The Graduate Union
The Graduate Union (GU) is the University-wide representative body for graduate and mature undergraduate students at the University of Cambridge, and the only students’ union in the UK catering exclusively to graduate students.
The GU is run by a Board of elected sabbatical and student officers, and in the interest of representing graduate and mature undergraduate students, our focus is on four key areas: representation, services, welfare and events.
- The GU takes concerns raised by our members to a wide range of University committees, acting as the graduate and mature undergraduate student voice.
- The GU actively pursues campaigns on issues which affect our members.
- At our centrally located premises we offer an excellent range of facilities as well as some essential services to help you through your studies.
- You can book a room at the GU for meetings and events.
- The Student Advice Service, run jointly by the GU and CUSU, offers free, confidential and independent support to all University of Cambridge students.
- We put on a wide range of fun activities and events during term time and vacations.
- We publish a free handbook for freshers and an online weekly bulletin and offer many opportunities for graduate and mature undergraduates to get involved.
The GU belongs to you and welcomes your input and suggestions.
Objectives of the Graduate Union
The main objectives of the Graduate Union are stated in its Constitution. These are:
- “To advance the education of members by provision of facilities [and] services”
- “To provide, in the interests of the social welfare of members, facilities for recreation or other leisure-time activities, being facilities: 1. which will improve their conditions of life by enabling of assisting them to participate in the intellectual, social and other activities of or connected with the University; and 2. “of which they have need by reason of being University members”
- “In the furtherance of the objects specified above, 1. to promote and further communication between the members of the Union and the University and other bodies; and to represent members in their relations with the University and its Officers. 2. to co-ordinate and promote contact between Middle Combination Rooms, graduate faculty representatives or equivalent bodies.”
The GU therefore focuses on four main areas:
History of the Graduate Union
Graduate study at Cambridge is a relatively recent phenomenon. The PhD as a formal arrangement developed as a response to growing demand from domestic and international research students following the Second World War, and this demand has risen ever since.
The initial boom in student numbers of the 1940s and ’50s led to a severe shortage of College accommodation. Whilst science students spent most of their time in departments, arts and humanities students suffered from isolated accommodation in rented houses away from College. As this was a new problem for Colleges and the University, it was at first ignored.
In 1954 the wife of the then Master of Peterhouse, Mrs Burkill, intervened on behalf of graduate students against treatment that she regarded as unfair. She called a meeting that resulted in the formation of the Junior Graduate Society, later the Graduate Union Society, against considerable University opposition. In 1962 the University finally officially recognised this group as The Graduate Society, with Mrs Burkill as its President. Initially operating out of Fitzwilliam House, opposite the Fitzwilliam Museum, she provided a space in which graduates could socialize, and was at one point cooking meals daily for upwards of 150 people. ‘GradSoc‘ quickly became the social focus of graduate life, and rapidly demonstrated to the Colleges how large and valuable the graduate population had become.
In 1969 Mrs Burkill handed over responsibility of GradSoc to graduate students themselves, and by 1981 GradSoc had become Cambridge University Graduate Union – the GU. Over the ’80s and ’90s our central services altered to keep pace with changing graduate needs. Since 1991 there has been one paid, full-time sabbatical officer, the President, who must always have been a graduate student at Cambridge in the year preceding their term in office.
Now, the GU focuses on four key areas: representation, services, welfare and events. At our premises at 17 Mill Lane there is a café that is open throughout term-time, a shop and service point that provides thesis-binding, crested stationery and other products, a graduate-only bar – staffed by graduate students – and the recently established Student Advice Service (see the ‘Welfare’ pages for more information). The GU is the only Students’ Union in the UK catering exclusively to graduate students. To develop and grow, the GU will need your support, encouragement and – especially – participation. The President will be happy to listen to new ideas about what the GU should be doing. S/he is there to represent and serve you, so feel free to communicate your thoughts and vision for our future.