Confernce 2004 Report - PG: Suitable for All?

The NPC Annual Conference this year took place at Coventry University from the 12th-15th August 2004 with the title "PG: Suitable for all?". The key part of the conference focused on postgraduates in light of higher education reform. Not only had the higher education bill been passed but there were many other developments moving on from the higher education white paper. Most notably there has been continuous discussion over research and teaching links, as well as the new Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) code of practice for research degrees - both of which NPC have been heavily involved in over the past year.

Speakers included:

  • Dr Ian Gibson, Chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee of the House of Commons. The input from Dr Gibson was an excellent kick start to the conference bringing out the good, the bad and the ugly of a long overdue debate to address the ever growing needs in higher education. Good news was the entrance of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), this will much improve support for research and postgraduates in the arts and humanities. On the bad side, he raised his immense concern over top up fees, where the focus has been too biased to undergraduates with little attention paid to how the impact of fees will be a threat to continuation of study at postgraduate level.
  • Dr Steve Wharton, Vice President of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) gave the perspective from his own lecturers union on current government agenda in higher education. Topics raised included whether we should engage with the general public on higher education issues, and the unfair consideration of "Mickey Mouse" degrees as described by government.
  • Gill Clarke and Janet Bohrer of the Quality Assurance Agency, who addressed attendees on the institutional audit process and how students play an important role in conveying the student perceptions of an institution. They also discussed the new code of practice, which NPC played a significant role in developing. This code incorporates a range of standards including supervision, training and complaints mechanisms for research students. The presentation gave a useful overview of how the code of practice had come together and how it would then be used for institutions to re-implement their own codes of practice - a process in which input from postgraduate representatives will be essential.
  • Ellen Pearce, the manager of the UK GRAD Programme, a centre of excellence for training in research. NPC has had a long standing relationship with them over the years helping to constantly improve the training of postgraduate research students. This presentation discussed the results of a survey of personal development planning (PDP) considering how few students were identifying PDP to assist their training needs or ascertain qualities they can cite on their CV.
  • Dame Ruth Deech, Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), gave an impacting presentation on the second day of the conference with an introduction to the office and how it intends to fulfil its role in higher education. Dame Ruth recognised the difficulties associated with postgraduate research programmes, identifying thesis rejection, exam conduct and quality of supervision as causing immense problems to the research student.

Other highlights of the conference were a wide range of training sessions and informative seminars as well as the annual general meeting which included the election of the new executive. The past General Secretary, Tim Brown, said at the end of the conference: "This goes to show the importance of why NPC needs to exist. I am so encouraged when all NPC's work and people come together at our conference to give us positive support in what we are doing. I look forward to seeing how more will make use of our support and resources."