Union AGM: YUSU and GSA Merger Made Official

The merger between the GSA and YUSU has been made official, after Articles of Association were passed by majority vote at last week's AGM

(Image: Charlott Ambrose)

The Graduate Students’ Association and York University Students’ Union have confirmed the details of their merger, following a majority vote at the Annual General Meeting on Thursday. 

After more than two years of logistical planning, the student body has approved the articles for the upcoming merger between YUSU and GSA.

In a video kicking off the AGM last Thursday, GSA President Mardan Nasier spoke with Vice Chancellor Charlie Jeffery, who underlined his reasons for initiating the merger. Charlie explained that “a single organisation might be able to better manage student services and support”. 

He goes on to say that, “there’s some real opportunities if you bring together what YUSU does and what GSA does: both offering support for student welfare, education and recreational activities”. 

During the AGM, students voted on whether or not they wanted to approve the proposed merger structure

The CEOs of YUSU and the GSA were keen to stress that the merger would put students’ interests first. Student feedback has been vital throughout the process. No fewer than 13,000 responses were collected from a range of undergraduate, postgraduate, mature and international students. 

The merger will aim to simplify consultation and increase cooperation between undergraduates and postgraduates. The need for this was highlighted in an opinion piece in Vision in 2019. After the vote, Pierrick Roger, YUSU President and previous Environment and Ethics Officer, said ‘“I am happy, I’m very happy. I think we’re going to get out of it a strong healthy union, that’s what my hope is”.

“There’s some real opportunities if you bring together what YUSU does and what GSA does: both offering support for student welfare, education and recreational activities”. 

Vice Chancellor Charlie Jeffery

This structure would involve several administrative changes, including increasing the number of Sabbatical Officers from five to seven, as well as creating a new ‘SUmmit’ decision-making group to represent students and replace YUSU’s Officer Group.

There are plans for this new SUmmit group to include new diversity and inclusion representatives who will work with the Equality and Inclusion Officer, replacing the current part-time officers. These representatives will face a new election process too, whereby only students who identify as a member of that group can vote for their representative. There was also a sneak peek of a new brand design for the joint union, complete with a bright new colour pallet and a new coat of arms. 

The vote passed with a strong majority, but it was not without opposition.

YASS (York Action for Student Solidarity), a student group independent of YUSU, passed around flyers and protested against what they saw as a degradation in the Union’s environmental credentials. This appears linked to the resignation of the two Environment and Ethics Part-time officers just a few hours prior to the meeting. 

One audience member turned the proceedings towards this resignation in the question and answer secton, asking what the union plans to do as climate change worsens, and in the case of incoming food shortages. A dramatic moment in the event, Pierrick Roger, YUSU President and previous Environment and Ethics Officer, responded, “I am completely sympathetic… I am a climate activist myself but unfortunately their goals aren’t real”. 

Speaking with Vision after the event, Roger elaborated that “the environmental office is staying; in fact, it is expanding without the help of previous officers”.

In the days since the event both YUSU and former Environment and Ethics Officers Claire Sheldon and Woody Kadis-Ross have released statements regarding the ongoing dispute. Further coverage of both statements is available online at www.yorkvision.co.uk.

Also discussed in the AGM was the financial health of the union, with YUSU’s annual financial report being presented by Academic Officer and Finance Committee Chair Meely Doherty. It was found that YUSU lost £147k in the 2022-23 academic year, which was down from a gain of £141k in 2021-22. Ultimately though, this largely aligns with where the union expects to be under inflation and cost of living concerns, with Meely optimistic about the charity’s financial future. 

Wrapping up the event, the Sabbatical Officers partook in an open Question & Answer session. While focus initially remained on the environmental interruption, questioning shortly turned towards YUSU Activities Officer Anna Njoroge and the proposed changes to society storage, following the planned closure of the former Unity Health building on Campus West. In the context of the delay to the new Student Centre, multiple society committees expressed their concerns about having to relocate their equipment to buildings in Halifax College, to which Njoroge explained that conversations were still ongoing between the University and YUSU about which buildings could be used for storage.

Ultimately the AGM was a unique chance for students and union members to hear about the health of their students’ union, hold their leaders to account, and be a part of democratic history on campus, in approving the final articles of the unions’ merger.  The panel of student presidents and CEOs who led the event envision a bright future for YUSU, but for any who remain uncertain, YUSU CEO Ben Vulliamy reminded us, “sometimes we have to try something new. But if things don’t work, we can go back to the drawing board”. 

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