On Saturday the 17th April 2004, I went along to the Mature Students Conference of the National Union of Students, at which I gave a seminar, "Postgraduates and Mature Students - A Correlation?". This was an opportune workshop to run since those there seeking more opportunity to support and represent their mature students in higher education institutions also had much of a case to include postgraduates as well since an important aspect of equal opportunities in student representative bodies is to consider different peer groups that are not so easily integrated. This does include postgraduates, mature students, international students and part time students. Included in the workshop was a presentation on how to better involve postgraduates and communicate to them, referring to what NPC covers in its own training courses and resource folder. Much of what was presented did also have equal application to mature students, and was helpful in the process of considering how to better involve them. This included running meetings that fit into their agenda and environment, appropriate financial investment that reflects investing money back into the students that indirectly pay to be members of their student body and also considering how they will be reached not using the regular communication methods.
During the session, a brainstorm of key issues affecting mature students were covered so that then I was able to comment on each one and add ideas as to how those issues also related to postgraduates. This was then able to show how campaigning on such cases could easily be extended to also include postgraduates, with the common ground of interest involved. Those points covered in the brainstorm session are as follows:
- Self Consciousness of who a mature student is, likewise a case for postgraduates who will also have a peer gap. This gap in the postgraduate case will be through possibly having had professional experience since graduation or re-entering education having been at a different institution, where they do not feel the same sense of integration at their new institution.
- Fitting into the environment, how approachable are student representative bodies for mature students and indeed postgraduates? The running, atmosphere and orientation may be completely that of an 18-21 year old undergraduate, and if no other students are involved, this will easily feel that way.
- Childcare - For both postgraduates and mature students this is an important issue with many postgraduates coming back to education after some years. Will childcare also be available for postgraduates during vacation, late hours and other timetabled events they have to engage with?
- Finance - This is always a different situation for mature students, and likewise the diverse nature of finance for postgraduates is ever more complex dependent on full time/part time status, home/EU or overseas, taught or research and also the subject area. Funding in all these areas will vary widely.
- Balance of work with children - Again in the case of postgraduates, the situation is ever more complex with the intensity of study or research in that instance.
- Distance Living - Often the case for students with families if accommodation etc. is not available from the institution. This is even more so the case for the part time student community - 60% of postgraduates.
- "Not like it used to be" culture - Many postgraduates will feel that after re-entering education after a number of years, like mature students, the system is not run as it used to and as they expect it should. This could include use of how to use the Internet, computing skills, changes in pedagogy in how courses are taught, staff and student relations, a less "commercial" approach to higher education.
- Accommodation - For mature students, this may involve living with families, being able to live somewhere that they are not disturbed by young students living in their age culture, or having accommodation they can use temporarily during the week and then have the opportunity to be with their families during the weekend. A need for segregated accommodation for postgraduates does also exist, NPC's publication, "Providing for the Postgraduate Market", indicates that 53% gave preference to live with other postgraduates only and a further 28% indicated they were not bothered. Therefore there is a strong case for postgraduate only accommodation and likewise extending that to mature students, who will also fit in better with that peer group.
- Information for Mature Students - At induction, much of the information is not necessarily provided to meet the needs of mature, international or postgraduate students who may arrive outside the introduction week. Therefore, there is need for a handbook suited to these students, to allow them to know of the specific facilities available to them that are otherwise difficult to know about in their particular situation.
- Two way communication from student representative bodies - This is most definitely an issue for postgraduates as well as mature students in that the normal communication channels are not utilised by student bodies. The usual communications of the student newspaper, posters, website and meetings the student body holds are not going to reach such students. As many mature students are part time, or unlikely to be in the institution so often when they are full time means that other communication methods via departments will assist in getting appropriate communication to them. This is also the case for postgraduates placed in pockets of community so means of communication for both students would assist in this regard.
This workshop was certainly a useful means to identify how postgraduate and mature student issues can be addressed jointly. There is no doubt that if the workshop was repeated, many further ideas could be generated.