The Taught Postgraduate Experience – Julie Gilson and Rose Bennett

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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.

5 thoughts on “The Taught Postgraduate Experience – Julie Gilson and Rose Bennett”

  1. These are important questions and they underpin the major PGT that we are now undertaking. PGT students will be invited to contribute to the review – but an even more direct way to participate is simply to contribute your ideas on this site. What should PGT education look like at the University of Birmingham in 2026?

  2. I think a PGT degree should be distinctive in style of teaching from a UG degree, giving more scope for personal and personalized input. Even though these are not research degrees, a significant research component should play an important role in most PGT degrees.

  3. There’s one thing missing here. The students on PGT programmes, at least in my School, are primarily from overseas. Some will have studied in the UK or similar educational cultures before but many have not. They then have just one year to find their feet, both culturally and educationally, very quickly. The support needed for this quick assimilation is going to be different to that needed for students who have more time.

    The idea of having dedicated PGT spaces is tricky. We struggle to give large groups of overseas PGT students a ‘UK experience’ as they don’t mix with home students. Dedicated spaces might make this worse.

    1. This is a fair point Dan, although I think the issue of large numbers of overseas students does apply more to some schools and programmes than to others – in my school, for example, the split is roughly equal (and we’ve certainly noticed an uptick in Home applications since the PG loan came in). There are, no doubt, particular issues of integration that overseas students face and dedicated PGT spaces may indeed exacerbate such these in some schools. Currently, the PGTs in our school have almost no spaces that they can utilise – which is detrimental to home and overseas students alike.

  4. I believe it’s important to recognise that PGT students still undertake research, even if their degree of choice does not fall under the PGR banner, and as such they should have access to similar funding opportunities and spaces. Certainly MA students should have the opportunity to progress to PhD if they wish and be equipped with the necessary information to make that decision, but it’s crucial to recognise the different motivations behind choosing to study for another year (or two), which may also be increased chances of employment in a new sector (for example).

    As mentioned in the post, there is usually far greater diversity in the ages of PGT students than at UG level, which in itself seems a clear reason not to automatically class students on a one year taught course as being an extended UG cohort.

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