18 months ago, when I was in my third year of undergraduate study at Edge Hill University, I was a nervous wreck after a long hard campaign to become the union’s postgraduate officer.
It was a part-time role, and at the time I was planning to continue at Edge Hill for my MA.
I never did do my MA at Edge Hill, instead getting an offer to study at York (which I hadn’t realistically been expecting) less than a month after the union elections.
My plans changed, I moved to York, and I don’t regret that decision one bit. But now in my second year as a postgraduate here (doing a PGCE), I feel like my experiences have given me some insight into the way that student life as a postgraduate at the University of York is compared with other universities.
The main difference between Edge Hill University and the University of York is that Edge Hill has a dedicated Postgraduate Officer role built into the students’ union, whereas here we have the GSA (Graduate Students’ Association).
Back before I even started secondary school, the landscape of student politics was quite similar to the current situation of York. Separate bodies representing undergraduates (primarily the NUS) and Postgraduates (the NPC or National Postgraduates Committee). In 2009, the NPC made the formal decision to dissolve as a union, and merge with the NUS, bringing postgraduates and undergraduates under the same umbrella. That’s not to say that there aren’t still representative bodies out there specifically for postgraduates, but NUS now cover a significant majority of students’ unions, many of which include postgraduate students and have a postgraduate officer of some kind.
The ongoing segregation between postgraduates and undergraduates often isn’t solved by these mergers, but they do tend to allow for more of an overlap between the two groups.
There can be a general feeling, especially amongst postgraduates, of one group not wanting to associate with the other for reasons including perceived age gaps, different schedules, or superficial differences such as drinking habits or societies.
Whilst these stereotypes often aren’t apparent to undergraduate students, they can leave postgraduates feeling isolated from the general University community. Not many postgraduates that I know join societies for all manner of reasons, but from my own experience, it can be off-putting when you’re a minority among a bunch of undergrads and often left out by the inevitable ‘cliques’ that they form at the start of the year.
This feeling is only made worse by having a separate Graduate Students’ Association. The presence of the GSA generally serves to remind me that YUSU doesn’t really represent me as a postgraduate.
Some people might really appreciate having that separate body of representation, a separate organ of support, but over the last year that I’ve spent here as a postgraduate the impression that I’ve got of them hasn’t been a good one.
I don’t really notice their impact assuming they are doing something somewhere and the one time I decided to attend a GSA event was a lackluster affair that had worse decorations and music than my Year 6 disco, a distinct lack of communication between organisers and staff, and somebody won a scooter in a raffle.
The GSA should dissolve and merge with the student union, with a designated full-time postgraduate officer working alongside other officers to ensure that postgraduate students are integrated into the wider university community and made to feel welcome here at York.
There will always be a divide between the two groups. That is to be expected but postgraduates should be made to feel like they are equally part of the student community with their undergraduate counterparts, and not just an afterthought.
And for anybody interested, I did win my election 18 months ago, but I wouldn’t trade York for anything since I got here!
Featured Image by YUSU