The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Postgraduate students feel unrepresented by Students’ Union

Students’ Union Education Officer “gutted” by the decision to not introduce a Postgraduate Students’ Union Officer

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Postgraduate students at Manchester University have told The Mancunion that they feel unrepresented, ignored and neglected by their Students’ Union.

A motion to change the composition of the Executive Officer team for the academic year 2018/2019 was proposed at the Students’ Union (SU) Senate on Thursday the 7th of December.

Two options were presented, the first of which would have seen the introduction of a Postgraduate Education Officer to represent the 8,490 postgraduate taught students and 3,575 postgraduate research students at Manchester University.

65 per cent of attendees voted in favour of option one but a two-thirds majority is needed for a motion to pass, with 76 per cent instead voting to approve “option two” of the officer role review proposals which will see the introduction of an International Students’ Union Officer but no role representing specifically postgraduate students.

Speaking to The Mancunion, a first-year PhD student at Manchester University, Iqra Choudhry, said: “I think the postgrad community is ignored by the Students’ Union and so I do feel disappointed that the motion did not pass.

“All society-related stuff is aimed at undergraduates. I think that Masters and PhD students are often overlooked, even though we want to be a part of student life.

“We end up having to create our own socials etc. Apart from the odd fresher’s event aimed at Masters students, there really isn’t an effort from the Students’ Union to reach out to postgrads.”

28 Senate attendees voted in favour of the motion, 15 voted against and four abstained from the vote.

Students that spoke against the motion cited the low turnout of 1.3 per cent in the recently held ‘All Student Vote‘ as evidence of a lack of a mandate from the SU to implement the Executive Office role changes, criticised the clarity and transparency of the proposals and questioned the consultation and engagement with students.

General Secretary, Alex Tayler, insisted that the SU had engaged with “thousands of students” on the matter over the last three years while SU Education Officer, Emma Atkins, suggested that the proposals had been analysed with “excruciating detail”, adding that “we’ve had enough delay.”

Option one also involved the removal of a designated Students’ Union Campaigns Officer which many students criticised.

Tayler said that “as an exec team, we should all be campaigners” and pointed out that the only two similar institutions in the UK that have an SU Officer role specifically for the role of campaigns are the University of South Wales Students’ Union and the University of Central Lancashire Students’ Union.

Emma Atkins, SU Education Officer, said that she was “gutted” that the motion did not pass.

Atkins added: “Not only would it have allocated Students’ Union resources, time and funding to our underrepresented postgraduate students for their wellbeing, activities, employability, and their voice on things that matter to them – it would also have split the Education Officer’s 25 plus meetings and committees in half so they could spend more time focusing on what students care about.”

Majid Ahmed, a Medicine PhD student at Manchester University, attended Senate and told The Mancunion: “It was disappointing that today’s Senate voted to not bring the Postgraduate Executive role into fruition, despite the clear and obvious voice from the postgraduate community that the Students’ Union at the University of Manchester frankly neglects their needs and their well-being.

“The fact that the result was so close shows that a lot of students do recognise the need for an Executive Postgraduate Officer. Unfortunately, the issues surrounding the turnout of the recent referendum and the confusion around the way the changes were presented probably didn’t help the motion and was a reason why four students chose to abstain from this vote, due to not feeling well-informed enough to make a decision.”

Speaking more optimistically about the future, Majid Ahmed added: “Moving forward, it is exciting that we are launching a new cross-faculty University-wide ‘MCR postgraduate society’ in January of 2018 to re-engage postgraduate students into the Students’ Union and create a push to organise and run events and campaigns specifically aimed at postgraduate students.

“Additionally, we are thrilled to be launching our new postgraduate professional networking platform in 2018 to bring our postgraduate community together and incorporate the newest innovations in digital technology and cloud-based computing to modernise how postgraduates network and share information within and across faculties over our large campus.”

Of the 429 students who voted in the ‘All Student Vote’, 60.2 per cent voted to introduce both an International Students Executive Officer and Postgraduate Education Executive Officer, while 12.6 per cent voted to introduce of a Postgraduate Education Officer.

The decision on the passed Senate motion will have to be ratified by the Students’ Union trustee board but is likely to mean that there will be no Students’ Union Postgraduate Executive Officer until March of 2019, unless 600 students were to sign a petition triggering a referendum on the matter.

Subject to ratification, the eight Students’ Union Officer roles for the academic year 2018/2019 are likely to be: Activities and Development Officer, Campaigns, Community and Citizenship Officer, Education Officer, General Secretary, International Students Officer, Liberation and Access Officer, Welfare Officer and Women’s Officer.

The Students’ Union Executive Officer team cannot have more than eight roles as this would mean that more than 50 per cent of the trustee board are paid members of staff, which is not permitted in order to ensure decisions are not biased.

79 per cent of attendees voted in favour of a motion titled ‘Sex Worker Soliditary’ which will see the SU giving more support to students who privately come out as a sex worker to the Executive Officer team and supporting the campaign for full decriminalisation of sex work. 91 per cent also voted to pass on an amendment of this motion to ensure that male sex workers were also to be fully supported.

A motion to add a “+” to the two officer titles currently called “LGBQ”, standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Queer, was also passed with a majority of 91 per cent.

83 per cent of attendees also voted to pass a motion titled ‘Accessible Prayer Spaces Across Campus’, with the Union resolving “to expand the Students’ Union’s current prayer space to be more spacious and well equipped” and “to lobby the University to include prayer spaces in all buildings on campus.”

Several motions were not discussed at Senate due to the length of time spent discussing the officer role review and instead will be discussed at the next Senate on the 21st of January 2018.

One of these motions included a proposal to provide free menstrual products in Students’ Union bathrooms

Sara Heddi told The Mancunion that she is already working on a very similar policy proposal which is set to be announced in the near future.