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Following a Postgraduate General Meeting held on Friday 1st June, the current system of postgraduate representation is to be radically overhauled for the 2012-13 academic year.
The way that members of Graduate College are represented within the Students’ Union is to undergo significant changes in order to make the system more democratic.
The current structure, which follows a JCR-like model, is deemed by many postgraduates to be unfit for purpose. The existing representative body, the Postgraduate Students’ Association (PGSA), will be replaced by a board of elected representatives, who will make decisions in consultation with multiple student forums and consultative technologies.
PGSA Vice President (On Campus Activities) Laura Kay said that the present structure “simply doesn’t work,” as it fails to reflect the diversity of the college’s thousands of student members, as well as placing those on the PGSA Executive Committee under the considerable pressure of bearing responsibility for the representation of their peers during a time when academic pressures are also high.
The proposed structure has been tailored in response to students’ attitudes towards and problems with the current system. Unnamed students’ quotes, featured on LUSU’s information leaflet, expressed the desire for greater access to participation amongst the postgraduate body, as well as the wish for greater consideration of the differing needs of taught and research courses.
Under the new system, the remit of the board of representatives will be supplemented by separate forums for the two branches of postgraduate study. Smaller, more specific project groups will also meet to discuss issues and feed back responses to the board. All postgraduates may attend these forums, thereby widening the democratic process to all upon whom the decision-making processes will impact.
Additional platforms – features of so-called ‘Open Source Democracy’ – will “use digital technologies to reach out to and map the views of Postgraduate from a wide range of groups,” according to LUSU.
The meeting was well-attended, reaching quorate level, which thereby enabled proposed changes to be discussed and voted upon. The by-laws by which the board will operate were also passed at the meeting, with those students present having the opportunity to make minor amendments in order to make the new structure as democratic as possible. It was at the behest of those students present that the proposal was modified to include a board-representative for postgraduate sports.
Attendees also debated the possibility of secondary college-affiliation, which would allow students of Graduate College to belong to an additional college of their choice. However, in the event, no votes were cast on this proposition.
In order to facilitate these changes, an intern funded by the Students’ Union (LUSU) is to be employed to work with and for postgraduate students. The job of this intern will be to devote time exclusively to postgraduate student activities, which will include the implementation of the new representation structure.
An anonymous postgraduate expressed concern about the possibility of over-reliance on such an intern, whose prominence would then dissuade other students from becoming involved and “making the most of the new system.”
Despite these concerns, the student did acknowledge that when faced with a system that is failing to deliver the required standards “it’s always good to try something new.”
During the meeting, the contentious issue of postgraduate fee payments was also addressed, with LUSU Vice President (Academic), Alex Carlin, pledging to readdress the changes implemented by the University’s Finance Office, which has reduced the postgraduate fee payment schedule from three instalments to just two, meaning that many students will find it more financially difficult to fund their studies.
The new model should disperse some of this intensity and widen access to more of the post-graduate population. Kay further commented, “this new structure is much more accessible and much more open […] I have high hopes for it.”
LUSU Vice-President (Events and Democracy) Olly Trumble also expressed his belief in the strengths of the new model: “Time will tell if these changes will be successful, but I am confident that the new forums and open source style of representation developed by graduate college and LUSU will foster more effective channels of representation.
“The new system enables graduate students to represent themselves on their own terms, in areas which interest them. The new system does not force Graduate students to act within a model which was not created with their defined interests in mind. Many graduate students see this new system as an opportunity, a change and a chance for us to give better support to graduate students.”