NPC Guidelines on the Provision of Exclusive Postgraduate Facilities (2003)

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1. Introduction

Large higher education institutions with a significant cohort of postgraduates are highly likely to find such students to be within a unique group. Meeting the needs and interests of postgraduates under the same umbrella as undergraduates has a variety of difficulties when they have differing interests and agendas. In such circumstances measures have been and are being taken by a number of higher education institutions to provide exclusive postgraduate facilities as a means of meeting these needs.

Provision of such facilities will support an inherent segregation that exists between postgraduates and undergraduates, which therefore must be addressed. These guidelines will indicate, based on investigating the postgraduate opinion, where segregation can or cannot be justified. The main aspect of these guidelines will consider how postgraduates are undergoing a transition possibly from as early as being a recent undergraduate through to being a regular member of staff. Some postgraduates may have started this transition before they become a postgraduate and some will go through faster than others depending on their plans or circumstances. A number of facilities exist for undergraduate students and also for staff, both of which postgraduates will normally have access to. However, there is often little in place to support the postgraduate peer group who are in the middle of this transition, which can result in a lack of postgraduate community identity. These guidelines will give examples of good practise when providing exclusive facilities and how these can be particularly provided in terms of accommodation arrangements, social facilities, study support, representation, inductions, generic skills and vacation facilities. Also the guidelines will highlight the possible benefits of postgraduate sabbatical officers and extending such facilities to part time postgraduates.

2. Causes of segregation and their justification

To consider where segregation may need to be avoided or accepted, the actual causes of segregation need to be taken into account. There is a wide spectrum of postgraduate students all experiencing a transition some reaching a further stage than others. At the start of the spectrum are postgraduates who have recently left undergraduate education. These students are likely to be young, free of any outside commitments and heavily involved in the student life within the institution. At the end of the spectrum postgraduates are completing their study or research and possibly moving themselves to a professional career or even becoming a member of staff, thus they will have progressed significantly from undergraduate education. The personal circumstances of a postgraduate as well as the stage they are at in this transition process will have a significant effect on how segregated they are from undergraduates. The following examples indicate how this takes place:

  1. Part time and block release (who are only in the institution for intensive periods) postgraduates are only going to be within an institution for a limited amount of time. This will make integration with undergraduates virtually impossible so they are segregated by default and there is no need to change this. Such postgraduates being based outside the institution will have little connection with student life and will be further down the transition stage since they are likely to be pursuing a professional career.
  2. Older, mature students may have major commitments such as family that do not allow them to integrate with student life. Such cases again will not allow them to easily integrate with student life and are significantly further down the transition process.
  3. Full time postgraduates without many personal commitments will be in a position where they are exposed to life within the institution. Also there are a number of cases where they will find themselves able to interact with undergraduates. Despite the fact they may still have some freedom and flexibility, they will still be older than undergraduates, spending more time within a different peer group to that they were in as undergraduates and possibly in a position where they are teaching undergraduates. All these factors and others contribute to a number of social differences that will cause some postgraduates to distance themselves from undergraduates. This happens inherently and research has shown that this is acceptable from feedback received by postgraduates [1].
  4. It is likely that a number of younger postgraduates who have recently left undergraduate education may still have the enthusiasm to get involved in student activity. However, they may find accessibility difficult since they do not progress through the institution in the same way as undergraduates. Further to this they may not be aware of what is available to them. Segregation in cases such as this are caused by limitations of the institution, which can be overcome.

The four above examples of different stages of transition for a postgraduate show how there are cases where segregation cannot be avoided, need not be avoided and may need to be overcome. Introducing an exclusive postgraduate facility will provide a base for the inherent postgraduate peer group that does not integrate with staff or undergraduates easily to make use of as necessary. At the same time however, such a facility should help to maintain or improve accessibility to both undergraduate and staff facilities for postgraduates to use as necessary. It should not be the intention that postgraduates are supposed to use only the facilities that are dedicated to them.

3. Distinctive postgraduate needs

As well as creating space for the postgraduate peer group, it is also necessary for an institution to identify what distinctive needs their postgraduates have, which are otherwise difficult to meet without an exclusive facility. Examples of particular needs for research postgraduates, taught postgraduates and both research and taught postgraduates are listed below [1]:

Research Postgraduates:

  • Often restricted to getting to know only those in their office environment
  • Accommodation needs highly different to that of others
  • Few to share personal experiences with
  • Teaching responsibilities and other pressures exist outside of their own research
  • Nobody to integrate with who are necessarily working on the same/similar work
  • Limited holiday periods
  • The working day has a different agenda
  • Restrictions from many social activities and other functions due to the working hours
  • Little support to get started on a research programme

Taught Postgraduates:

  • Often hard to meet colleagues beyond those on the same course.
  • Often accommodation and central meeting places are not running consistently for postgraduates all year round, so the community they are based within often falls apart during the vacation times
  • Course duration is short, preventing time to get to know the institution properly
  • With limited duration, much of the work is intensive
  • Postgraduates are more likely to be mature, part time or international students, which can sometimes make it hard to overcome social and cultural differences without the means to do so easily
  • Students coming to study with greater experience and wishing to build on that at a more advanced level

Both Taught and Research Postgraduates:

  • Limited facilities during the vacation
  • Few institutions run a comprehensive introduction week or structured induction programmes to welcome postgraduates in properly
  • Student social facilities have less appeal
  • No community identity, the feeling is set that the institution functions in the interests of the undergraduates
  • Lack of opportunity to meet other postgraduates other than those on their course or research programme, because there is no central facility where postgraduates naturally meet
  • Limited support exists for the different aspects of the postgraduates personal and social development
  • Wide generation gaps
  • Student facilities often geared towards undergraduates

All institutions will have a different diversity of postgraduates, for which different needs and interests will apply. When planning facilities it is essential for an institution investigate the distinctive needs of their postgraduates so that facilities can be designed as appropriate to meet those needs within the postgraduate peer group. The above examples are there to assist in identifying what those particular needs might be. It is not necessarily the case that postgraduates in all institutions will have every need listed above since it will depend on size, balance of full time and part time students, percentage of international students, mature students and other variable factors.

4.Models of exclusive postgraduate provisions

The National Postgraduate Committee has identified a number of different exclusive postgraduate facilities around the UK and derived some models of good practise. The different models will meet the interests for postgraduates in different ways and should be applied to institutions in appropriate ways depending on what is already available and how the institution is structured.

Postgraduate Centre This model has common social and study space available to postgraduates. It is also beneficial to have different areas within the postgraduate centre that have both a bar and common room with tea/coffee facilities etc. This can provide alternative settings for different cultures within the postgraduate community. Also informal study areas are of benefit with computing and other study support facilities. It is possible that the postgraduate centre could be near to or within the same building as the student representative body. If this is the case then it is essential that the postgraduate centre is appropriately secluded from the representative body such that it does not create the impression postgraduates are not supposed to use facilities other than the postgraduate centre. This would be promoting segregation where it is not necessary.

Postgraduate Student Body As well as having postgraduate centre facilities, there are some instances where all the representative activity is brought into the postgraduate centre so that it is largely operating as a separate postgraduate student body. There will also be a democratic structure possibly with full time executive members and support staff so postgraduates can direct their own activities and reach their own community effectively. It is essential, however, that a clearly defined relationship is set with the main student representative body since it will be essential for the two bodies to work together despite the fact they will have conflicting policies and reasons to work independently in a number of cases.

Postgraduate Social Club This will essentially act as a social club with postgraduate membership.

Postgraduate Campus Institutions with separate sites may choose to dedicate one campus to postgraduate activity.

5. Application of postgraduate provisions

Although exclusive facilities may have a significant impact in providing for the needs and interests of postgraduates, it is important that a number of generic facilities used widely by postgraduates are arranged suitably so that they compliment each other. These have been outlined in the following sub-sections.

5.1. Accommodation

A vast majority of postgraduates favour living with other postgraduates only [1]. There are also specific reasons why postgraduate accommodation is of benefit to both postgraduates and undergraduates. The most important of these are that there is a community identity with postgraduates being within reach of each other. Often postgraduates and undergraduates have different living interests and so prefer to be separate. There is also consistent living all year round as otherwise postgraduates may be moved to another location and new environment during the vacation after undergraduates have left. It is also necessary to note that postgraduate accommodation does not get interfered by conferences and other residential activities in the vacation time.

5.2. Social Facilities

Any exclusive facility should communicate and promote other social activities such as clubs, societies and other events run for students. This will help to encourage all postgraduates to take advantage of what is available to them should they wish to.

5.3. Study Support

All study support facilities including library and information technology facilities should be made available to postgraduates within semester/term time and vacation time with suitable opening hours. Also during semester/term time such facilities should not be over-used by classes and other timetabled events. In some instances, it may be beneficial to keep some study support facilities within an exclusive facility.

5.4. Pastoral Support

All pastoral support facilities including counselling, student advice and healthcare should be consistently available all year round and if any special arrangements are necessary during vacation times they should be communicated appropriately to postgraduates.

5.5. Inductions

It is generally the case that postgraduates will begin the course or research programme at different times to undergraduates and so will experience a different introduction programme, should one exist. All postgraduates should be entitled to a structured and systematic welcome programme, which is difficult to manage at the same time as running undergraduate introduction activities. It is therefore recommended that people and resources are dedicated to running postgraduate inductions.

5.6. Generic Skills Training

Skills and personal development apply differently to postgraduates in a number of ways. Research postgraduates will require a specific set of skills including literature reviewing, research methods and thesis writing. Taught postgraduates may be undertaking courses requiring specific skills training that was not applicable at undergraduate level. Further to this a number of postgraduates will have had some professional experience from which they have identified skills they need to improve. The delivery of such courses may need to be suitably changed so that postgraduates can attain such skills in the correct context.

5.7. Departmental facilities

Large institutions will benefit from central postgraduate facilities, although there is still a strong case to provide additional facilities at departmental level [2] in order to integrate postgraduates at a local level. This is normally achieved in the form of a common room open to both taught and research postgraduates. This is particularly helpful in larger departments where there is little opportunity for postgraduates to meet each other.

5.8. Vacation Facilities

Other facilities not mentioned above including catering, laundry and basic shopping should all have suitable opening hours during the vacation for postgraduates to use.

6. Representation structures

The National Postgraduate Committee recommends the need to have a means where postgraduates are representing their interests as postgraduates [3]. Any exclusive facilities will provide a helpful base within which to communicate with postgraduates in the setting of their own peer group. As already mentioned, there is the possibility of having a fully autonomous postgraduate representative body or a sub-body of a student representative body that works largely outside of the representative body itself. In such circumstances it is essential there is a defined relationship with the student representative body in order to allow collaboration when such projects require it. Increasing postgraduate involvement in student representative bodies has a number of problems when postgraduate arrangements are often run on a voluntary basis and the postgraduates running them are under immense pressure from their study or research. This does not enable them to easily promote postgraduate representation and increase involvement; thus they are in a vicious circle.

There are three models of representation that will help to break this vicious circle, which institutions may wish to consider:

  1. A representative body operating out of an exclusive postgraduate centre run by voluntary officers and supported by administrative staff to ease unnecessary workload. The postgraduate centre needs to be in an accessible location to postgraduates so they can use the facilities and communicate with representative officers. The postgraduate officers would be elected by a body of postgraduates within the representative body, which may be autonomous or a sub-body of the student representative body. In either case, the postgraduate body will come across as largely separate and arranged for postgraduates.
  2. A similar representative body to the above may be implemented but could employ a part time or full time postgraduate sabbatical officer so they have dedicated time to work for postgraduates.
  3. A committee working within the student representative body chaired by a postgraduate officer. This postgraduate officer may be a full time sabbatical officer.

Institutions with a large number of postgraduates are likely to find one of these models possible to implement. This will depend on resources available and how the postgraduate community operates within an institution. Whether a postgraduate sabbatical will be of benefit is also highly questionable. The National Postgraduate Committee recognises the benefit of such a post [1] [3], although how it is used and where it is based requires careful consideration. Such factors will include making the post popular to elect appropriate candidates, allowing the post to work effectively within the postgraduate agenda and have a suitable relationship with other sabbatical officers. At the time of going to print few postgraduate sabbatical officers are in post, although as numbers are increasing there is scope to establish appropriately detailed guidelines.

7. Extending to part time students

Much of the guidelines presented can easily be directed towards full time postgraduates and largely the issues only concern them. However, part time postgraduates are of as much concern in some areas which need to be addressed here. It has already been mentioned that part time postgraduates are less likely to be in need of any institutional facilities when they will be based elsewhere for the vast majority of time.

Despite the reduced demand on facilities from part time students, there is still a need to provide access to facilities within the hours that they are present at the institution should they require them. This will also help give part time postgraduates a sense of identity within the institution and an avenue to access any facilities they require. Above anything, communication is improved in this sense so that part time students are included in representation, study support and social activities where appropriate. It is also essential to make sure internet and other communication facilities are available for such postgraduates. Further needs for part time postgraduates will include transport, parking and personal security for those attending late evening courses. Again, this will add scope to develop further guidelines to address the specific interests and needs of the different part time postgraduates in general.

8. References

  1. T. Brown, Providing for the Postgraduate Market, 2003, National Postgraduate Committee, ISBN 1-899997-09-1.
  2. Guidelines on Accommodation and Facilities for Postgraduate Research, 1995, National Postgraduate Committee, ISBN 1-899997-04-0.
  3. NPC Resource Folder, 2001, National Postgraduate Committee, ISBN 1-899997-07-5.