The President of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) is to be remunerated for undertaking the role, the Graduate School announced earlier this week.
The plans, which the College says were “made jointly by the Education Office, the Graduate School, and the Graduate Students’ Union”, would see the GSU President receiving an annual stipend of £10,000. The money would be funded by Imperial’s Education Office, and would not come from the Union itself. The position would be part-time, in contrast to the seven paid sabbatical positions the Union offers, which require students take a year out. The proposal was initially put forward by Ahmed Shamso (the 2016⁄17 GSU President) and Luke McCrone (the incumbent GSU President) with support from the Union. The move comes following concerns about the impact the role has on the President’s studies. In a statement sent out by the Graduate School, Shamso spoke of the difficulties he had faced as a result of taking on the GSU President role: “Spending a large amount of my time on enriching the life of postgraduate students at Imperial has had a costly effect on the progression of my PhD research…I will most likely stay beyond the 3-year funding window, which will add extra pressure on my financial health as an individual.” He said that the changes should “help alleviate these challenges for future Presidents.”
McCrone, who undertook a full-time paid sabbatical role last year as Deputy President (Education), and is currently doing a PhD, said that the changes should help create a “sustainable model for postgraduate representation at Imperial”. He told Felix that the President is “placed under huge amounts of pressure, not only having to lead and motivate a committee of elected students, but also having to deliver the PG voice and opinion at many College committees, some of which are as senior as Senate.”
He said that it was “absolutely imperative that (the GSU President) is not only incentivised to carry out their work to a respectable standard, but to also have the financial reassurance that they can take time out of their PG programme to fulfil their role.” The GSU President has a range of roles: as well as coordinating their committee, the majority of whom were voted in last month, the President should “further student-related policy and influence decisions for the benefit of Imperial College’s Postgraduate students”, “ensure that decisions and achievements of the GSU are clearly communicated to the College”, and “represent the interests of the Postgraduate students on decision-making committees within the faculties, the College and Imperial College Union”. The result is a workload that occupies around two full-time days a week. When asked about how this would affect competition for the role in the future, McCrone said “I am certain that the position will be more hotly contested in future, hopefully helping to attract better quality candidates.”
The College said that this decision was made “in recognition of the valued contribution that the GSU President makes to enrich the experiences of postgraduate students, as well as the responsibility and time-commitment that the role involves.”
In a statement, a Union representative told Felix: “Imperial College Union and the Graduate Students’ Union work in partnership with the College’s Graduate School to improve the experience of our postgraduate members. The value of this collaboration is demonstrated by the Graduate School’s commitment to provide an annual stipend to the GSU President to enable them to work even more effectively on behalf of their members as well as continue on their research.”
It is not clear what this development will mean for the Presidents of other Constituent Unions (CU). Currently, the only paid positions are the GSU President, and the Imperial College School of Medicine Students Union (ICSMSU) President, who is an elected sabbatical officer. Felix spoke to a number of CU Presidents, who said that they would be interested to see what it means for their roles: Claudia Caravello, President of the City and Guilds College Union (CGCU) said “I think it will be exciting to see how this goes. While the position is a voluntary role, it is very time demanding, regularly exceeding the hours the Union expects of a volunteer, making it hard to hold down other part-time jobs. Being paid ensures that the GSU President can do their job to the best capacity without having to compromise their own personal life too much.” Michael Edwards, President of Royal College of Science Union (RCSU), told Felix “I welcome this development and applaud the Union and Graduate School for this vital change identifying a significant student leader. I look forward to opening discussions of my own with the Union and the Faculty of Natural Sciences to negotiate a similar arrangement.”
However, a Union representative told Felix that “neither Imperial College Union or any College faculties has plans to make any other Constituent Union roles paid at this time. We are always working to support our Constituent Unions as part of our ongoing commitment to a strong democracy and are excited to see the conversations this may start with other Faculties.”
Imperial’s Graduate School provides a number of professional skills courses and coaching. They say they aim to ensure “all postgraduate students are provided with excellent professional development training complementing their academic studies and providing opportunity to develop skills for a range of careers.” They also undertake research projects in higher education studies, which guide College policy.