Wednesday’s news that Trinity’s Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) is to seek funding for a third sabbatical officer position raises certain questions about the way postgraduate students are represented in Trinity.
Trinity is already one of only two Irish universities that has a separate students’ union for graduates – the other being the University of Limerick.
With two full-time sabbatical officers, Trinity’s postgraduate students are already in a very privileged position when it comes to their representation. On top of that, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) also represents postgraduate students, and postgraduate students have both a vote in TCDSU and GSU elections.
While of course it is always difficult to argue against more representation for anyone, and postgraduate students do face unique challenges that are often wildly different to those of their undergraduate counterparts, it is always worth asking if “more” representation is the same as “better” representation. The Graduate Students’ Union is already under-resourced, something that was a topic of conversation at Wednesday’s GSU council meeting, and it is quite unclear as to where the union will source another €30,000 in the first place. There is also duplication of overheads and administrative functions between GSU and TCDSU, and as the GSU’s President pointed out on Wednesday, there are many TCDSU events and campaign weeks that would benefit from much closer integration between both unions.
This raises the question as to whether it would be better for TCDSU and the GSU to merge. Duplication of efforts would be eliminated, and it’s quite possible that such a move would free up the €30,000 needed for a third sabbatical officer focused on postgraduate issues. Postgraduate students would then be properly represented by a union that has a much wider reach and far greater engagement, both internally and externally – something which is not a moot point when turnout at TCDSU elections often exceeds the turnout at GSU elections by an order of magnitude, sometimes being more than 20 times greater. Any potential merger, however, should avoid inhibiting the flexibility and expertise needed to serve the unique needs of postgraduate students.