A Postgraduate Sabb might alienate students further

As of this week’s Council, the Union’s Sabbatical roles have changed, resulting in the creation of a new, full-time role which is up for grabs next year. The Postgraduate Sabbatical Officer will be elected during Week 8’s Officer Elections.

While postgraduate students include both Masters and PhD students, which equate to just under 40 per cent of the student body, I disagree that there is a need for a Sabbatical officer to take on the responsibility of looking after them.

Postgraduates, from what I gather, do not engage with the Union much, if at all. They don’t need it to provide nights out, to campaign on their behalf for more contact hours or to talk to their seminar tutors on their behalf.

Of course postgraduates have many of their own specific and challenging issues and their own priorities. But by labelling them as completely different to undergraduates, it separates them further from the Union, and from other students. Would it not be more useful to work on an alternative model of integration within the existing Students’ Union, so as to involve them within it, rather than separating them further?

Next we’ll be having an ethnic minorities sabb, a LGBTUA+ sabb, or an international sabb. Postgraduates are not a minority group, but having a separate sabbatical position for them could make them feel that way. Isn’t a postgraduate position likely to further alienate the postgrad community from undergraduates?

The new role is likely to overlap with the other sabbatical roles, and while that might make our officers more likely to work together, it will mean some confusion too. If a student has a housing issue, would the postgrad sabb be on hand to deal with this, or would it be more suited to welfare?

The sabbatical roles are not solely for undergraduates and they are not solely for humanities students; they are for everyone, and that includes postgraduates. While it is clear that previous attempts to engage postgraduate students in the Union have failed, it should not come down to creating a new position simply to resolve the issue. A new and revamped initiative to integrate the postgraduate community and their separate issues into the remit of the existing officer roles would be a simpler, more effective option.

It may simply be that postgrads aren’t all that bothered. Just one of the current sabbatical team has done a degree beyond undergraduate level, and postgrad involvement in the SU is minimal. If someone pays £9000 for a Masters degree, I’m pretty sure they’d want to spend most of their time working on it, in order to get the best grades possible. At that stage it’s less about the experience, and more about the academic side to university. The reality is that many simply don’t have the time to get involved with the SU. There may be a few who celebrate finishing their thesis by downing pints of purple at Pop!, but not too many that I know of.

In any case, there are numerous roles and responsibilities included in the Sabbatical Officer job description that are irrelevant to the postgraduate community. Tasks such as widening participation and negotiating the annual OFFA Access Agreement, for example, seem to have been just shoved onto the new postgrad officer – perhaps to balance it out because it was seen to be the role with the least work.

Of course, I’m just a second-year undergraduate with a complete lack of knowledge of postgraduate students and their issues. Maybe I should just run to be next year’s postgraduate sabb – I might learn a thing or two.


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