challenge each Union's current approach to supporting graduate students, yet both Unions are collectively unequivocal in their ambitions for effective and reputable graduate representation at Cambridge and therefore committed to working more closely together in the advancement of our students' interests.”

Speaking to Varsity, GU President Chad Allen said "I am absolutely delighted by the University's vote of confidence in the current GU administration.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that the GU's chances of survival looked pretty slim at times last year.  We really managed to turn things around in a very short timespan.

"It isn't time to celebrate yet – this is only the beginning of a longer process,” he said, “We may have convinced the University that we've earned our right to exist, but there's still a lot of work to be done to win back the confidence and trust of graduate students and MCRs.”

He credited Poppy Ellis Logan, who is joint CUSU/GU welfare officer, and temporarily stood in as GU executive during its election crisis last year.

"The real unsung hero in all this is Poppy Ellis Logan,” Allen said, adding:“it was only her commitment to her responsibilities as a GU Trustee and acting President last Michaelmas that enabled the GU to survive”.

Last week, documents seen exclusively by Varsity revealed CUSU’s arguments for taking up the GU’s role in graduate representation. In their presentation to the working group, CUSU representatives Priscilla Mensah and Mark McCormack described a general “confusion about why there were two unions and what the unions were doing that was different from one another”. They also said that the “GU’s problems had created an additional burden for CUSU as it tried to support the GU’s operations”.

In January, Varsity reported that the University Council was undertaking a review into “whether the university should continue to recognise the GU as the body representing the university’s graduate students and, if not, how graduate students can be best represented”.

In the announcement of the review into the GU, senior figures referenced recent problems including the “removal of the GU from the Charity Commission’s register of charities earlier in 2015 was one of the more recent examples of a series of problems that had beset the GU in recent years”.

CUSU’s intention to seek to bring graduate services under their banner was formally announced in their Strategic Plan for the years 2014-17.  A “formal merger with the Graduate Union that protects the autonomy of grad students and grad-specific services” was listed as a Strategic Target. The Plan says that the GU “has consistently stumbled from crisis to crisis over the past decade”. Following the University Council’s decision, it is unlikely that CUSU will be able to achieve this aim within the proposed time frame.

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