Postgrad Representation - University of Bristol Students` Union

Faye Bolderson
Research Associate for UBU
MA Philosophy and History of Science
[email protected]
Postgraduate Representation at the University of Bristol
This report has been initiated and funded by the University of Bristol’s Students’ Union
(UBU). The aim of the research project is to investigate the current system of representation used by
postgraduate students at the University of Bristol (UoB), which enables them to formally
communicate any issues or concerns that they have to the university. The findings of this report will
be used to develop a ‘Postgraduate Hub’ for students in order to improve the experience of
postgraduate student life at the University of Bristol.
Contents Page
Research Methodology
Interview Participants
Survey Participants
Literature Review
Higher Levels of Representation
Postgraduate Representation
Postgraduate Taught Representation
Postgraduate Research Representation
Lack of Student Engagement
Postgraduate Students are more Independent
Lack of Time
Student Staff Liason Meetings Focusing on Undergraduates
Student to Student Representative Ratio
Short-term Relationship with the University
Lack of Awareness of Postgraduate Student Representatives
o Programme Level Representation
o Differences and Comparisons between PGT and PGR Representation 26
o Non-affecting Factors
Suggestion for Improvement
The aim of this research proposal is to report the current systems of representation used by
postgraduate students, both postgraduate taught (PGT) and postgraduate research (PGR) students at
the University of Bristol. This data had been collected through semi-structured interviews with
postgraduate student representatives and a member of staff. Furthermore, it aims to disclose how
effective both students and staff feel that the current systems of representation are, discuss any
problems which arise and suggest solutions to these problems. Alongside the interviews, this data
has been collected from a 12 question closed survey which I composed myself entitled ‘Dealing with
Postgraduate Issues’ (see appendix 1). It was designed to collect the opinions of postgraduate
students who were not representatives.
The structure of this report will begin with a description of the research methodology and
the participants involved in the research, followed by a small internal literature review including a
brief report on how student representation is dealt with at a higher level, outside of faculty
representation. It will then go on to report the main aim of this study, namely, how postgraduate
student representation is systematised, and this it will do faculty by faculty. Finally, it will pick out
keys themes which arise from the research and suggest areas for improvement.
Research Methodology
In order to conduct this report for UBU I began by conducting interviews with two
postgraduate senate representatives whom I e-mailed directly and agreed to participate without an
incentive. I then contacted postgraduate student representatives to inform them of the full nature of
my research and to recruit as many as possible, from each faculty, for interviews. I did this via e-mail,
either directly from the contact details provided for me by UBU or by going through specific faculties
where participant number was low. The interviews were semi-structured as each individual’s story
was different and there was a £10 Sainsbury’s or Amazon voucher available to them. When
participants arrived for the interview they were given both an information sheet to read through (see
appendix 1) and a consent form to sign (see appendix 2) which informed them that all data collected
would be used anonymously. Where sensitive data has been disclosed in this report its origin has not
been made explicit. Interviews lasted between 20-30 minutes.
I also contacted the Academic Director of Graduate Studies, Prof. Sally Heslop, who is also
the former head and founder of the Graduate School of Engineering to arrange an interview to
discuss PGR and PGT student representation and, more specifically, to discuss how the systems of
postgraduate representation run within the Faculty of Engineering.
To further enhance the findings of the interviews I conducted a closed, 13 question survey
aimed at general postgraduate students to gauge their knowledge of the postgraduate system of
representation at UoB and to collect their opinions on postgraduate representation at UoB and in
general (see appendix 3 for questions).
Interview Participants
Two Postgraduate Senate Representatives, one PGR and one PGT, were interviewed.
Furthermore, twelve postgraduate representatives (ten PGT and two PGR) and one member of staff
were interviewed also. The two PGR representatives were from the Arts and Humanities and
Engineering faculty. Categorised by faculty, the participants are divided up as such:
No. of Participants
Arts and Humanities
Social Science and Law
Medical and Veterinary
Medicine and Dentistry
Survey Participants
Thirty one respondents participated in the survey. Of these, eighteen were PGT and 13 were
PGR. Categorised by faculty, the participants are divided up as such:
Survey Respondents
Arts and Humanities
Social Science and Law
Medical and Veterinary
Medicine and Dentistry
Literature Review
At present, the University of Bristol does not receive any formal data regarding postgraduate
student satisfaction as it chooses not to partake in the National Postgraduate’s Student Experience
Survey or the National Postgraduate Taught Survey. One member of staff reported that this is due to
the confusing wording of questions, bad design and the time of year it is executed. It was further
mentioned that, should the Higher Education Academy look to revise the wording of their questions,
it is likely that the University of Bristol will be involved in the future.
It is clear that postgraduate student representation is a very important issue. In a recent
‘Advice Report’ conducted by UBU’s ‘Just Ask’ service, it was found that 35% of individual cases dealt
with by the UBU’s Advice and Representation Service were from postgraduate students and 28% of
all cases were PGT alone. This latter statistic further details that in 2010/2011; the highest proportion
of students seeking advice and representation outside of their faculties was at the PGT level. The
report also disclosed that 71% of these cases were from the SSSL and 48% of those were from
international students (Bird, 2012).
The current system of representation for postgraduate students is largely based upon the
undergraduate model of representation, namely, one or two students represent the other students
on that programme and attend Student Staff Liaison Committee (SSLC) meetings. This process
appears to work for undergraduates as their activity is well recorded and the role of a student
representative is widely recognised amongst the undergraduate students. At the postgraduate level,
however, it is largely unknown by the UBU, which programmes do and do not have a student
representative. This is clear from the fact that UoB offers nearly 200 postgraduate programmes and
currently caters for 5741 postgraduate students (Student Systems Information Office, 2011) and yet
holds details for roughly fifty representatives. However, this piece of research has shown that many
more representatives do exist given that a large proportion of its findings have come from
representatives unknown to UBU.
Higher levels of Representation
Within the university there are specific groups dedicated to improving the postgraduate
experience at UoB and who acknowledge that attention to postgraduate representation is essential
for this.
The University of Bristol's Graduate Studies Committee board is chaired by the Academic
Director of Graduate Studies and is further seated by the Graduate Deans of each faculty, the
Director and Secretary of the Education Support Unit and the Education Manager from the Faculty of
Science. This committee meet 6 times a year to discuss developments to the education policy for
postgraduate students across the university and to advise the university's Education Committee. The
board also ensures that postgraduate codes of practice are maintained to accord with the UK wide
frameworks (Education Support Unit, 2012). In order to improve its interaction with postgraduate
students the board decided to recruit postgraduate members onto the committee, however it was
reported by the Academic Director of Graduate studies that it was hard to engage the students for
the entire year period.
Issues specific to postgraduates are also championed by the Senate Postgraduate
Representatives, of which, for the year 2011/12 there were two PGR and one PGT representative.
The Senate committee is the university's highest academic committee, consisting of around one
hundred members including senior management, faculty deans, and heads of departments who
meet approximately five times a year to determine decisions made regarding teaching, learning,
research and enterprise.
According to the UBU website, the role of the postgraduate senate representatives is to work
closely within their faculty, engaging with the local representatives at the school, department or
programme level (UBU, 2011). This process is aimed at bringing larger postgraduate concerns which
cannot be resolved at a departmental level to the attention of the senate. According to the PGR
representative, postgraduate issues which have been voiced in senate this year include selfplagiarism rules for PGR theses and the intellectual property debate for PGR students. Both senate
representatives stated the importance of having postgraduate students on the senate council as it
made sure that postgraduate issues were not overlooked. They also expressed that postgraduate
issues were well received and listened to by the senate council and were sometimes given an
urgency so much so that the aforementioned proposed issues were resolved even before they were
presented formally at the senate meetings.
However, there are problems regarding postgraduate student representation at senate level. Firstly,
the fact that there are only three senate representatives, whose role was to engage mostly within
their own faculty, meant that the postgraduate student body was under-represented at senate level,
given that there were only three postgraduate senate representatives and six faculties at the
university. It was reported by one senate representative that it was ‘really hard to engage with local
representatives’ outside of her own faculty and even found it very hard to engage with those within
their own department, often having to invite themselves along to SSLC meetings as neither students
nor staff were aware of them. This is further backed up by the fact that nearly all of the local
representatives who were interviewed for this report had never heard of the senate council before,
and none were aware of who the postgraduate senate representatives were. When asked whether
they thought it would be a worthwhile idea to have a postgraduate senate representative from each
faculty on the committee, one senate representative responded that this may make the meetings too
crowded, however they made clear that a lot of work needed to be done to make postgraduate
students and local representatives aware of the senate council, the position of the postgraduate
senate representatives and what they can do for postgraduate students.
Postgraduate Representation
This report will now detail the findings of how postgraduate representation is conducted
within each faculty. It will deal with PGT and PGR representation separately as details for PGT
representation have been discovered for all faculties except for Medicine and Dentistry and, as
mentioned earlier, findings for PGR representation have been found for the faculties of Arts and
Humanities and Engineering.
Postgraduate Taught Representation
Faculty of Social Sciences and Law (SSSL)
The Faculty of SSSL is comprised of six schools, over seventy different PG programmes and
over 2500 postgraduate students. Within the faculty, the system of postgraduate representation is
undertaken mainly at programme level for taught students.
Within the School of Law, for the academic year 2011/2012, there were three postgraduate
representatives for the LLM programme due to the large number of students on the course. The
position of the role was communicated to them via e-mail from their head of the law school and
after no response was given from the first e-mail sent out, the representatives were recruited after
responding to the second, in late October 2011. Two of these representatives were Chinese students
who decided to take on the role as a pair in order to voice the opinions of the large number of
international students on the course. The opinions of the students were collected by these two
representatives via 'QQ', China's largest online social networking site, as many of the students on the
course were Chinese. Once they gathered any reported issues they were instructed by the head of
the School of Law to e-mail them to the head of the department, in order for an agenda to be drawn
up before meetings. The third LLM representative (an overseas student), however, was unsure about
how to go about collecting student opinions and was unaware of the other two postgraduate student
representatives on the programme and so no action was taken by her regarding student
engagement. SSLC meetings were undertaken at the School level, once a term, and were attended by
the representatives of all taught postgraduate programmes within the school, including the BA Law
undergraduate representatives from each year.
A similar pattern also exists for PGT students within the School of Economics, Finance and
Management and the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies. Postgraduate
representatives are recruited via e-mail, by the School, for specific courses at the very beginning of
the academic year and the representatives attend SSLC meetings once a term. These consist of both
postgraduate and undergraduate representatives from different courses within the school, at all
levels of study. For the Economics, Accounting and Finance MA programme there was one
postgraduate student (an international student) who was responsible for representing the issues of
over 200 students on her programme and felt that the only feasible way of doing so was
communication via e-mail.
Within the Graduate School of Education, the university's PGCE programme has
representation within every PGCE specialist subject, from one or two students, depending on the
number of students on each programme. For example PGCE Geography consists of between forty
and fifty students and is represented by two postgraduate students. The representatives for each
PGCE programme are recruited by the programme in the first class and frequent SSLC meetings are
had once or twice a term. These meetings are chaired by the Programme Director and also attended
by the Deputy Programme Director, administrative staff and special guests relating to the topics of
previous meetings. For example, one PGCE Geography representative reported that when an issue
had been raised about inconvenient library opening hours, the next meeting was attended by the
head librarian to discuss the issue. Student opinions and issues were gathered by the PGCE
Geography representatives either in class or via the PGCE Geography Facebook group. The
representative role also involved gathering opinions about social aspects of the course, for example,
the PGCE representatives helped alongside the PGCE Ball Committee to discern what students
wanted at their end of year ball.
The Faculty of Arts and Humanities
The Faculty of Arts and Humanities consists of three academic schools; Arts, Humanities and
Modern languages, which are further divided up into their respective departments. Within this
faculty there is no defined system for postgraduate student representation. The format is generally of
early recruitment via e-mail and around three SSLC meetings each year; however the level of
representation varies from specific programme to department level. For example, within the School
of Humanities there were, for the academic year 2011/2012, two PGT representatives for the whole
department of Historical Studies and one PGT representative within the History of Art department.
There are also whole departments who do not have a PGT representative, such as Philosophy.
However, within the Music department, there were separate PGT representatives for each 5
Music pathway programmes and one PGR representative for the whole department. Within the
Music department there have been three SSLC meetings which focus primarily on postgraduate
issues as the meetings are not attended by the undergraduate music representatives. PGT
representatives were very active and vocal in gaining student opinions due to the large amount of
interaction between students and the relatively small number of students on each pathway. The
representative for the musicology pathway reported that the meetings were ‘very important to the
students as it enabled them to voice their opinions, especially within the 'performance pathway' as
there were a lot of issues regarding space and timings.’
Faculty of Engineering
The faculty is divided into two schools: the Merchant Ventures School (MV) and the Queens
School of Engineering (QB). The MV School houses the departments of Computer Science, Electrical
and Electronic Engineering and Engineering Mathematics. The QB School houses the departments of
Aerospace, Civil and Mechanical Engineering. Following a similar structure to many other faculties,
PGT representation within the engineering faculty has previously been carried out at the individual
programme level. However, according to the former head of the Graduate School of Engineering, in
the past staff have found it hard to recruit PGT representatives and when few were recruited, this
tended to be later on in the year. Furthermore, she reported that PGT representatives became
increasingly harder to engage as the year progressed and this was matched by poor attendance rate
for PGT representatives at SSLC meetings. Therefore, PGT representation does not formally exist, at
present, within the Faculty of Engineering.
Faculties of Science and Medical and Veterinary Sciences
Within the Faculties of Science and Medical and Veterinary Sciences it would appear that
PGT representation is carried out at the programme level also. One programme within the Faculty of
Medical and Veterinary Sciences and the Department of Cellular and Molecular medicine has one
full-time and two part-time representatives. These representatives attended one SSLC meeting, just
after Christmas, in the academic year 2011/12, which was specific to the postgraduate programme
itself. The meeting was seated by the main lecturers, course organiser and PGT representatives;
however the student representatives were asked to leave after ten minutes. Representatives noted
that the students on their programme engaged well with them due to the small number of people
they were responsible for representing and their regular interaction them. Issues which were
officially reported to the representatives were programme specific, mainly to do with the intensity of
the course. The department were able to change a few deadlines, however it was made clear that
there were underlying issues that were unofficially reported to the representative which will be
discussed later.
The School of Earth Sciences within the Faculty of Science carries of PGT representation at
the individual programme level also. As with the Medical and Veterinary Sciences faculty, these
courses consist of a lot less people. For example, the PGT representative for the Natural Hazards
Programme is responsible for representing a small group of eleven students and another
representative from the Paleobiology programme was responsible for only sixteen students. Both
representatives were recruited via an e-mail from the School and instructed to gather student
opinions before the first meeting from responding e-mail. Both representatives reported that their
main (or only) source of interacting with the other students was face to face, in class, as they see the
other students’ every day. Issues reported to them were mainly programme specific and it was
noted by the representative for Natural Hazards that the issues brought to her attention were usually
due to collectively felt concerns expressed in class. SSLC meetings were undertaken once a term and
consisted of the head of the school, administrative staff and both undergraduate and postgraduate
taught representatives from every course within the School of Earth Sciences.
Postgraduate Research Representation
Faculty of Arts and Humanities
The Music department within the Faculty of Arts and Humanities has one PGR
representative. He was recruited by the department via e-mail and this was not until late November
2011. In order to gather student opinions (as instructed by the department) he sent an e-mail around
before every meeting, however not once did he receive a reply. Throughout the year he attended
two SSLC meetings and two School of Arts Meetings, both of which were solely directed towards PGR
representation. The representative noted that at all of these meetings, PGR issues for Music students
were brought up either by the staff or by himself, given his own experience.
The School of Arts PGR meetings, chaired by the head of the Graduate School of Arts and
Humanities, happen at least twice a year and give PGR research students within the Faculty of Arts
the opportunity to voice any issues which they may have. The PGR representative for Philosophy
collated opinions by sending an e-mail around the department to ask for feedback a few days before
the meetings. Although not many responses were received, the concerns which were brought up in
2011/2012 involved important issues for PGR Arts students, regarding teaching assistants working
more than contracted hours, seminar flexibility and deadlines for part-time and full time students.
These are issues which affect many PGR students but are not necessarily brought up by everyone.
Issues and concerns amongst the PGR students within the Philosophy department are also made
aware by the PGR representative at the Graduate School of Arts and Humanities Planning and
Research Committee meeting which takes place half way through the academic year.
Faculty of Engineering
PGR Representation has been more successful than PGT representation within the Faculty of
Engineering and this is thought, according to the former head of the GSE, to be due to the longer
length of time that PGR students attend the University, giving them a chance to build up a more of a
relationship with it. Up until recently, PGR representation within the faculty was carried out at the
departmental level, however, the faculty has been re-organised so that PhDs are assigned to research
groups, rather than departments, under the MVSE and QB schools. The updated system of PGR
representation is now carried out at the school level, with at least two PGR representatives for each
However, it would appear that there still exist PGR representatives that work on a research
group level within specific departments. One 2nd year PHD representative from the Advanced
Composites Centre for Innovation and Science (ACCIS) Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) within the
Aerospace Engineering Department was responsible for representing a small cohort of ten students
on his programme. He, along with the other representatives from each year of the PHD programme
attended SSLC meetings with the Programme Director. He engaged with students very well, in a face
to face environment in the classroom rather than over the internet. Issues reported to him and
raised at the SSLC meetings were programme specific, for example, many students felt that the
programme was too intense for twelve months and had applied for three month extensions.
Although there was nothing that could be done for the current students, they were told that the
course description would be amended for next years’ students.
This report will now detail the findings of themes which arose, during interviews with
participants, which reveal factors which could be affecting the effectiveness of postgraduate
representation at UoB. These themes are further reinforced by the survey which I created,
entitled ‘Dealing with Postgraduate Issues’.
1. Lack of Student Engagement
It was reported by both the LLM representatives and the representative for Economics, Accounting and Finance that they felt a lack of student engagement when trying to collect
opinions. The EAF representative received only 2-3 responses from an e-mail sent to over
200 students and the LLM representatives noted that after their first SSLC meeting, students
did not seem to respond very much. Furthermore, the responses received by both sets of
representatives were rarely programme specific or regarding academic concerns but were
related to more general issues such as library opening times, gym membership, kitchen facilities and printing credits. These issues were brought up in the meetings but as they were
unable to be altered by the school staff themselves, representatives were directed to the
services within the university (sports centre, library, financial services) however they felt like
this was beyond the scope of their role.
At the PGCE SSLC meetings too, issues reported to the representatives tended to be of a
more general nature, however they still related to the PGCE course as a whole (e.g. library
hours clashed with the timetables of a working school day so those on placements could not
make it to the library). This problem was fixed temporarily, on a trial basis, but did not persist.
2. Postgraduate students are more Independent.
The independence of postgraduates is felt, by UBU and senior staff, to be one of the
main factors affecting postgraduate representation as PGT and PGR students often work
very closely with staff and so reporting issues directly seems to be the most efficient way of
raising awareness of issues. This is corroborated by the 2011/12 PGCE Geography representative who stated that that where concerns were felt regarding specific course issues,
‘students were more likely to seek out staff individually rather than presenting issues to a
committee’. However the necessity to have programme specific representation was highlighted due to the restricted communication between students and staff during school
The survey results further illuminate this as it was found that 2/3 of PGT students and
over ½ of all PGR students asked had encountered a problem at some point whilst on their
programme. However, of these, only one responded that they would contact a student representative about the issue (themselves a PGT representative). All but one other answered
that they would deal with the issue by going directly to a relevant staff member and the
main reason for this was found to be the independence felt by postgraduate students enabling them to deal with issues alone, especially for PGR students (Bolderson, 2012).
3. Lack of Time
PGT courses are a lot shorter than undergraduate or PHD courses and thus are a lot
more intense. Students are often working so hard to keep up with their studies that they do
not have time to get involved in student representation
Sally Heslop noted that the lack of engagement of PGT representatives within the
Engineering faculty is likely to be largely due to the structure of the twelve month intensive
Masters programme, and hence, the lack of time PGT representatives had due to the heavy
workload. This is further corroborated within the department by a PGR representative within the Engineering department who stated that he received complaints about the course
being described as 12 month intensive when really it should be a 15 month course.
4. Student Staff Liaison Meetings focusing on Undergraduates
It was revealed during interviews that where postgraduates and undergraduates shared
SSLC meetings, postgraduate representatives felt that their concerns were treated as less
important. Sally Heslop noted that the SSLC meetings in the Engineering faculty are once a
term and structured around undergraduate timetabling.
Furthermore, the postgraduate representative for the ‘Natural Hazards’ programme
stated that although student interaction was successful, the once a term school SSLC meetings were less successful due to the fact that every undergraduate and postgraduate representative from each programme within the School of Earth Sciences attended. The PGT representative felt that postgraduate issues were given very little priority as they were ‘dealt
with last and rushed through’. Furthermore, they even had to reschedule a time to come
back and present their issues after the first meeting as they ran out of time.
With this being said, the postgraduate representative for Paleobiology, also attending
the Earth Sciences SSLC meetings was pleased with the response he got in due to the fact
that he successfully managed to get students reimbursed for money that they had spent
undertaking a poster project.
5. Student to Student Representative Ratio
As can be seen from the statistics regarding the SSSL (excluding GSoE), where very
large numbers of students are represented by few representatives, the level of interaction
between them decreases.
This is corroborated by the testimonies of student representatives within the SSL
stated that they were representing over 200 students, sometimes single-handed, and that
they did not get many issues reported to them. Alongside this, the testimonies of representatives within the Science and Engineering faculties who state that their interaction with
their course mates was positive as there were always less than 20 whom they regularly engage with further corroborates this claim.
The PGR rep from the Aerospace and Engineering department stated that although
he was aware of a PHD representative for the entire QB school, he did not feel the need to
contact them surrounding any issues presented to him. He further stated he would not think
to contact them about any issues which he might have had due to his lack of a acquaintance
with them. He felt that he could easily engage with the students on his course as he saw
them every day.
6. Anonymity
The issue of anonymity refers to student’s reluctance to express any issues that they
may have due to concerns about it affecting their relationship with staff or the outcomes of
their work.
One representative within the Medical and Veterinary Sciences faculty stated that there
was a large concern that ‘many students of the programme felt that they were 'blind' to
what was expected of them’ and that there was an underlying structural problem, however,
all were apprehensive to officially express this. Furthermore, some students who unexpectedly did not their pass exams complained officially to the university through the 'Just Ask'
service and although many other people on the programme shared the same feelings, they
did not want to support those who were complaining due to fears that it might affect the
outcome of their own grades.
This could be criticised by some with claims of students being over-sensitive, however
when this particular representative asked if he could fill out a feedback form for piece of
coursework he felt was unjustly marked he was met with a lot of hostility and eventually
had to give up.
Additionally, the survey results show that one of the reasons given by students as to why
they would not report an issue to a representative is ‘apprehension about being singled
out’. This apprehension to report issues to representatives due to the lack of anonymity is a
very important factor, especially when students and staff work very closely together, however, this is not indicative of the way that all postgraduate students within the scientific faculties feel. The Natural Hazards representative stated that students on her course felt comfortable about making complaints, even when issues were raised directly about members of
The Aerospace Engineering representative stated that he avoided this problem by
letting his students know early on that all concerns raised with him would remain confidential.
7. Short-Term Relationship with the University
Related to the issue of ‘Lack of Time’, PGT students spend a maximum of two years at
the University and may feel that they would be wasting their time bringing up issues as any
changes that would be made would be unlikely to affect them or they may want to just ‘grin
and bear’ it.
This idea was noted by the one Medical and Veterinary Sciences representative with
regards to supporting their course mates who had failed exams. He stated that before they
got their results they were worried about complaining due to their grades being affected,
however ‘‘once their (students) grades were given, they did not care any longer about complaining’’, thus the short term relationship with the university most definitely affected their
want to raise issues.
According to the survey also, the ‘short-term relationship with the university’ and
the ‘unlikelihood of changes being made’ were other prominent factors effecting PGT students reporting issues to student representatives.
8. Lack of Awareness of Postgraduate Student Representatives.
One of the most prominent factors affecting the effectiveness of postgraduate representation is the awareness that other students have of postgraduate student representatives.
This is evident from the fact that even the senate postgraduate research representative who, based within the Faculty of Medical and Veterinary Sciences, reported that engaging with other PGR representatives is difficult because students are not really aware of who
they are, which makes them hard to discover.
Furthermore, less than ½ of the PGT and PGR students asked were aware of a student representative on their specific programme and ‘lack of awareness of the role and the
individuals who take the role’ was an affecting factor for over 1/3 of students asked (Bolderson, 2012).
Programme level representation
Before completing this report it was suggested by the Students’ Union that a possible
consequence of this report could be that postgraduate representation would be more effective at the departmental or faculty level. However, after conducting this report it has become clear from the outcomes of interviews and the survey results that the most successful
accounts of postgraduate representation, based on interaction with other students, happens where there is a lower ratio of postgraduate representative to students.
The representative for Natural Hazards stated that she felt the need for a representative on her specific course as ‘it made people think about issues and concerns which
they may not have mentioned otherwise’.
The need for programme specific representation is also felt by the head of the Graduate Studies Education committee and founder of the Graduate School of Engineering. She
states that ‘a postgraduate's experience of the university is largely due to the experience of
the programme on which they are enrolled’ and thus students should be able to expect programme level representation.
The Geography PGCE noted that although subject specific PGCE programme issues
were not always present, he felt that due to the nature of the programme and the loss of
communication between the university and postgraduate students during school placements, subject specific representatives were necessary in order to track problems that may
arise during the placement period.
The survey results also reflect these findings. It was found that the majority of PGR
and PGT students, when asked, still agreed that programme level representation is the most
valuable level, compared with department, school or faculty level (45.2% programme compared to school, department or none at all, see appendix 3). Only two students did not see
the need for postgraduate student representation.
When asked what they thought would encourage more students to become postgraduate representatives, the main factors for both PGR and PGT students were a ‘greater
awareness of the role’ and ‘greater evidence of changes made’ due to student representation. It is also pertinent to note that the driving factor behind the majority of the current
postgraduate representatives taking on the role was ‘CV enhancement.’
Comparisons and Differences between PGT and PGR Representation.
The main difference between PGR and PGT representation is the fact, as Sally Heslop
points out, that PGR students are at the university for a longer length of time and thus the
‘short-term relationship with the university’ factor is not a factor for PGR students. However, the nature of PGR research is a lot more individual and thus the ‘independence of postgraduate students’ presents itself as much more of a factor for PGR students, which in turn
can affect the effectiveness of communication between PGR students and PGR representatives.
Other than this, the survey shows that both PGR and PGT students are affected by
the founded factors is almost equal measure. It also shows that programme specific representation is the most effective in each case (compare the level of activity between the PGR
Music representative who is responsible for the whole department and the activity of the
PGR representative within the Aerospace Engineering department who is responsible for a
small cohort of students on his specific programme).
Non-affecting factors
It was postulated by both UBU and the head of the Graduate Studies Committee that
possible factors affecting postgraduate representation were the late appointment of student representatives or the large number of international students. However, it would appear that neither of these have been found to be a major factor effecting postgraduate representation. This is shown by the fact that all except one student representative interviewed
for this report were recruited within the first few weeks of term. Furthermore over 1/3 of
the student representatives interviewed had international status, some of which choose to
take on the role primarily due to their international status and their enthusiasm to represent
other international students (LLM). However, it may be the case (as seen in the ‘Just Ask’
report) that there are other factors preventing international students’ disclosing any issues
that they might have to an unknown student representative.
Suggestions for Improvement
As previously mentioned, before conducting this research it was hypothesised that a possible
change to the PGT system could be representation on a school level basis due to the independence
of postgraduate students and the notion that many postgraduate students do not seem to encounter
issues. However, it is evident that this is not the case and that reducing the level of representation to
a departmental or school level would be detrimental for PGT students (given that the more students
a representative has to be responsible for, the less successful interactions they have with them).
As has been shown by the Science faculties, programme level representation and familiarity
with the programme representative are important for successful PGT representation. The problems
lie mainly within the lack of communication and the awareness of the role to students, the method
of interaction between representatives and students and the structure of SSLC meetings.
Concerning the structure of SSLC meetings, rather than having departmental or school
meetings where PGT students are invited along to join the undergraduate students, it would be more
beneficial to have separate school level SSLC meetings specifically for PGT students. This would also
give representatives the chance to interact better with each other and hear the sorts of issues that
other students are raising. Where this is already the case for PGR’s within some schools (Arts) it
could be a suggestion to invite PGT students along to these instead of the undergraduate
departmental meetings.
To tackle the problems of isolation and unfamiliarity, representatives could be encouraged to
introduce themselves at classes, so students can put a face to an e-mail address. Furthermore,
creating programme specific Facebook groups appears to be a proven medium of discussing
postgraduate issues (for example, there is no Philosophy PGT representative but there is an MA
Philosophy Facebook group where students express concerns and occasionally some issues will be
reported to the staff and changes to deadlines have been made).
To tackle the problem of anonymity, one way to reduce the problem is classic idea of a
'suggestion box', housed somewhere within the department or school, where students can deliver
their ideas at their own discretion.
One way to make the role more appealing to postgraduate students could be to
professionalize it. Giving representatives more responsibilities could make the role more appealing as
it would look appealing on a CV, given that ‘CV’ enhancement was the main reason found for
students taking the position on board. A further suggestion to improve recruitment prospects could
be to send out an student representative application form to fill in when the postgraduate
acceptance letter or e-mails are sent out, with a short description of the role and the qualities it will
demonstrate to future employers. This also raises awareness of the role of a student representative
from the earliest possible point.
Regarding PGR representation, it may be the case the 1 representative from each school
would suffice as, although there is little interaction between PGRs and PGR representatives, when
issues are brought up they have been important issues which could affect a lot of people.
Furthermore, greater awareness of the role of the PGR Senate representatives would help to make
sure PGR issues are expressed.
Bird, R. 2012. Advice Report 2010/2011, The University of Bristol Students’ Union.
Bolderson, F. 2012. Dealing With Postgraduate Issues. (
Education Support Unit, 2012
Student Systems Information Office, 2011 (
University of Bristol Students’ Union, 2011 (
Postgraduate Students’ Experience of Representation
University of Bristol Students’ Union
Lead Contacts:
Investigator: Faye Bolderson, [email protected]
Manager: Ryan Bird, [email protected]
Research Aim:
To assess how Postgraduate students could most effectively feedback to the University on issues affecting them.
Key Objectives:
1) To map the ways in which PG students are currently represented
and engage with the University.
2) To assess the effectiveness of the current PG representation.
3) To explore potential changes and improvements to PG representation
The outcome of the research will be a final report (3000-4000
words) which will help us develop the UBU Postgraduate Hub. The
report will be a qualitative research piece and will have a focus on
individual stories, helping us better understand the issues around PG
Ethical Considerations:
In line with the University we want to ensure the research is
properly conducted and is of high quality. To this end we intend to
adhere to the ethics guidelines set out by the University. Support for
this will be sought from the University Research and Enterprise department:
You will have to agree to the focus groups/ interviews being recorded, as transcripts are required by
the NUS. Focus groups will last no more than 45 minutes, while interviews will be 30 minutes long.
Data use and ownership
UBU reserves the right to publish the content of the report in any format at any time.
UBU will not independently publish the findings of the report ahead of a date to be agreed by
the union and NUS, and without obtaining the prior written consent from NUS to do so.
UBU will have full control over how to present and promote the research findings provided, including the date and format of publication.
UBU will acknowledge the union as authors in publications in which the report is reproduced.
All Intellectual Property Rights in the written report shall belong exclusively toUBUS.
All data collected during this research process will be kept securely in password protected folders accessible only to a limited number of individuals working on the research.
You will not be asked any sensitive information and your identity will be anonymised once the recordings end; your name will be changed in the transcripts and eventual report quotes. Your data
will be kept securely on a university server that only staff in the Membership Services department of
the Students’ Union have access to it and it will not be used for any purposes except this study.
Participation is completely voluntary and you can withdraw at any time before the submission of the
final draft to the NUS on the 14th of July and need not provide any reason for withdrawal. To do so,
please email Sorana Vieru.
You will be rewarded with a £10 Amazon voucher for your participation at the end of the focus
groups and with another voucher for interview participation.
For any questions, do not hesitate to contact us on the emails provided above.
Consent From: Postgraduate Students’ Experience of Representation
Contact information: Faye Bolderson – [email protected]
Tick if
I have read and understood the project info sheet
I agree to take part in the project, which involved being interviewed and recorded on an audio
device and having notes taken.
I understand that I can withdraw at any time
I understand that my words may be quoted in publications, reports or web pages
I understand that all my personal details will be anonymised
I understand that UBU will use the data I provide for no other purpose that this project
I have been given the opportunity to ask questions about the project
I confirm that I am 18 years of age or above
Name of Participant
Name of Researcher
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Telephone: 0117 331 4377
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You are here: Dealing with Postgraduate Issues results
Dealing with Postgraduate Issues results
Survey overview
Number of respondents: 31
Expected number of respondents: 500
Response rate: 6.2%
Launch date: 19 Jul 2012
Close date: 30 Aug 2012
The results from the survey are presented below question by question.
Section 1: Your Course
1. Are you a...?
Taught Student:
Research Student:
2. Are you studying...?
3. To which Department do you belong?
- There are too many responses to display on this page and so all the responses to this
question are available on a separate page.
4. During your time at UoB, have encountered any issues relating to your PG course?
If the issues were
specific to my course
I would decide to
deal with them
directly by
approaching the
relevant staff
I would contact my
representative as it is
their job to deal with
these issues.:
5. How would you deal with any issues if they arose?
I would do nothing:
Section 2: Postgraduate Representation
6. As far as you are aware, is there a Student Representative for your course?
Yes - for my specific
Not for my specific
course but there is
one in my
Not for my specific
course but I think
that there is one
within my school:
I have no idea:
7. Do you agree that having an active student representative for each course programme is
Yes - I know many
students who have
problems on my
specific course and a
representative is a
useful tool to have as
a go-between from
students to staff.:
Maybe - It probably
wouldn't be useful
for my specific course
as there are not
many of us, but it
would be very useful
to have one in the
Maybe - It would be
useful to have a
representative at the
school level, to deal
with bigger issues
which may effect a
lot of students:
I don't see the need
for postgraduate
Other (please
I certainly hope so - I AM the representative!
No - but having a number of active student representatives within each department is
good. (I.e. one for all research students in the department is fine, no need to have one for
MLitts and one for PhDs; similarly one or two for all MAs in the department is probably
fine, no need to have one for each individual course.)
8. Why, in your opinion, do many PG's not report issues to their Student Representative?
Not aware of the
Not aware of the
individual/s who take
the role:
PG's are more
independent and so
deal with issues
Not interested in
bringing up issues
due to the short-term
relationship with the
university and thus if
changes are made
they will probably
not affect them.:
Students may be
apprehensive about
causing a fuss within
their departments
and may have
worries about their
own work which is
yet to be marked:
Other (please
- There are too many responses to display on this page and so all the responses to this
question are available on a separate page.
9. Would you rather attend a PG open forum within your department than present your
issues to a student representative?
Section 3: Postgraduate Student Involvement
10. Would you ever have considered becoming a postgraduate representative yourself?
Yes - I think that
dealing with
postgraduate issues is
very important:
No - I don't have the
No - I don't think that
the role would be
enough as not many
postgraduates have
No - I would not feel
like I could make any
significant changes:
No - I am not
interested in
postgraduate student
Other (please specify):
I AM the representative!
No, although I was a postgraduate representative nonetheless (due to being asked after
nobody volunteered).
11. What do you think would encourage more postgraduate students to become
representatives? Tick the boxes which you feel are the most relevant.
Greater awareness of
the role:
Evidence of changes
made due to
A greater social
aspect to the role
(i.e. organising social
events for
departments and
schools as opposed
to just being a
mediator of student
Taking part in
training schemes
(negotiation skills
etc.) which would
enhance your CV:
Other (please
- There are too many responses to display on this page and so all the responses to this
question are available on a separate page.
12. How involved within the Students' Union are you?
I am actively involved with
more than one
25.8% 8
within the union:
I have attended some
events put on by the
union and tried out a few
things but I haven't really
got involved with any of
the societies, clubs or
25.8% 8
I haven't been involved
with the union:
41.9% 13
Other (please specify):
I was actively involved during my undergrad but have not been with my post grad however
i have worked closely with the union in my student led campaign this past year
I work for UBU
13. If you haven't been involved within the Students' Union, why is this?
I don't have the time:
I don't want to
attend things on my
I'm not sure how to
get involved:
I prefer to involve
myself in nonuniversity related
activities as I feel the
that Students' Union
is being mainly for
I prefer to involve
myself in nonuniversity related
activities for other
Other (please
- There are too many responses to display on this page and so all the responses to this
question are available on a separate page.
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