The Graduate Union's future has been decidedJoe Robinson

On Monday, Varsity exclusively revealed that the University Council voted unanimously to continue to recognise the Graduate Union as representative of graduate students.

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.

The review promised a “full and fair review to determine the best way of providing representation for graduate students”.

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.” It added: “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 points, 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 that they “will continue to seek opportunities to reduce duplicated effort and better communicate their work on graduate-specific issues to their members”.

Speaking to Varsity, GU President Chad Allen credited Poppy Ellis Logan, who is joint CUSU/GU welfare officer, and temporarily stood in as GU executive during its election crisis last year. Allen described her as the “unsung hero in all this”, 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.

CUSU’s intention to seek to bring graduate services under their banner had previously been formally announced in their Strategic Plan for the years 2014-17.

 

Timeline

19th October 2015

Dr Richard Anthony, Bursar at St Edmund’s, reports on the topic of the GU to University Council, describing a “series of problems that had beset the GU in recent years”.

9th November 2015

A working group, headed by Pro-Vice Chancellor Graham Virgo, was mandated to “consider the objectives of a student union in the university, in particular the objectives for graduate students”.

25th November 2015

The working group held their first meeting, with the promise of a “full and fair review to determine the best way of providing representation for graduate students in the university and to interrogate what student unions provided in a collegiate university, without any preconception about the likely outcome”.

The working group agreed that “if the Committee agreed to make a recommendation that the university no longer recognise the GU as a student union, a Report to the Regent House would be required, on which there would be a Discussion, and therefore there would be an opportunity for further debate within the university”.

3rd December 2015

The working group received a presentation from CUSU.

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”.

Their suggestions were met with broad support by the working group, who said that “Having one union for both undergraduate and graduate students was likely to make CUSU a stronger student union, with greater consciousness of the diversity of the student population”.

Another comment said that “student unions at Cambridge scored very poorly in national student surveys and any changes to the structure could have an impact on those scores. There was also a sense that the dysfunction in the governance of the GU was leading students to doubt its efficacy as a union”.

13th January 2016

The working group received a presentation from the GU.

According to the final reports, the “GU argued in favour of the continuation of a separate GU, drawing attention to the different nature of the two unions, the particular emphasis of the GU on welfare, the need for an independent voice for graduate students, who form almost half of the student population, able to provide specialist responsive attention to graduate needs and prioritisation of services aimed at graduate students”.

The GU suggested that having a separate union for graduate students “made Cambridge stand out and sent a stronger message about the importance of graduate students to the university”.

20th January 2016

The working group met with the Trustees of the GU.

15th February 2016

The University Council received a report from the working group, which found that graduate students “need a community”, saying that “isolation is a problem for many graduate students, in part because of the nature of academic study, but also because non-College accommodation is geographically more spread out”.

They cited an online survey held in November and December of last year, in which “over 70 [per cent] of respondents indicated that they were in favour of the GU remaining the body representing graduate students”.

The working group was “not convinced that CUSU understood fully the importance of the graduate student community to the university and the equal weight to be given to its views and needs, alongside those of the undergraduate student community”.

They said that the GU’s governance “was in better shape now than it had been in for some time and the current team had a good grasp of the issues facing its community”.

They said that is was “clear that there were strong reasons for retaining an independent GU”, but that “there was no fundamental reason why one student union could not represent all students in the future”.

The University Council voted unanimously to continue to recognise the Graduate Union, with the promise of a “further investigation of the possibility of offering more joint services”, and the ruling that a further investigation would take place in five years’ time.

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