Sparked from recent Wonkhe reports on Postgraduate students and their university experience; Millie Green (VP Education), Chukwudi Kosi Ezenyi (VP Activities & Development) and your Postgraduate Part-Time Officer, Martins Akhemigbeze, have been asking ‘what about postgrads?’.
Millie updates us below on the research they have conducted into the experience of Postgraduate students at the University of Plymouth and across the country.
“The Students' Union is an inclusive entity with various services for ALL students. I have observed since being in my current role that, postgrads lack engagement with the SU hence, why I took it upon myself to rectify this. Millie (VP education) came to us (myself and Martins) with this useful idea of creating a policy for postgrads and, we were more than glad to have worked with her on this. This means that our postgrads will now have their voices heard more.”
Chukwudi Kosi Ezenyi (KC), VP Activities & Development
Compared to the general population, postgraduate students are six times more likely to experience depression and anxiety (Wonkhe, 2019) and since the University is planning to increase the number of postgraduate students in their 2030 strategy alongside the increase in masters-level loans, we thought an important question to ask was, "what are the SU doing for postgrads?"
To answer this question we created a short survey designed to get a better understanding of postgraduate student’s experiences, including opinions on sports and societies, student representation and what more they want from their university experience. A total of 48 students responded, 16 PhD students, 25 postgraduate taught and 8 postgraduate research students.
How could sports and societies be more inclusive?
Most students (57%) felt that sports and societies could be more relevant or accessible to Postgraduate students. Suggestions included postgrad fairs at different times in the year as some students starting in January, different times for sessions as most are working on Wednesday afternoons, have families or live further away; a number mentioned the possibility of a postgraduate society, more flexibility on attendance and more communication with them from the SU.
Do you think the Students' Union should have a part-time officer specifically to represent postgraduate research students (including PhD)?
Around half of the respondents (49%) were aware of our part-time officer positions, which is good but could definitely be better. The majority believing a postgraduate research officer would be a good addition to our Union Council to allow for more communication and involvement. A suggestion was made for a full time sabbatical officer position, which other students' unions have and is something that should be further explored.
What could the SU lobby for or do for you?
The following ideas were mentioned: equality in resources and access to the main campus level of service for off-site students, keeping Wednesday afternoon free for postgraduate students, devoting resources for lobbying for postgrad and undergrad issues equally, more postgrad events for networking and greater emphasis on support services available eg. Counselling as students may struggle with their supervisors.
Since the questionnaire was sent out our Student Union Council agreed on the following policy proposals put forward by Millie (VP Education), KC (VP Activities & Development) and Martins (Part-Time Postgraduate Officer).
To mandate all sabbatical officers to work with departments within the Union to ensure services are relevant and accessible to postgraduate students.
To lobby the university to ensure their services are also accessible for postgraduate students.
To ensure a sabbatical is the lead officer for Postgraduate Students
To create a postgraduate research officer position within our Union Council to represent PHD and research students. (Read an update from Martins here)
To mandate VP Education and President to ensure the officers are included on relevant committees eg. Doctoral College Board and UTLQC.
To mandate the relevant sabbatical officer to lobby the university to create an Access and Participation Plan for Postgraduate students.
To ensure all roles, particularly postgraduate officer roles, are communicated with relevant university staff members for more promotion eg. Associate heads of school teaching and learning and Director of the Doctoral College Board.
The consensus seemed to be a want for more engagement from the SU with postgrads. Whether that was listening to their issues and views, creating more specific events for them or improving our current events to be more inclusive eg. freshers fair. A number of students are only here for a short time and it seems like getting them involved could be important in making them feel included at university. Something else to consider in more depth is a full time sabbatical officer position.
The conversation around postgrads is definitely not finished here and if you are a postgraduate student reading this don’t hesitate to get in contact with the SU and keep on questioning what we are doing for you.
Millie Green VP Education