Katie Law reports from the annual meeting of postgraduate representatives
Jim Ewing, the newly elected general secretary of the National Postgraduate Committee, this week vowed to increase the size and impact of the body that represents 400,000 masters and PhD students in universities.
"We've got to get bigger if we are going to really represent postgraduate students," Mr Ewing said in his first interview since being elected at the annual general meeting of the NPC last week. He will take up the post in October.
Mr Ewing feared that the organisation was too small to have sufficient weight and power. He said: "We at the NPC need to hear as many voices as possible. We want to increase our membership. That will mean knocking on doors and saying who we are, what we do and why it is important to join and help us to represent postgraduates."
The NPC is the only organisation in the UK that is run by postgraduates in the interests of postgraduates.
Universities across the country are affiliated to the organisation on a per capita rate.
It is run as a charity and uses its annual turnover of £30,000 from affiliation fees to carry out its functions of lobbying, offering a consultation service to student representative bodies and fighting the corner for postgraduates in the UK.
Mr Ewing faces a number of key challenges as head of the organisation.
Student unions have questioned the benefits of affiliation to the NPC, which has led to some opting out.
In 2002, the Imperial College London student union disaffiliated. Katherine McGinn, former deputy president (education and welfare) of Imperial College union said that "the NPC is not providing the type of service the postgraduate students at Imperial College want or need".
Other criticisms of the NPC include the cost, the lack of visible success in lobbying and the general lack of awareness about NPC among graduates.
But others are surprised that some student unions do not to use the services provided by the committee.
John Wakeford, director of the Missenden Centre, said: "I am very surprised that there are universities that are not subscribers to the NPC, given how many postgraduates there are now and the excellent services that the NPC provides."
The need for an organisation such as the NPC is especially pressing as postgraduate membership of student unions is dwindling.
Rikki Arundel, president of the Hull University Postgraduate Society, said:
"Out of 2,700 postgraduate students at Hull, only a minority have joined.
The others either didn't know they couldjoin or they just didn't seem interested".
But Mr Ewing is enthusiastic about the task ahead and emphasised his support for the work of the outgoing general secretary, Tim Brown.
"We will continue the excellent programme of lobbying, addressing the Government and being available for consultation," he said, "but we hope to get stronger, and increase our numbers. That's the only way we can really represent all the postgraduates."