The Graduate Union asks Middle Common Rooms (MCRs), or their equivalent, to pay an annual affiliation fee to the Graduate Union. This page explains why a fee is charged, how MCRs can afford to pay, how the level of the fee is decided and how it is calculated.
In most universities, money allocated for student unions comes directly to the union. In Cambridge the situation is complicated by the college system. The Graduate Union does receive significant central funding, covering core costs of employing staff and providing facilities and basic services. However it does not stretch much further than this. Income from affiliation fees is used by the Graduate Union to create budgets for activity in particular areas – welfare, international students, mature students, and others. Most of these budgets are directly controlled by committees of MCR representatives (welfare officers, for instance).
Below are some reasons why it is a good idea for MCRs to affiliate to the GU.
Because paying the fee benefits MCR members
Every MCR member is a member of the Graduate Union. No matter how fantastic an MCR is, there are some things which require intercollegiate co-ordination. The affiliation fee supports these activities, which benefit all GU members – and hence all MCR members.
Because central representation is essential for grads
Graduate life is not as universally college-based as undergraduate life. The University takes decisions which directly affect graduate and mature students and if we are to have a voice in these decision-making processes then we need a central point of contact. The GU provides this, fielding representatives for a host of University Committees. The GU is also much better placed to assist individuals who run into problems with their department or supervisor – MCRs and even college graduate tutors, however sympathetic, are often unable to help in these situations.
Because central service provision is essential for grads
The GU provides a range of facilities and services which cannot be provided at the MCR level. Some of these services generate income but many are provided at zero profit, and affiliation fees help to support this.
Because it helps the GU be politically independent of the University
The GU receives funding for its core activities from the University. However this places it in a potentially tricky position, since the University can (and regularly does) threaten to reduce this funding when the GU takes a line which the University dislikes. Affiliation fees are used precisely to enable activity outside of our core provision – in areas where controversy and conflict with the University are special risks. The affiliation fee provides a level of protection against these risks, and can even be used effectively to independently fund activities or campaigns where this appears likely to be a problem. The fee is essential if the GU is to maintain political independence from the University.
Because it makes the GU be politically dependent on MCRs
The GU belongs to its members, and one of the key ways in which members can exert control over the GU is through their MCR representatives. If the GU depends upon MCRs for part of its budget then this reduces the risk of central GU Officers and administration becoming detached from MCRs. Affiliation ensures that each side has a material interest in what the other up to. The MCRs have a stake in the GU – an interest in seeing their money well spent. And the GU has an interest in maintaining good relations with MCRs and serving their needs, in order to justify continued charging of the affiliation fee.
Can MCRs afford to pay?
Yes. Each college allocates money for the MCR to affiliate to central unions (GU and CUSU). In some colleges the fee is paid directly by the Bursar, and in some it is handled by the JCR. In others the CUSU fee is paid directly by the JCR or Bursar, and the GU fee is billed directly to the MCR. Whatever happens in your college, money is allocated for central affiliation for each student. Graduates and undergraduates are treated equally. If your MCR seems not to have enough money then you may not be getting the allocation which is intended for your MCR members. The GU would be very willing to help if you think this may apply to your MCR.
How is the level of fee decided?
The GU Council is responsible for setting the level of the affiliation fee each year. The GU Council includes representatives from each MCR so MCRs have a direct and decisive say in setting their fee.
How is the fee calculated and charged?
Until 2002, the GU did not collect affiliation fees at all, and CUSU collected fees from MCRs and JCRs equally. However in 2002 CUSU agreed to lower their MCR fee, on the expectation that the GU would collect the difference. At present CUSU collect fees from MCRs at two fifths of the level they charge JCRs. The GU Council therefore decided (15 November 2005) to collect the remaining three fifths.
The fee is set as a per capita figure. Only full time graduate students are counted. The fee for an individual MCR is calculated by multiplying the per capita fee by the number of full time graduate students as stated in the most recent edition of the Reporter Special Edition on Student Numbers.
Since the Student Numbers edition of the Reporter comes out in May, and carries numbers for 31 December of the previous year, the fee for a given year is effectively calculated by reference to last year’s numbers. This makes no difference in the long run, and offers clear administrative advantages over seeking to establish numbers in each college by some other means each year at the time the bills are sent out.