It’s fair to say, all things considered, that genuine insight was in short supply at the first hustings of this year’s Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) elections.
In the opening salvo of a campaign that’s taking place exclusively online, technical issues certainly played a role in a stilted, awkward debate.
But the race’s three candidates did too, with pitches to a handful of listeners (30, including members of both student newspapers) that failed to account for the serious issues many postgraduate students will reckon with in the aftermath of the pandemic.
It’s a shame: in Trinity, postgraduate students have often been first to feel the pinch when financial hardship hits. Amid stark warnings about the huge hole the coronavirus is going to blow in universities’ pockets, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where that will not, once again, be the case.
So we know hard decisions are going to need to be taken, and we know there’s more than a decent chance those decisions could hurt postgraduates. But listening to Gisèle Scanlon, Joseph Keegan and Abhisweta Bhattacharjee this week, it was hard to discern anything approaching a coherent strategy for how to fight them off.
For years in Trinity, the prevailing wisdom was that postgraduate fee increases were simply a necessity for a College in a funding chokehold.
That idea didn’t go away easily: it took months of lobbying, and co-ordinated planning, from the GSU’s top officers – as well as an earthquake of student protest – to get it off the table.
Wth hundreds of millions worth of losses looming – and a deafening silence from the government when it comes to the issue of funding – you don’t have to be a pessimist to predict a return to the same old problems.
But judging by Wednesday’s hustings – when candidates had a chance to set out their stalls – there seems to be little appetite for the prospect of organising students to resist cuts or fee hikes.
In short, in this year’s GSU elections, the discussion that’s taking place – such as it is – seems miles off the risks and realities for postgraduate students.