Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) and the Graduate Union (the GU) have been working over a number of years to reform the system of student representation in Departments, Faculties and Schools. This has culminated in a ballot on a Grace being put to members of the Regent House, the university’s democratic decision-making body of academics, with a series of proposed changes created in collaboration with Faculties and students. We believe the proposals would lead to better facilitation of the networks of representatives (reps), allowing best practice to be shared amongst Faculties, thus improving the academic lives of students and their ability to feedback into best teaching practices.
One of these changes would involve aligning reps to the subjects students see themselves as studying, as opposed to different reps existing to serve different committees. Students frequently report a lack of clarity on the representative roles available and what the purpose of each role is within decision-making processes. For example, there are currently reps for Human, Social and Political Science as a tripos, but there are also separate reps for the committees of each of the constituent departments. This makes it confusing for students to know who to approach with a specific issue. Having subject-aligned reps could mean you have, for example, one Sociology Subject Rep attending both their department committees and the Faculty Board, who students studying Sociology papers could approach for any issues. Similarly, students studying Social Anthropology papers would have an associated Social Anthropology rep. Faculties and Departments would be free to decide how to align their subjects with reps. Boards would also be free to choose the number and constituency of representation to best suit them, with a flexibility that is not accommodated under the existing system and often involves complex workarounds. Finally, any existing structure could remain in place if the Board felt it was working well locally.
A second proposed change is for academic rep elections to take place at the same time as and hosted alongside existing elections for other student representatives in Michaelmas, so that academic reps will be linked with wider structures of student representation within the university. Furthermore, siting the administration of elections and academic reps centrally would remove the administrative burden from Faculties and Departments. It would also provide parity of process across all subject areas. As the Grace states, the ‘administration and organisation of the electoral process would be managed jointly by CUSU, the GU and the Education Quality and Policy Office, with opportunities for Boards and other bodies to undertake local promotion as desired. This joint management would reinforce a collaborative approach between the Unions and the University, providing a clearer and more cohesive view of how elected subject representatives feed into wider University decision-making processes.’
CUSU and the GU (merging to create Cambridge Student Union from July 2020) would have an institutionalised role in the training and subsequent support of student academic reps, engaging with Faculties over how best to manage this. This would ensure that reps have an independent and consistent support network outside of their immediate Faculty and would promote peer-to-peer engagement between reps. CUSU has already funded a role within its membership team partially dedicated to supporting academic reps; this role will provide dedicated and individual support to both Faculties and students to ensure the system is clear and robust.
Voting on the proposals is open until the 29th November; members of Regent House will have received details via email. The full grace can be found at: https://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2018-19/weekly/6557/section3.shtml#heading2-17