It’s a funny old life, being a postgrad. You’re still a student, for all the good and bad that comes with that, but you’re meant to be a proper grown-up, too. It’s expensive, too. You’re not earning, but you still have to live – and pay thousands in fees.
The debate around whether we should stay part of NUS seems to suggest that it’s a talking shop that doesn’t actually do anything. While no organisation is ever going to solve every postgrad problem (Neil and Sofia: I promise there’s a chapter coming), NUS does help, both nationally and on the ground at York. I would like to explain how it helps postgrads, now, at York.
Finding the money for a masters has got a bit easier, as NUS was one of the organisations that successfully campaigned for postgraduate loans. It then successfully ran the #CapsOff campaign to make those loans available to students over thirty. Postgrad loans are also available now to part-time and distance students. That directly benefits postgrad students, now, at York.
Perhaps most importantly, the repayment rate has been cut, thanks to NUS campaigning, from 9% to 6%. Still too high, and still a need for more campaigns – but a real improvement.
Postgrad life is also stressful. There’s all the pressures of a masters’ or a doctorate itself, plus financial worries, and the loneliness and isolation that can come with long hours spent at a keyboard. I know from my own experience the effect that can have on your mental health. Indeed, our own Vice-Chancellor, Koen Lamberts, recently acknowledged both the severity of the problem and that more provision needs to be made for students at all levels. NUS has already been working with policymakers on what provision is needed, and how the whole of mental health support at universities needs reform.
It’s helping students unions, like YUSU, work with universities so no-one falls through the gaps. That directly benefits postgrad students, now, at York.
Postgrads often feel, and often are, a bit disconnected from their students’ unions. It’s true at York, and it’s true across the country. NUS has worked and is working with students’ unions, including YUSU, to get more postgrads involved in university and union life. We may only be here for a year, but we still need to let our hair down so that we can make the most of our degree. I’d like to see even more done, but YUSU and NUS are working to get more postgrads involved. That directly benefits postgrad students, now, at York.
We can also expect postgrad issues to rise up the agenda. The HE campaign and postgrad section are focussing on tackling fee increases (which should be of interest to anyone considering a masters’!), and the plenty of the officers have first-hand experience of being taught and research postgrads.
I could go on; NUS doesn’t just do undergrad issues. Quite apart from the NUS card, it’s looking at issues that affect postgrads who teach, student parents, dealing with the TEF, under-representation of black students and academics, and more. In so many areas, NUS directly benefits postgrad students, now, at York.
Certainly, NUS needs reform. I want it to be focussed on making the kind of differences I’ve mentioned. What I do not understand is how NUS is more likely to change in the way we want if a reform-minded SU like ours leaves. If we want NUS to have one student, one vote, we need to have more delegates at a national conference to vote for one student, one vote. If we’re not there, we can’t vote for it – and at the same time, postgrads at York will lose the benefits of membership and our national voice.
I will vote to stay in NUS, because it benefits postgrads, now, at York.