Speaking to The University Times, the three candidates for the position of vice-president of Trinity’s Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) talked about how they will improve the visa situation for international students, promote further engagement with the union and promote welfare among the College’s postgraduate students.
The three candidates, Madhav Bhargav, Shonottra Kumar and Laura Matthews, emphasised the importance of welfare for postgraduate students, but all acknowledged the difficulties in securing funding that would assist the GSU in helping students with these issues. To combat this, Bhargav said that he would “not implement new ideas”, and would instead focus on integrating the bodies that are already available to the students, making them easier to contact and utilise. Kumar, on the other hand, pledged to work to secure additional funding for the hardship fund by running events throughout the year and encouraging classes to donate in small amounts. Matthews highlighted the lack of support for postgraduates, saying that as an undergraduate “you’re so unaware of what’s happening to postgrads, and then you completely flip and you realise that the support is just so much less there than you would even think”.
All three candidates also spoke about the integration of international students being a key factor in the welfare of postgraduate students, with Matthews planning to run a “transition workshop” early on in the academic year for those that have just arrived in Dublin. She believes that this would help change the “bad rep” that Trinity has about its relationship with international students, and would help “nurture” them from the very start.
Both Bhargav and Kumar spoke about the extreme difficulties that international students faced this year in securing visa appointments with the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), leading to fears that students wouldn’t be able to return home for Christmas. Shonottra commented on the crisis, saying: “The first three months are very scary because you don’t know what your position is. Because for the first three months I was in the mindset of ‘If I don’t get an appointment, I’m going to be deported’”.
“Most of my focus over the first three months will be on working with this person to make sure that everything runs smoothly”, promised Kumar. Bhargav agreed that an earlier start to consultation with the GNIB was needed: “We need to start from scratch and just make it more better for the incoming and students who are already there.”
Focusing on the perennial issue of engagement with the GSU, Matthews spoke about how her experience with Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) over three years, and with the GSU this year, has put her in a strong position to improve what has become a stronger relationship between the two unions. She put forward the idea of transition workshops, similar to those promised by incoming TCDSU Education Officer, Alice MacPherson, that would help students transition into Dublin, Trinity and postgraduate life. “I think it’s a good year to have someone who has had experience in both the SU and the GSU, so we signed the memorandum at the start of this year”, Matthews said. “It’s always been important, but I think now more than ever, I think it’s important to have someone that has a good relationship with the SU in the role.”
Also speaking on engagement, Bhargav spoke about his idea of an open door policy to help postgraduates to “understand that the GSU is us” and that students don’t need to be actively involved with the GSU to be part of it: “What my aim would be just to break that wall … it’s not some people, it’s everyone so promoting those greater inclusion for postgrads.”
Kumar spoke about looking to increase the number of events that the union offers, particularly between orientation week in September and the Halloween Ball. She talked further about wanting to provide a variety of events outside of social events, such as seminars, as well as maintaining an open door policy.
When asked what she felt the main issues postgraduates would face next year, Matthews spoke about funding and quality assurance, speaking about the importance of feedback on modules. Stating that some courses are not as good as they should be, she said that she would work towards implementing the system that is already in use in undergraduate courses, with feedback being given by students on completion of every module.
The main focus of Bhargav’s manifesto is to look at the supports currently available to students and to better advertise them, while also getting them together to collaborate, particularly for welfare. “I believe Trinity is already equipped with so many things for student welfare and education”, he said, adding his “most important agenda is just to unify those”.
Hoping to address a number of issues, Kumar outlined some of her key plans, including helping postgraduates find summer accommodation, as Trinity’s accommodation works off the undergraduate calendar, and improving the class representative system in GSU so that everyone feels well represented. She felt that students did not know that class representatives have a list of duties, and wants to clarify those duties as well as create a mechanism “like a meditation or a negotiation, which they can approach to resolve their issues if the class rep isn’t working”.
In March of this year, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) voted to delay the vote to introduce a new Vice-President for Postgraduate Affairs until next year, with both the incoming and outgoing presidents of the union pledging their support for the position and that they would bring back the motion next year after assessing the union’s financial position.
All three GSU candidates all supported the introduction of this full-time postgraduate officer, with Kumar saying that there is focus on issues facing undergraduates, which would be reduced with the addition of such a position. Bhargav said that this role would be a “pivotal” one in the future, giving the GSU and postgraduate students all around the country a more “stable platform” in the USI. Matthews noted that the current nature of USI positions means that “postgraduate issues really get swept under the rug”.