Summary of training session, 15/3/03, University of Bristol Union

This document is a short summary of the training session undertaken at the University of Bristol delivered by their in-house development coordinator, Dave Jarman. The sections have been detailed as necessary.

Plenary

The session opened up as a large group drawing key ideas on why postgraduates have specific interests different to that of undergraduates, the following were brainstormed:

Older
Mature
Isolated
International
Different financial needs
Part time
Been through Higher Education
Academic interest is more focused
Relations in institution are more closely staff/student and they may be employed with teaching responsibilities
Welfare issues

Following this it was the aim of discussing issues that affect postgraduates across the UK. Separate issues regarding postgraduate representation were raised for discussion between different subgroups. The following discussion subjects were covered by individual groups asked to comment on a given statement:

Postgrads are much more sober and sensible; theyve left their wild, party-animal undergrad lifestyles behind.

  1. Postgraduates are more sensible party animals some party a great deal others may simply party on a more modest level.
  2. Those who do drinking may be into social drinking.
  3. They have been there and done that after undergraduate party life and have moved on to greater things.
  4. There are higher expectations of postgraduates in what they do socially
  5. Some postgraduates may be experienced alcoholics and able to handle alcohol better.

Finnishing term Were islands floating in a sea of undergraduates

Postgrads have greater workloads and are less willing to get involved in activities, clubs, and societies.

In disagreement with the statement, postgraduates are often not attracted to clubs and societies for the following reasons:

  1. There is often lack of communication to make them known to postgraduates
  2. There is isolation from general activity outside academic life
  3. The time schedules are different, the academic year does not work the same
  4. There is a different attitude to work generally so their life pattern will be different
  5. It was questioned as to what a society can offer postgraduates, is it keen to include postgraduates in its activity

General feeling amongst postgraduates discussed: I dont feel a part of this University

Postgrads arent as interested in student issues as undergrads, in terms of getting actively involved in making representation to the University.

It was agreed that this was the case because of:

  1. Time and commitment is difficult
  2. Perception that representation is undergraduate oriented
  3. Culture of the institution gives that impression
  4. Focus is on the individual

Postgrads arent as involved politically as undergrads as theyre more engaged in their studies, there is less need for national representation.

This group agreed with two main points:

  1. Postgraduates are more engaged in studies or research
    % Postgraduates are generally less politically involved as undergraduates

However, it was not agreed that there is less need fir representation. If anything, given these circumstances there is a greater need and desire for more emphasis.

The findings of each group were presented to the whole group and discussed at large. This then lead onto discussing what different postgraduate organisations do and would like to do. This was discussed in the individual groups and they came up with the following details.

Group 1:

This included people from the following groups with their respective representation structures:

Birkbeck (and ULU) - has mainly part time students although often ULU normally focus on postgraduate issues.
York Has a Graduate Students Association with autonomous representation and provision for postgraduates.
Bristol An active postgraduate society and postgraduate officer exist within the Students Union.
Edinburgh Their students association has full time staff support with a part time postgraduate committee.
Napier Here there are full time staff with an education and welfare sabbatical to deal with all the representation issues.

Activities they had for postgraduates were:

Birkbeck Has a highly mature and postgraduate part time population so their activity is often de-facto postgraduate.
York The Graduate Students Association organises all activity separately.
Bristol The Postgraduate Society primarily organises events in the interests of postgraduates.
Edinburgh All activities are centrally integrated.
Napier All activity happens on an integrated level in this instance.

Social provision in all cases was organised in similar ways as above. Therefore some have all of their social activity with all students, where as some hold their social activity separately.

Group 2:

The institutions within this group were not recorded, they reported the following details:

  • Postgraduate association with officers and staff were in existence.
  • Specific postgraduate welfare and education services were lacking and more would have been appreciated.
  • Departmental postgraduate representatives are varied too but more structure to them was required.

The activities they considered were:

  • It was noted that all postgraduates and undergraduates are students, so that involvement should be encouraged and interaction made.
  • Small interest groups such as focus groups were also there for specific concerns.

Social activities were discussed as follows:

  • Opt in social email lists could be set up but also could be sent to all postgraduates.
  • Separate social space and grouped accommodation also beneficial in some cases.
  • Regular social events with internationality would also be valued.

Group 3:

The following institutions in the group gave their representation activities:

Open Has an excellent organisation of representation with 30 representatives to the University senate.
Bath They have a seat in senate and the students union council.
Cambridge They have both a students union and a graduate union along with representatives from colleges, some of which are postgraduate based. Seats are available for students to represent centrally.
Essex Essex has postgraduates under the students union, where there is a welfare sabbatical with a remit to include postgraduates.
Imperial This has a different students union structure to most other students unions with postgraduate representatives from around the university appointed. There is no representative to the University which is otherwise dealt with by London.
Bristol They have their own seats in senate and other committees.

All institutions have activities for postgraduates and the Open University runs them on a regional and branch basis.

Social activities are organised often by postgraduates themselves although some have not yet got any activity. Due to limited resources, however, they can be limited. Open University runs its social activity on a regional level.

Group 4:

Three institutions were present in this group with the following representation structures:

Aberdeen The president of the students association this year is a PhD student. There is representation on the senate and academic standards but only one postgraduate officer.
Bath This has a senate, a graduate studies department and currently a 7 strong committee.
Bristol Here there is a council, a senate an education committee with 12 strong members.

The only activities mentioned were interest groups.

Social activities included:

Aberdeen Now has a canteen for staff and postgraduates.
Bristol This has welcome events, fortnightly events being a quiz night and Christmas, Easter and summer parties.
Bath They are looking to do joint events with Bristol, and also have a separate canteen set up.

Final Plenary

Following report back from the groups, representation for postgraduates that was specific to them was then raised at the end as a whole group and how interest could be attracted from postgraduates to make their voices heard. A brainstorm was then carried out with the question:

What issues, affecting PGs, might draw them to attend a Forum on the issue?

The following answers were generated:

Graduate teaching assistants
Participation in academic networks
Vacation facilities
Funding
Careers advice
Transport discounts
Information Technology Skills
Supervisor/Student relations
Research Skills
Intellectual property rights
Library
Personal Development
Access to external research facilities
Childcare
Progress

Finally the question:

What does the NPC do and what could it do for its constituent members?

was brainstormed at the end with the following outcomes:

Postgraduate officers necessary although part time so need emphasis
Graduate schools could intervene and support if available
Targeting communication that postgraduates use is necessary
Training in postgraduate issues
Online resources are vital