The Graduate centre in Union House was created in 2015 and comprises of the Scholars Bar, Scholars Lounge and the Grad Kitchen. It has previously been described as an area' designed for Postgraduate and Mature students, but open to all.' However, the expansion of predominantly undergraduate students on campus without capital development has lead to increased pressure on social and study space for all students.
This has led to myself and the Graduate Centre management team receiving a number of complaints from graduate students about the prevalence of undergraduates using the Centre. It's the only dedicated space on campus for Postgraduate and Mature students and is an important component in creating the sense of a research community culture on campus. Graduate students, who are here all year round and are a minority in the student population, deserve a space to meet other students and relax outside of work in a place that is designed for them, but will struggle to do so if that space is consistently taken up by Undergraduates.
Several low-level interventions, such as campus card checks and increased signage, have not been effective in reducing the level of non-mature undergraduates using the centre. It was felt by many that more needed to be done and so we conducted a survey to gauge the opinions of Postgraduate and Mature students on the usage of the grad centre.
82% of respondents wanted the Graduate Centre to be exclusively reserved for Postgraduates and Mature students all the time, 15.1% of respondents wanted it reserved during peak hours and only 2.9% wanted access open to all students.
Some of the statements from participants in our research illustrate the issues Postgraduate and Mature students face:
"As a PGR student there are very few spaces for myself and my peers to unwind in a relaxed and social atmosphere. I find it increasingly frustrating that I am unable to access space in the PG centre due to overcrowding by UGs. Also, as an Associate Tutor I find it uncomfortable socialising in a non-professional space where I often run into UG students I only wish to encounter in a professional capacity while I am at work. Their use of the Centre blurs the boundaries of work and time-off for PGRs which is problematic at best."
"The excessive use of the PG centre by UGs makes me feel increasingly disinclined to use the space, and is also symbolically hurtful that UGs often seem to have priority over the entire Union House building."
"The whole union and campus feels predominantly designed for undergraduates and as a mature postgraduate student it is very important to me that there is a place I can go where I don't feel out of place."
"The campus is lacking a space for postgraduate students-- who are in that fuzzy, in-between space between student and staff-- to feel comfortable working in without worrying about bumping into their own students. This is not to segregate the communities as such, but there are clear and different needs of both communities."
As a result of this consultation, we took a motion to Union Council to mandate the creation of a new Graduate Centre usage policy. This motion was passed and the full document can be viewed here. In short, this means that myself and the Mature Students Officer, Lewis Martin, will be writing this policy in conjunction with the Graduate Centre Management Group. It also mandates that only Postgraduate and Mature student events are run in this space and the centre remains a social enterprise run for the good of students and not for profit.
Access to the Graduate Centre will be exclusively restricted to members of UEA who are 21 and over and swipe card readers will be implemented as soon as possible. There are practicalities to be organised, we want to make sure disability access isn’t disrupted. We also want to make sure access to the Media Centre isn’t disrupted, and all of these details will be ironed out at the Graduate Centre Management Group.
If you have any issues regarding use of the Graduate Centre that you'd like to discuss feel free to get in contact with me at firstname.lastname@example.org