Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6570

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Vol cl No 12

pp. 137–166

Fly-sheets reprinted

Fly-sheet relating to the ballot on Grace 4 of 24 July 2019 and on an amendment (governance of postgraduate and graduate student matters)

In accordance with the Council’s Notice on Discussions and Fly-sheets (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 110), the fly-sheet from the ballot on Grace 4 of 24 July 2019 and on an amendment (governance of postgraduate and graduate student matters) is reprinted below. For the result of the ballot, see p. 155.

Fly-sheet: Grace 4 of 24 July 2019

We urge members of Regent House to vote to dissolve the Board of Graduate Studies and to discontinue the use of the term ‘graduate’ with effect from 1 October 2020.

Dissolution of the Board of Graduate Studies

The Joint Report proposed that the Board of Graduate Studies was dissolved from 1 October 2019 and its work move to a new Postgraduate Committee which would sit under the General Board’s Education Committee. The Postgraduate Committee would undertake a systematic review of the Board’s work to identify instances where activity would more appropriately sit with another Committee. The Report was subsequently amended with the effect that the Postgraduate Committee would sit under the General Board.

The dissolution of the Board and transfer of its work to the Postgraduate Committee will bring all educational matters under the auspices of the General Board, creating a single governance structure for all students and ensuring that the needs of all types of students are included when developing and considering strategic, policy and procedural matters. The subsequent review will look to increase equality of provision for students.

The proposal to dissolve the Board of Graduate Studies is supported by the Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education and a number of current Board members. Indeed, during the deliberations on the Report no formal amendment to the Report has been proposed which seeks to retain the Board of Graduate Studies beyond the current academical year.

Due to the timings of the University’s governance processes and given that a ballot on aspects of the Report is being held, the Board was not dissolved on 1 October 2019 and will continue to meet during this academical year. By the time of this ballot the Board will have met twice and a large number of decisions affecting individual students will have been made by or on behalf of the Board (including approval of approximately 100 doctoral degrees). A vote to dissolve the Board of Graduate Studies with effect from 1 October 2019 will call into question the validity of these decisions and will cause a period of uncertainty until alternative arrangements are put in place. For example, as the Board of Graduate Studies approves doctoral degrees the dates of its meetings are aligned with the dates of degree congregations. A delay in approving degrees whilst alterative arrangements are made could impact on students receiving their degrees.

For these reasons it is preferable for such changes to take place at the start of the academical year, so replacement of the Board of Graduate Studies should take place on 1 October 2020.

Change in terminology

The University currently has three separate cohorts of students: undergraduate, postgraduate and graduate. The delineation between postgraduate and graduate is unclear with some taught Master’s programmes classified as postgraduate and others as graduate. This has led to arbitrary differences in admission, examination and mitigation practices for students on very similar courses and has caused confusion throughout the collegiate University. These differences in terms therefore give rise to unequal student experiences that are difficult to justify and affect the quality of the student experience. The proposed change of terminology is a first step towards creating a single cohort of ‘post-undergraduate’ students and the achievement of parity of provision and support for cognate student cohorts.

We accept that the University has more graduate courses and students than it does postgraduates but the change will bring the University in line with the rest of the HE sector – of the 24 member institutions of the Russell Group, 23 refer to postgraduate students rather than graduate students. Also, the term ‘graduate’ can cause confusion as it also refers to a student who has recently graduated. We accept also that work to update materials and media will be needed and propose that this work be undertaken as part of the regular review and update of material.

A vote to retain the current terminology (graduate and postgraduate) would mean that the inconsistent and arbitrary distinction between graduate and postgraduate students would remain and further work would be required to rectify this.

Regulation changes

Concerns have been raised that some of the regulation changes listed in Annex D of the Report do not specifically relate to the contents of the Report. During the review of the Statutes and Ordinances, which preceded the Report, a small number of anomalies in the current regulations were discovered and the opportunity was taken to correct these. These corrections amount to approximately 9% of the regulation changes and are either revising the regulations to reflect existing practice or are changes to regulations which do not have a significant impact on students or courses (e.g. by replacing ‘member of the University in statu pupillari or a registered Graduate Student’ with ‘registered student’ in the regulations for the Arnold Gerstenburg Fund and Studentship, Statutes and Ordinances, 2018, p. 846).

For these reasons, we urge the Regent House to vote to dissolve the Board of Graduate Studies and to discontinue the use of the term ‘graduate’ with effect from 1 October 2020.

Signed by the following members of the Regent House:

C. Abell

M. Frasca-Spada

B. Vaux

K. Black-Hawkins

L. R. R. Gelsthorpe

G. J. Virgo

J. L. Caddick

B. B. Groisman

K. J. Wilkinson

D. A. Cardwell

P. S. Johnston

T. D. Wilkinson

L. Davies

Neil G. Jones

D. F. Wood

A. N. S. Freeling

A. D. Neely

M. R. Wormald

Fly-sheets relating to the ballot on Grace 5 of 24 July 2019 (student representation on Faculty Boards and other bodies)

In accordance with the Council’s Notice on Discussions and Fly-sheets (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 110), the fly-sheets from the ballot on Grace 5 of 24 July 2019 (student representation on Faculty Boards and other bodies) are reprinted below. Fly-sheets are reprinted in the order in which they appeared in the ballot booklet, which was random. For the result of the ballot, see p. 155.

Ballot on Grace 5 of 24 July 2019

Organisational structure of student representation on Faculty Boards and other bodies

Placet fly-sheet

We urge the members of the Regent House to vote placet to the recommendation to amend the structure of student representation within the University. The amendments encompass the following:

Moving from a departmentally organised structure aligned with Faculty Boards, to a student-facing, subject-driven structure, aligned with specific disciplines from which the Boards may be populated;

Permitting Boards to determine the most appropriate number of student representatives, provided that there are at least two;

Aligning the elections for subject representatives to take place alongside pre-existing student elections in late November;

Moving the administration of elections from Faculties to a dedicated post sited within CUSU, which will work alongside Faculties and Departments to agree and promote the available roles, without restricting any Faculty’s ability to promote or engage with the electoral process; this post will also manage receipt of nominations and population of the voting platform from electoral rolls, as well as be a single point of communication for all parties;

Providing an institutionally recognised role in supporting and training of subject representatives through CUSU and the GU as well as at the local level;

Taking the opportunity to update rules on eligibility which are not clear to students or staff, and result in loss of confidence in the electoral process.

These recommendations are the result of a consultation1 with students, Faculty Boards and equivalent bodies, and Councils of the Schools. The proposed recommendations attracted a majority in favour and all objections against can be accommodated within the flexibility of the proposed revisions; the Grace was written with all this in mind. They provide a flexible framework to accommodate the variety of representation needs for both single- and multi- departmental faculties. At the same time, we believe they will make the variety of representation more easily understood by students and increase engagement with the roles.

We believe these changes are beneficial for the following reasons:

1. The existing model of representation is poorly understood by students. Students frequently report a lack of clarity on the roles available, and what the purpose of the role should be within support and decision-making processes. Aligning the roles to subject disciplines will be clearer to students, particularly students who are not representatives and who need to know where to raise issues and questions. It will situate representation along identifiable lines for a clear and easily understood picture of the student voice.

2. The existing electoral process restricts the ability of Boards and other bodies to choose the number and constituency of representation to best suit them. Boards are currently required to elect students along tightly defined roles by level and course of study. Some existing Boards implement complex workarounds to ensure full representation while remaining within the letter of the regulations, adding to the complexity and lack of clarity for students. The flexible framework proposed would allow Boards more freedom to choose the best combination for their course offerings. All known existing systems, including workarounds, can be accommodated within the revised model.

3. The existing model of Board representation is poorly integrated into wider representation. The revised model tying elections more closely to pre-existing CUSU and the GU elections allows students to clearly see how representation feeds into decision-making at all levels. Providing a formal role for training and support via CUSU and the GU ensures that representatives have an independent and consistent support network outside of the immediate Faculty and promotes peer-to-peer engagement between representatives. Some Faculties and Departments during the consultation expressed scepticism about how closely their students engaged with CUSU and the GU; while this can vary, retaining the separation discourages closer links from forming and promotes the impression that roles are isolated from wider University decision-making. Additionally, faculties expressed concern that centralisation could weaken engagement with the roles at a local level; however, we feel that the opposite is true and that students will more readily engage with the roles if they are clearly identifiable as part of the wider University decision-making structure. CUSU and the GU are committed to supporting and promoting student representation at all levels of the University and holding a ‘two-way’ conversation about the student experience. Both Unions are working collaboratively to strengthen relationships with one another and with the students of the University they represent, as well as to identify ways in which the student voice can be supported through training, networking, and academic forums. CUSU is ready and able to engage with each Faculty individually to ensure roles are clearly promoted both locally and centrally, with staff members who have expertise in supporting elections and in academic representation. Faculties wishing to continue existing good practice of advertising and promoting roles would be encouraged to do so.

4. The electoral process is complex and poorly understood. The current Ordinances outlining timing of elections and the eligibility for, allocation to and generation of the electoral rolls are complex and lead to errors. In addition, both students and staff may perceive errors in correct rolls where the eligibility rules are not clearly understood. Simplifying the eligibility requirements and streamlining the process will increase confidence in the inclusivity of representation and in the electoral process itself. Siting the administration centrally removes the administrative burden from faculties and departments. It will also provide parity of process across all subject areas. CUSU has already funded a role within its membership team which is partially dedicated to support academic representatives; this role will provide dedicated and individual support to both faculties and students to ensure the system is clear and robust.

For these reasons, we urge the Regent House to vote placet to the recommendations to amend the structure of student representation.

Signed by the following members of the Regent House:

K. Black-Hawkins

P. Gopal

A. J. Webber

T. T. Blaxter

M. V. Lucas-Smith

M. R. Wormald

A. P. Bookbinder

I. Mcneill

J. M. Wyburd

H. J. Cremin

T. J. Miley

H. Ziauddeen

G. M. Cronin

R. A. W. Rex

M. Gemelos

G. J. Virgo

Signed by the following registered students and sabbatical officers of Cambridge University Students’ Union and the Graduate Union:

T. Amofah-Akardom

A. Gilderdale

S. Merrick

A. Ashok

G. Gledhill

J. O’Brien

J. Barnes

P. Heller

A. O’Malley Graham

E. Brain

T. Hinch

E. Parker Humphreys

N. Brocksom

A. Hyde

L. M. Plimmer

A. Ceccarelli

S. Keenan

M. Schwefel

V. Clingen

R. Kent

E. Song

B. Fonseka

L. Lewis

S. Swain

J. Foye

K. Litman

L.-R. Sharry

K. Gaunt

M. Guha Majumdar

O. Wilson

S. Georgescu

B. Margolis

D. Wright

Ballot on Grace 5 of 24 July 2019 (organisational structure of student representation on Faculty Boards and other bodies): Non placet fly-sheet

In Grace 5 of 24 July 2019, the General Board published a wholesale recasting of the system for electing student representatives on Faculty Boards and other University bodies. These changes were announced during the Long Vacation despite strong reservations from a large number of Faculties in the consultation exercise carried out in Easter Term. We have therefore requested a ballot, and invite colleagues to join us in voting non placet to the proposed changes.

The central thrust of the Grace 5 proposals is to place the election of student representatives under the control of Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) and the Graduate Union (GU).

Student representative roles would be defined by CUSU and the GU, in collaboration with the University. For each subject discipline, students would elect a pool of representatives who would then be allocated to Faculty Boards or other bodies.

Student members of Faculty Boards and other bodies would be elected in the second half of Michaelmas Term, alongside other CUSU and GU officers.

Regulations would be amended to remove limitations on eligibility based on course and year of study.

69% of Faculty responses to the consultation disagreed with placing CUSU and the GU in charge of organising elections. As many Faculties and Departments pointed out, the proposals are seriously problematic for a number of reasons:

The current system of subject representation enables the development of positive links between Faculties and their students, in which Faculties demonstrate their commitment to taking on board student views through encouraging students to act as representatives.

A move to a centrally organised system of subject representatives would weaken the direct relationship between Faculties, academic staff and the student body.

Placing CUSU and the GU in charge of the process risks turning the system of student representation into an extension of student politics. Turnout in CUSU and GU elections is itself low, and many students feel much closer attachment to their Colleges and Faculties than to these bodies.

Many Faculties have well-established systems of student representation which are designed to ensure that students from different Triposes, degree programmes, and year groups are represented in the decision-making process. The proposal to elect a single pool of representatives for each subject would risk marginalizing the interests of students on smaller courses or cross-Faculty degree programmes.

Existing procedures also allow students to put themselves forward for specific roles with a clear sense of the responsibilities and the time commitment involved. Electing a pool of representatives for each subject would make it impossible for students to know what role they were standing for.

There is no great enthusiasm for these radical proposals either among the student community or among our academic colleagues. By voting No, we invite the University to reconsider the matter and bring forward proposals which would build on the strengths of existing Faculty-based representation, and command more general approval.

Signed by the following members of the Regent House:

C. P. Caulfield

A. D. Ming

B. P. Simms

D. E. A. Curtis

S. M. Murk-Jansen

P. J. Sloman

J. M. Evans

G. G. Peng

J. P. Talbot

R. E. Goldstein

A. I. Pesci

G. L. Thomas

P. A. Haas

G. Rangwala

M. T. J. Webber

M. H. Kramer

O. Rath-Spivack

A. Zsák

S. Kusukawa

P. A. Russell

J. R. Lister

M. J. Ryan