Academics berate useless postgrads

December 17, 2004

Excessive red tape, punishing teaching schedules and mountains of marking are all blamed for eating into academics' valuable research time, but now the finger is also being pointed at incompetent postgraduates.

A survey has discovered that many academics regard their research students as more of a hindrance than a help because they often need assistance with technical and literary skills. Academics also bemoaned undergraduates' demands for pastoral support.

Anne Dimond, a PhD student in Bristol University's Graduate School of Education, revealed the results of her study at the Society for Research into Higher Education annual conference in Bristol this week.

Presenting her findings to the SRHE postgraduate student conference, held alongside the main meeting, Ms Dimond related how she sent questionnaires to academics across the country in science, arts and social science faculties asking how their research output compared with that of their peers and what were the barriers to increasing production.

As expected, some respondents grumbled about teaching responsibilities, and still more complained of the burden of administration.

But another gripe among the academic respondents was the quality of their researchers, in particular that they could not get good enough postgraduates.

Ms Dimond said: "They said (the postgraduates) needed a lot of coaching in terms of technical and literary skills and it took longer to produce research because (the postgraduates) were a weight round their necks."

Researchers were also unhappy that undergraduates needed more pastoral care.

"There was a theme of students needing different kinds of support, but more than lecturers wanted to give," Ms Dimond said.

Only female staff members mentioned domestic responsibilities as a burden, said Ms Dimond. But one female researcher who worked full time and had two children said she produced more than her peers because she had the will to find the time. "Some of her colleagues, she felt, didn't put the time in," Ms Dimond said.

Meanwhile, delegates attending the SRHE conference were asked to consider whether higher education's quality and equality agendas worked together or against one another.

Louise Morley of London University's Institute of Education, who gave a keynote address at the conference, said: "There has been a silence about whether the two areas overlap or diverge."

Professor Morley's research has found that many people warned that equality, in terms of widening access, could lead to a fall in quality.

"Quality is often invoked when equality is discussed, but not the other way round," she said.

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