The University of Manitoba Graduate Student’s Association (GSA) held their first roundtable of the 2014-2015 academic year on Sept. 11. Laura Rempel, president of the GSA, moderated the discussion. Over 30 graduates—many of them from outside of Canada—in fields from electrical engineering to geology made an appearance.
Campus planning representatives brought students up to date on the developments of the previously acquired Southwood Golf Course lands and the open international design competition that ended last November with a winning urban development vision.
The representatives explained that the goal of their department was to think about how the property related to the campus as a whole. One of the plans being considered was the promotion of more alternative methods of transportation like transit or biking, and a focus on reducing car use around campus.
Campus planning also gave students various ways they could be reached . The Visionary (re)Generation website (www.visionaryregeneration.com/feedback.html) includes an online submission tool which allows people to send feedback, questions, or suggestions directly to “the campus planning office [and] the consultant team.” Students may also fill out postcards provided at Degrees Restaurant or Dafoe Library (by the Starbucks) and drop them off in the boxes left at either location.
Students spent most of the designated time discussing housing and transportation needs while the three representatives took down the suggestions on how the Fort Gary campus might be improved.
A number of students said they are interested in the potential option of additional housing on or around the campus.
Problems unique to the graduate student experience arose in the discussion as well. Given the limited housing options, grad students were finding it difficult to secure temporary housing that didn’t require a 12-month lease signed up front. Those doing fieldwork found the experience frustrating and expensive since many landlords do not allow subletting and students were not keen to pay for the months’ rent for when they would be away.
One person suggested turnover housing reserved exclusive for grad students as a possible solution.
Another student mentioned they had moved away from campus to Osborne Village because there was little for them to do in the area.
“There’s really no good reason to stay,” the student said on the topic of a lack of appealing extra-curricular activities nearby.
Other concerns were that it was very difficult for exchange students to try and locate either housing or roommates due to a lack of support. UMSU Living—a resource many students had found helpful and were suggesting to one another—was revealed to be a now-cancelled UMSU project. Rempel mentioned that if the service really was useful there might be the opportunity for another organisation to start something similar – possibly the GSA.
Students also complained about inconvenient bus schedules and the fact that transit stopped running to certain surrounding neighbourhoods at 7 p.m., making transportation to and from the university difficult. It was then suggested that a campus shuttle that traveled to these neighbourhoods would help students who might prefer to stay on campus longer but could not due to the necessity of scheduling their life around the bus system.
When it came to alternative transportation, there was a call for indoor bicycle lockers. The apparent lack of security cameras around current bike lock-up areas was brought up as a concern, too.
Education quality was next on the docket. Student fees were examined and explained, and a chunk of the discussion was taken up while grad students commiserated and discussed funding opportunities (and the lack thereof) for certain programs.
Many students had problems with needing to change their areas of research due to funding being pulled last minute, because they were studying “less popular, less sexy topics,” as one attendee put it, or because of a perceived lack of funding opportunities in general.
There was also a consensus among students about the lack of desks with secure storage for research material and computer equipment on campus for PhD students.
Good news that came out of the event was that the alumni association is in the midst of a fundraising campaign with the hopes of raising $500,000 to support graduate student bursaries.
The GSA plans to hold more roundtables in the future and invites all graduate students to come down and be a part of the conversation.