Graduate College at Lancaster University
LUSU take steps to improve postgraduate engagement in the Union

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LUSU are taking several measures to improve postgraduate engagement with the Union. The measures include a reshuffling of the Postgraduate Board, as well as improving postgraduate involvement during Freshers’ Week. The news comes with the arrival of the 2013-14 elections to the Postgraduate Board, which are to take place during Week 2 of Michaelmas Term.

Postgraduate engagement in the Union has traditionally been much lower than at undergraduate level, a problem which is inherent in many students unions.

LUSU’s plans to improve postgraduate engagement include a restructuring of the Postgraduate Board, the student body responsible for postgraduate issues. The Board’s positions are to be redefined, while the Board itself will be given extra support from LUSU’s Full-Time Officer team. While LUSU are ensuring that every JCR has a mentor to help support them, the postgraduate board will be given three Full-Time Officers to help them. “The Postgraduate Board will have three Full Time Officers to help mentor Graduate College because we feel it is important to engage with them as much as possible,” Laurence Pullan, LUSU’s Vice President (Union Development) told SCAN.

The measures follow a sustained attempt by LUSU, the Postgraduate Board and Graduate College to make the 2013-14 Freshers Week inclusive for postgraduate students. A new Officer Engagement Intern has been assigned to Graduate College to help improve participation and engagement in the Union. The week has been considered a relative success by LUSU, with the turnout to Graduate College’s “Big Night Out” much greater than in previous years.

Postgraduate engagement in the Union has traditionally been much lower than at undergraduate level – the number of Graduate College students who voted at last year’s LUSU Full-Time Officer elections were a lot less than their counterparts in other colleges. “Postgraduate engagement is a common problem” Pullan told SCAN. “The NUS acknowledge it, other Unions acknowledge it. There is no one golden rule about how to engage with postgraduates unfortunately.”

Sabrina Ihaddaden, the chair of Lancaster’s Postgraduate Board, said she believed there are two main reasons for the lack of postgraduate participation in the Union. The first of these is that most Postgraduate students are international students. “[Many of these students] don’t know what a college is and what the benefits of it are” Ihaddaden said.  “The collegiate system is not a common thing in foreign universities.” Pullan added that there are further complications to consider when it comes to engaging postgraduate students in the Union. “You’ve got so many different strands: taught; research; mature; part-time; on-campus; off-campus; off-campus and live in Lancaster; off-campus but live miles away.”

Ihaddaden’s second point is that a postgraduate’s time at Lancaster is short compared to an undergraduate student, something which has also been noted by LUSU Trustee and postgraduate student Erica Lewis. “For first year undergraduate students, engagement comes through existing second and third years,” Lewis told SCAN, acknowledging that the opportunity to engage through existing students is not really available for many postgraduates, most of whom are only in Lancaster for a year. “Most of us stay only for one year (Master students) and then leave the university,” Ihaddaden told SCAN. “Which means that we have only one year to build friendships… and to get involved in the college’s life, whereas undergraduate students stay in their college for three years.”

Questions have been raised previously over whether Graduate College as an institution is a hindrance to postgraduate participation in the Union, not least by Pullan, who raised the issue during the Full-Time Officer hustings last year. When SCAN raised the issue, however, Pullan was clear in his support for the college: “I think to be fair, for a short term quick fix, having an Officer Engagement Intern and three Full-Time Officers and having all the Postgraduate Board being filled… if we can do that we stand ourselves in really good stead. Would postgraduates be represented as well in other colleges? There is no way that in this year Grad College is going to disband.”

Pullan is optimistic about the future of postgraduate engagement in LUSU: “with what we’ve got at the moment we’re making some really good steps forward… I think the Graduate College and the staff and the Postgraduate Board have acknowledged the work the Union, the Union staff and the Postgraduate Board members themselves have put in. I think it’s looking up – I’m feeling positive.”

Postgraduate Board elections are taking place during Week 2 of Michaelmas Term.

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