Following the new swipe card access installed for the Scholars Bar in Union House, Concrete asks ‘do postgraduates need their own spaces on campus?’
Firstly, it is perhaps important to break down the different postgraduate spaces. There are social spaces such as the Scholars Bar and Lounge, and Vista (located at the top of the Campus Kitchen complex). Additionally, you can find academic spaces, such as the postgraduate areas within the library (which also operate on a swipe card access basis), and additional bookable rooms within the Scholars Lounge area of Union House.
Space on campus is at a premium, now more than ever, with UEA registering a total of 17,050 students in the academic year 2017/18. Although postgraduates make up 26 percent of the student population, space on campus seems to be dominated by undergraduates with little space to escape if you’re a postgraduate and/or Associate Tutor.
Each year this debate seems to appear in one form or another. Last year it was debated heavily at Union Council, where then Postgraduate Education Officer, Maddie Colledge, fought to safeguard the Scholars Bar for postgraduate and mature students. It is important to highlight that this didn’t implement new restrictions, but simply formalised the restrictions already in place by making the bar accessible by swiping your campus card on a reader at each door.
Mia Chamberlain, an undergraduate, said ‘I understand why postgraduates need their own social spaces, especially as many teach and probably don’t want to socialise in the same places as their students, but in terms of academic spaces, especially when the library is particularly full, it’s frustrating especially if there is unused places in the postgraduate areas.”
I met with postgraduate student Liam Self to discuss his view on the spaces available to students on campus. Self commented, ‘I completed my undergraduate degree at UEA, and by comparison I feel far more like a member of the faculty than I did during my undergraduate, and having a dedicated space to study is of great importance to me. I frequently make use of Scholars’ Bar as a social space, the PGT suite in the Library, and often have lunch in Vista.’
‘All of these are more professional and mature environments which reflects our demographic. Many of us also work as Associate Tutors, taking labs and seminars for undergraduate students. It’s hard to make the argument that UEA is not short on space, and facilities such as Vista are disproportionately small given the number of staff and postgraduates at UEA.’
We met in Vista which is a small cafe/bistro style space with approximately 150 seats, not the largest of spaces considering the number of staff and postgraduates studying at UEA. Those ‘unable’ to access this space often harp on about cheaper prices, better options for food and generally a utopia of canteens. However, it is simply the same as any of the other Campus Kitchen venues, only it seems to have tried squeezing both the services of Blend and Zest into a much smaller venue.
Self added: ‘There’s a danger of tarring all undergraduates with the same brush here, and that’s not my intention. In particular, I think there’s a case for mature (over 21) undergraduates to be treated in the same category as postgraduates for the purposes of access to our facilities, as is the case with Scholars’ Bar. However, postgraduates are by-and-large a very different demographic from undergraduates, and as undergraduate facilities dominate the campus (despite postgraduates making up over a quarter of students here), ensuring that there is sufficient and proportionate spaces for us is an important issue for me.’
As a mature student myself, I am extremely grateful that the social postgraduate spaces and events are open to students like me, as it gives me a space where I am able to socialise with likeminded people who are closer to my age and life experience than some of my undergraduate colleagues. I understand that there are many undergraduates who perhaps feel old at heart or feel more at home in these ‘mature’ spaces, and I am yet to see a quiet, respectful undergraduate be kicked out.
It’s clear that whilst there are postgraduate spaces on campus that may seem exclusive to some, these spaces are very limited, especially given that of the 17,000 students at UEA, 5,000 are postgraduates, and they are expected to also share this space with academic and support staff.