by Jim Ewing
The National Postgraduate Committee of the United Kingdom welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Higher Education Academy's strategic planning consultation document, 'Shaping the Academy'.
The National Postgraduate Committee of the United Kingdom is the principal representative body of postgraduate students in the UK. As a registered charity (no. SC033368), our aim is to promote, in the public interest, postgraduate education in the UK. We share best practice through publications and meetings, respond to consultations, address conferences and take on casework. In the furtherance of our aims, we co-operate with other like-minded democratic student bodies, professional associations and trades unions.
We address the questions given in 'Shaping the Academy' in chronological order, specifically with reference to postgraduate education as per our charitable aims.
1. Should we be concerned with all aspects of the student experience? If not, which aspects of the student experience should we focus on?
All aspects. It is important to monitor the student's personal development and support overall. We believe that this applies especially to postgraduates with regard to the relevance of their course or research and also the quality of lifestyle experienced during this time. The investment of time, money and effort in postgraduate education, especially but not exclusively on PhD courses, is such that the training and experience provided must be appropriate and relevant to the student's current expectations and future intentions. As regards the quality of lifestyle, research can be a solitary, if not lonely, existence and attention should be directed towards this aspect.
In particular we wish to draw attention to the large number of international students in postgraduate education (especially on taught masters courses) and the more varied background of postgraduates - none of them come straight from school. These distinctive features must be borne in mind when addressing the postgraduate experience within higher education.
2. Should the focus of the Academy's work be "transformative" (leading change in practice to improve the student experience) or should it be "facilitative" (supporting institutional and individuals' efforts to make the student experience better)?
Transformative. The Academy has great potential as an agent for sharing best practice and, while this will involve supporting those who are already doing things well, it should mainly involve collating data and presenting guidelines.
3. Are our proposed strategic objectives relevant to your needs? If not, what are your priorities over the next five years in terms of supporting and improving the student experience?
The examples omit the need for effective survey feedback to show evidence for auditing and assessment purposes and whether teaching is well-received and/or beneficial, with reference to completion of the course and future career advancement. The expectations and requirements for postgraduates are much higher, and require more detailed feedback.
Also, postgraduates who teach should be included among staff. These need extra support and monitoring in terms of the standards they achieve. See www.npc.org.uk/page/1090072528.
4. What actions might your organisation take to enhance the student experience and develop the professional learning and standing of its staff?
5. What are the key services you would expect from the Adademy?
To seek consistently the views and opinions of students in institutions, with specific focus groups for postgraduates, both taught and research, and also for students who teach. This will then require consulting with student bodies (like ourselves) on where student feedback indicates need for change.
6. What should be the key measures of our success?
Transparent, comprehensible evidence to the student and the public that approval and accreditation of institutions' awards reflect the true quality of those institutions. This is important not only to demonstrate effective student performance, but also recognition from the relevant professional organisation/institution of the respective merits of each course. This is important at international level as well as local and national. It would, or course, require some sort of grading system.
7. How would you like to engage with the Adacemy and its work?
We would like a guaranteed place on the HEI council in line with the NUS, in order to ensure a strong postgraduate and research voice.
8. Is the range of our activities relevant to your needs as a member of the HE community?
We are especially concerned with teaching standards, where we would wish to see the particular needs of postgraduates addressed.
9. What do you think will be the main constraints on achieving our strategic objectives?
Student reluctance may result in difficulties in acquiring evidence of good teaching practice, where this is lacking.
Also, members of staff who are set in their ways may be reluctant to accept recommended practice.
10. Do you have any other comments on our purpose, aims and objectives and ways in which we will work?
No further comment.