Are today’s postgraduate taught students getting a fair deal? Are they just ‘advanced undergraduates’ or potential future researchers and doctoral candidates? Or should they be considered an independent body of student, legitimate and respected in their own right?
There are currently more people opting for postgraduate study than ever before. This year we welcomed just as many PGT students as undergraduates and – with the introduction of the postgraduate loan system, an increasingly competitive graduate employment market and a changing culture on returning to further study after a number of years – this figure is set to rise.
So what do we do to ensure that this influx of PGT students is well supported and provided for?
In a recent survey of PGT students, we found that:
• Student respondents felt that their UG Welcome experience was better than that for PG
• 30% students who responded wished to be part of a social PG community
• Only 22% said that they felt part of the university
• Nearly half said that they did not feel prepared for their career path
• 36% said that they had experienced feelings of loneliness, anxiety or depression during their PGT study but many had not even heard of university support services
• The majority said that they prefer to access online information to enhance their academic skills
• Nearly half said that they preferred to receive course level academic support
This year we introduced a full time Postgraduate Officer at the Guild of Students who is devoted to enhancing the postgraduate experience. This is sector leading as there exist very few full-time Postgraduate Officers around the country; indeed, not even at the National Union of Students. But to be truly sector leading we need to change the way we think about postgraduate taught students and how we anticipate and respond to their needs.
We need to recognise the diversity of motivations for study of this group; recognise that they are older than your average undergraduate; and look at the fact that nearly half of current PGT students at Birmingham are of different nationalities. PGT students do their dissertations over summer, they often have employment or parental responsibilities, and the majority will only be spending a year with us. The expectations of a PGT student can range from a pure ‘get in, get the degree, get out’ mentality to a ‘second chance’ outlook, where a student is keen to embrace every opportunity to develop academically and personally.
These factors set apart the PGT student from the UG student and suggest that we need to be offering a distinctive PGT experience here at Birmingham.
But what will this offer look like in the year 2026?
The nature of a taught PG experience is undoubtedly going to change, in line with UG expectations. We may need to start thinking about:
– Segmentation of communications and targeted marketing
– A structure that recognises PGT students and includes dedicated staff
– A community that integrates postgraduate taught and research students but recognises them as having different needs
– Our pre-arrival communications, particularly for those coming from overseas
– Examples of excellent PGT provision in the UK and abroad
– Dedicated study and social space on campus for PGT students
– Emphasising the PTES and hearing the student voice
– A dedicated Welcome talk for postgraduate students and other dedicated welcome activities
– More opportunities for distance learning
– Enhancement of the virtual PGT environment and the role of online modules
– More opportunities for academic support services, particularly for those returning to study after some time
– How to provide specific PGT mental health support on campus and online
– How we as a university structure the PG ‘year’
– How we offer support for students with parental responsibilities
– How we engage PGT students through the student rep system and whether we alter the model to fit their year
– Our provision over summer, for example library opening hours, to accommodate dissertation hand-ins
– Accommodation services, typically offered from July-July, to see whether we can offer something more suitable
All of these possibilities foster the idea that the PGT student is more than a fleeting presence on campus, but rather a core part of our ambitions.