In the recent elections one of the Union’s main concerns was the lack of postgraduate participation in the voting. However, postgraduate representation at Imperial is pretty poor and it is unsurprising that they were feeling a little uninspired to vote. The focus should have been on getting postgraduates to run and thus improving representation in the first place.
During the elections, I received an email urging me as postgraduate to vote. By this point I had already placed my votes with regards to the Sabbatical positions but had left the GSA ones for another time. So after receiving the email I decided that I might as well get it over and done with and complete the rest of my voting. However, to my surprise, I discovered that out of all the GSA positions available only one person was running. ONE.
Well obviously the next step was to air my opinion on the matter via Twitter:
“Just got an email urging me to vote as a postgrad in the IC elections. Bit difficult with no GSA candidates to vote for #voteicu”
Following this, I received a rapid reply from @icunion:
“The Sabbatical team represent all students at Imperial, not just UGs. It is essential that PGs vote in these elections! #voteicu”
Well that’s nice and everything but I pointed out that with no PG reps running there was no choice but to rely on the Sabbs for representation. Unfortunately, the Imperial College Union Twitter account was not quite so quick to reply this time (I’m still waiting in fact). Furthermore, HOW do the Sabbatical team represent postgrads? Apart from the Postgrad Mingle and a few emails from the Union President aimed at postgrads, I’m unaware of any sort of concrete representation. Why should we have to rely on purely the Sabbs? Although they would like to think otherwise they come across as very undergraduate focused and it feels as if the union elections completely overshadowed the GSA ones.
Postgraduates have a different range of problems, and candidates running in the elections need to make it clear how voting can improve things specifically for postgraduates. It’s no good just sending emails urging people to vote. According to the email I received, I have a departmental representative who has been working really hard to improve my student experience. I’m really curious as to who this entity is as I have never received an email from them or even been informed who they are and how I can contact them. But apparently they have made a really big difference. I’m sure it would have been even bigger if they had actually contacted the students they were supposed to represent. I must point out that I am a Masters student in the Humanities department so this is based on my own experience rather than those in other departments or who are PhD students.
However, as a Masters student I feel like I’ve fallen into a big Imperial College blindspot. I didn’t get to vote for the GSA reps before I started and voting this year is a little irrelevant as I won’t be around next year. Someone informed me recently that they were interested in running this year but were not able to as they weren’t a postgraduate until next year. Basically, everyone who isn’t midway through their PhD is excluded from going for a position. The elections are rerun in September but any new incoming students will be so preoccupied with settling in they won’t have much of a clue about it. I’m lucky in that I did my undergrad degree here and I was a student rep, I know who to contact if problems do arise but I’m sure that new incoming PGs haven’t the foggiest. I expect no major complaints are logged because they don’t know who to complain to. The GSA does provide the structure to deal with unique PG problems but what happens now when this structure is clearly not effective and at the moment non-existent. The union’s knee-jerk reaction to this appears to be implementing a dedicated postgraduate Sabb. I very much approve of this idea; I just hope that the infrastructure will be in place to support this person because otherwise they will be carrying a lot of responsibility on their shoulders.
On a more personal note, another characteristic of my MSc blindspot is the fact I’ve been given this title of postgraduate yet I’m not allowed to use the SCR or the Holland Club. My department is tiny and doesn’t provide a space for me to work or relax; the common room is reserved for PhD students. I’m restricted to the Library and other general areas, which is altogether thoroughly uncomfortable at times especially now in the peak of exam season. A designated PG space that I, as a Masters student, could use would be much appreciated. And before anyone brings it up, yes I have put this as part of my feedback on the PG student survey. Suffice to say, it certainly hasn’t done anything for my satisfaction in the Imperial College student experience.
Elections are over now, but with only one GSA position filled who knows how successful the next round will be. I’m sure the Union has a whole host of reasons as to why this situation is as it stands, but with student satisfaction becoming one of its priorities I feel that this is something that needs to be addressed. When this is added to the growing frustration of the postgraduate population due to the threatened closure of the Holland Club and the disposal of Clayponds, something has to be done to show that postgraduates are still a valued part of the student body.