NPC Guidelines on Accommodation and Facilities for Postgraduate Research (1995)

This section...

Also in Postgraduate Publications...

The National Postgraduate Committee was formed in 1982 to represent the interests and aspirations of postgraduate instructional and research students. All institutions with postgraduate students are entitled to representation on the Committee.

We would be very pleased to discuss further the points raised in the Guidelines, and to receive comments on them. If you would like any further details on the Guidelines or on the NPC itself, please contact the National Postgraduate Committee.


The National Postgraduate Committee (NPC) has previously identified the three major problems facing research students as:

  • supervision and administration
  • facilities
  • isolation

The NPC's Code of Practice for Postgraduate Research (1992) addresses the problems of supervision and administration, but does not look into the other problems of facilities and isolation. The purpose of these guidelines is to clarify the needs of research students for space (both office space and social space) and facilities. We hope that by doing this we might also go some way towards solving problems of isolation. Postgraduate research is very diverse in nature, encompassing both full-time and part-time students. The period of research can also vary considerably from a few months in the case of a masters degree to several years for a part-time doctorate. During this period of research, there is a moral obligation on the institution to provide a suitable environment in which to conduct the research, such as outlined in these guidelines.

Many research students are seldom seen around their departments, preferring to work in a library or at home. These guidelines suggest that all research students have at least part of an office and access to common rooms for academic and social purposes. If these simple proposals are adopted, many students may choose to raise their profiles. Their departments will have offered them something; and, by increased participation, they will be offering more to their departments and the university community.

A major benefit of accommodating research students within the departmental space will be that supervision can improve. Students with useful offices will be in them more often, and supervisors will not have to go far to find them. Nor will students have to go far to find their supervisor. Each becomes more accessible to the other, to the benefit of both. The quality of research, morale among both research students and staff, and completion rates all must improve while time to completion, isolation and dissatisfaction will decrease.

Departments should be as physically cohesive as possible. The creation of "postgraduate centres", which concentrate postgraduates from different disciplines in an exclusive facility (but separate from academic and administrative staff in departments), can help reduce isolation, especially where departments have only a small number of research students. However, students in such centres may be cut off from other activities in their departments; they should be given some space in their own departments, such as access to a common room, so that they do feel part of the department. It is important that the organisation of groups is appropriate to particular circumstances, and institutions should give serious thought to this.

To summarise, the provision of better office space and facilities for all postgraduate researchers will have major and long-lasting benefits for all interested parties. Students will be better able to proceed with their work and will feel more satisfied by their postgraduate experience. Members of staff will find that creating a cohesive body of research students will give them a readily available body of help for research, teaching, seminars and other activities. The community will be enhanced by the inclusion of its senior students. The greater ease of communication, and the improved morale, which will result can only improve the quality of research over the whole department, and certainly the learning experience of the student.

Rooms Needed by Research Students

The accommodation needs of research students can be divided into three types, all of which are required:

  1. Most importantly, an office, possible shared, to be used as a "home base"
  2. Part-time exclusive access to departmental rooms (particularly for teaching and seminars)
  3. Common rooms


Every research student should have a place from which to start each day. Many students who already have this privilege find it invaluable, but many complain that their space is too overcrowded, unpleasant, or useless other than for storage. The creation of more offices and more specialised rooms should largely solve such problems.

Having a place of one's own is important. Access becomes much simpler as everyone becomes easier to find. Post, telephone calls and messages are much more readily delivered and collected. Isolation should decrease and morale improve.

  1. Each research student needs a place of his/her own. The minimum acceptable provision is a desk, chair, lamp, bookcase, file drawer(s) and room key. Writing boards, their materials, waste bins and recycling boxes should also be provided. Chairs must be comfortable and adjustable. Rooms must be well ventilated and heated, and there should be suitable lighting. Rooms must be safe and suitable for any special need the student may have.
  2. Institutions should have a policy whereby rooms under a specified area must be for individual occupancy. This policy would similarly classify offices suitable for two but not three people, for three but not four people, and so forth, based on floor space.
  3. Allocation of these rooms can be up to departments, but care should be taken to allow reassignment in the face of incompatibility based on personality or habits (such as smoking).
  4. Library carrels should be allocated to departments and assigned by departments to students who have opted for one over an office. Students whose research involves an unusually high proportion of materials that can not be removed from the Library might have the option of both an office and a carrel, but most students would not need both.
  5. Students whose research involves experimental work should be allocated bench space in a laboratory. If most of their work is carried out in the laboratory, this may be in place of a permanent desk in an office. However, these students still need somewhere to do written work; desks, which may be shared, in a communal room (but not the laboratory) should be provided for this purpose.

Private Common Space

There are several needs for common rooms which can be reserved for exclusive use by research students.

For use by part-time teachers who find their offices shared with too many others to be useful during office hours for teaching or other meetings with students.

For students sharing an office who might occasionally need such a room that has not become cluttered for contemplation and quiet solo work.

For students collaborating on a piece of work who would need a room in which to talk freely without worrying about distracting others sharing their offices.

Libraries and coffee bars cannot be expected to fill all these needs: neither has writing boards, and libraries do not allow conversation.

  1. Each department should have a number of rooms that can be reserved, with research students being given highest priority. These rooms need a desk, several chairs, and a writing-board. Bookcases and filing cabinets would not be necessary. The method for reservations can be decided by departments.
  2. The number of these rooms would be decided by each department. A likely formula would be one for every eight or ten research students. The formula could be keyed to the number of research students, the number of part-time teachers, or the amount of part-time teaching being done, or could allow other factors. If provision of these rooms is adequate, members of staff could also use them by reservation.

Common Rooms

Space that belongs to everyone is just as important as space that belongs to only one person. Both must be provided if a community is to function. Departmental and institution-wide common rooms are both needed, as they serve different purposes.

Department common rooms allow mixing between staff and students in the department; they reduce isolation by ensuring that people feel they belong to the department, and help to create an active research environment by encouraging the exchange of ideas and opinions at an informal level.

Institution-wide common rooms help to develop a social identity for all postgraduates within the institution, and can be used by the Postgraduate Students' Association.

  1. Department common rooms should be open to staff and postgraduates in the department. Common rooms should contain a range of comfortable chairs and a kettle. Writing-boards, ashtrays and newspapers are optional.
  2. The institution should have a common room for the exclusive use of postgraduate students. This common room should be for social activities, and so should not be reserved as a quiet place for reading, etc.
  3. Common rooms should not be bookable for classes, lectures, seminars or other meetings. Under no circumstances should the institution feel free to use the room as it wishes. If a common room is provided only intermittently, it will never gain wide usage.

Academic Facilities

Research students need to be provided with a good standard of, and easy access to, a variety of facilities if they are to be able to carry out their research to the best of their abilities. These guidelines address only those facilities which should be provided to all research students, across all disciplines. Obviously, many areas of research require specialist facilities, such as laboratories or equipment for fieldwork; a department should not take on a student unless it is able to ensure that adequate facilities are available to allow that student to complete the research required.

  1. Departments should make clear to students, before they start their courses, exactly what facilities are available to them, and ensure that these facilities are available for the full duration of their research work.
  2. Students should not have to pay for any facilities or materials which are essential to their research. This should be covered by course fees.


In order to be able to carry out their research satisfactorily, it is necessary for research students to have access to the forms of information most applicable to their subject area. Therefore, there must be adequate library facilities available in the institution. It is recognised that, die to financial constraints, libraries are not always able to provide comprehensive coverage in all subject areas and that there may be a need to borrow material from remote institutions.

  1. The institution should ensure that there is a generous provision of up-to-date books and periodicals in local libraries, which must be easily accessible.
  2. All material held by libraries should be catalogued on computer at an institution-wide level. Access to these catalogues should be freely available throughout the campus, in particular the library areas, and accessible during weekends and evenings.
  3. Access should be given to both paper and electronic catalogues and data which could be of benefit to the research work being undertaken. With the increase in electronic data and publishing, suitable computing facilities should be freely available in order to acquire and examine electronic based information.
  4. Students should be able to borrow a suitable number of books and periodicals to read outside the confines of the library for a reasonable period. The borrowing system should not be too restrictive or complex and should be free of charge.
  5. Part-time students may not be able to visit the library regularly. Arrangements should therefore be made so that students can reserve books by telephone, have literature searches carried out by a librarian, and have books delivered and returned by post. Also, it should be possible to arrange extended loan periods when short loans might be difficult to collect and return.
  6. Students should be able to request inter-library loans without charge, for material essential to their research. Students should be allowed free access to library collections at other institutions if this is required to carry out their research work.
  7. Access to photocopying machines should be available within libraries, with guidelines on copyright laws.
  8. Libraries should keep reasonable opening hours, allowing access outside of normal office hours, at weekends and out of term-time.


Computers are now an indispensable part of academic life. All students regularly use word processors, and the analytical power provided by computers is invaluable to many researchers. Electronic communication has become an essential tool for research in virtually all fields of study. It can also provide a lifeline to postgraduate researchers, who might otherwise find themselves very isolated, both academically and socially. It is, therefore, of vital importance that all postgraduates are given free and easy access to computing facilities.

  1. Research students need access to computers, work-stations and printers in rooms which are not subject to reservation by classes. Whether institutions meet these needs by having rooms reserved for postgraduates or departments, or some other room-provision system, is best decided by that institution, considering its demographics and resources.
  2. Appropriate training, as well as advisory and support services, should be provided, so that students are able to use the facilities to maximum efficiency.
  3. All postgraduates should have access to electronic mail facilities, and to any remote databases which may be essential to their research.

Telephones and Fax

  1. Every student should be allowed access to departmental phones and fax machines to make calls directly related to research. Each office should have a phone, although it may not be necessary for each desk.
  2. It may be appropriate for the office phone to be barred from making external calls. If this is the case, students need to be able to use a different phone for external calls. Access to this phone should not be made too difficult, and students should not be made to feel they are putting anyone (eg secretarial staff) to inconvenience.
  3. Suitable arrangements must be made for students who need to make approved international calls outside of normal office hours, as necessary under large time zone differentials.
  4. Students should be allowed to make essential personal calls.

Other Facilities

  1. Adequate facilities for printing and photocopying should be available. Use of these facilities should be free of charge when it is required for research purposes.
  2. Any other materials required for students' research (such as computer disks, transparencies, etc.) should be provided by departments without extra charge.

Access Arrangements

Convenient access to buildings and facilities is essential if they are to be used to the best advantage. Institutions should be able to cater for the needs and abilities of all students. Some sections of the student population, such as disabled students and those with children, require special needs which must be recognised in the design of buildings. Others, such as part-time students, need to be flexible in their working arrangements, and this should be reflected in opening hours and availability of facilities.

Hours of Access

It is becoming ever more the case that students are not able to work solely during the normal office hours of 9am to 5pm. This is especially true for part-time students, who might have other commitments during these times. Also, students with children may need to use facilities out of normal opening times to allow them to cater for the needs of their children. Students must, therefore, be able to study and use the institution's facilities at other times. Obviously, this will have security implications, so arrangements need to be carefully planned. It is also important to remember that research students work all year round, and not only during term-time. Opening hours for libraries and other facilities should not be shortened during vacation periods, which are often when postgraduates need them most.

  1. Suitable arrangements should be made for access to buildings and facilities outside of normal office hours. These arrangements should continue out of term-time.

Childcare Arrangements

Students with children face many problems of access while studying. If these are not addressed by the institution then many potential students can be deterred from applying in the first place. Although this is often considered to affect women in the main, male students can also be disadvantaged by inadequate childcare facilities.

  1. Childcare arrangements must be flexible to suit the needs of students with children of various ages. A creche should be available for pre-school children. After-school facilities should be provided for children of school age. These facilities should remain open out of term-time.
  2. As a supplement to this, bursaries for child-minding should be available for students for whom home-based childcare is appropriate. This does not imply that a token grant to students with children is sufficient to address their needs.
  3. The student should be given sufficient flexibility to be able to cope with emergencies if they arise. This applies to attending meetings and seminars, amongst other areas.
  4. Institutional environments must be safe for students to bring their children. If this is not possible (e.g. in the case of laboratories) there should be an area where children may be safely left alone for a short period of time.

Access for people with disabilities

  1. All new buildings and common areas should be accessible for people with disabilities. This includes the "ambulant disabled", partially sighted and deaf, as well as people in wheelchairs.
  2. Where an institution is split over several sites, having disabled facilities at one site does not remove the duty to provide such facilities on all sites.
  3. Institutions should make it a matter of priority to upgrade existing buildings, starting with those that are most used, so as to allow access to students with disabilities and to visiting disabled people. It is not adequate to wait until disabled facilities are required before providing them; the absence of these facilities will discourage disabled students from applying.
  4. The institution should have a staff member with responsibility for disabled students, co-ordination of disability committees and liaison with new building projects and planning committees.