The Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) is likely to lose its funding from the university, as its functions are taken over by the Union of UEA Students (UUEAS) and it finds itself without a functioning committee. There has been tension between the GSA and the union in recent years, and in February of last year the GSA announced it was withdrawing from discussions about holding a referendum regarding a possible merger of the two organisations. The GSA had previously said that, unless its demands were met, it would urge postgraduates to reject the proposed merger.
In an email sent to postgraduate students on 3rd March, Brian Summers, the university’s Registrar and Secretary, announced that University Council would be asked to look at transferring funding from the GSA to UUEAS. Summers wrote: “The executive team of the university has decided to ask the university’s Council to consider winding up the GSA and transferring its grant to the students’ union, but that that funding should be ring-fenced to support postgraduate students in the way that it has done in the past, ie conferences, social events and so on.
“We would also ask the union to suggest how the postgraduate community can best determine how that money should be spent in the future”. Summers called UUEAS the “dominant organisation”, and wrote that, “the GSA has always had a modest budget in comparison… which has largely been expended on supporting individual students attending conferences, facilitating social events for postgraduates and making small purchases for the previous postgraduate bar”. UUEAS has an annual turnover of just over £10m, compared to the GSA’s £6,000.
Over time there has been an increasing shift towards UUEAS as the primary provider of postgraduate support and representation on campus. It now run Scholars Bar after the GSA was not equipped to deal with purchasing, staffing and the regulation associated with licensed premises.
Following a referendum, in 2014 the union created the post of Postgraduate Education Officer, meaning that the representation role of the GSA became increasingly defunct. UUEAS now has a postgraduate assembly and facilitates a programme of postgraduate social activities.
The decision to close the GSA follows ongoing uncertainty over the future of postgraduates with the union. Last year the GSA committee claimed that its views were not being listened to, and that no details about what would happen after a possible merger had yet been agreed. UUEAS has rejected these assertions.
However, no referendum on a merger has taken place. The postgraduate assembly, which had to authorise a referendum, was not attended by enough students to hold a vote.
With the GSA and UUEAS seemingly unable to come to a decision on the future of postgraduate representation, the university stepped in to impose a solution. Summers concluded: “the executive team is very clear that postgraduates at the university should enjoy appropriate support and good facilities. It is our view that this can now be best delivered through the union and this decision regarding the GSA is, pragmatically, the best way forward”.