Katie Law reports from the annual meeting of postgraduate representatives
More could be done to improve the lot of the postgraduate student, who often faces a lonely and neglected life during university, delegates at the National Postgraduate Committee annual conference heard on Friday.
Speaking at the meeting, Dame Ruth Deech, the first independent adjudicator for higher education, expressed sympathy for postgraduates. She said: "It can be a very difficult, lonely and expensive time."
Tim Brown, outgoing general secretary of the NPC, said: "Postgraduates are a disparate bunch. There is often a lack of community, and this can lead to feelings of isolation and demoralisation."
John Wakeford, director of the Missenden Centre, agreed that some postgraduate students may feel isolated during their study. He said: "The postgraduate student is immensely vulnerable. They are often working alone or with only one supervisor. The problem is particularly acute for international students."
The conference also heard that masters and PhD students are a neglected community in the higher education world.
In his keynote speech, Ian Gibson, chair of the House of Commons Science Select Committee, drew attention to the impact of the Higher Education Act on the financial future of postgraduates.
While much had been made of the impact of undergraduate tuition fees, less emphasis had been placed on the effect that increased student debt would have on those contemplating further study, he argued.
"Postgraduates did not get mentioned in the debates about top-up fees. The threat of increased debt will lead to fewer people doing postgraduate studies," he said.
Dr Gibson said that collaboration between postgraduates should be encouraged. "Every department should have a common room. People who get drunk together work well together," he said.
Dr Brown suggested that one of the biggest problems facing postgraduate students, aside from funding, was a lack of identity. "They bridge the gap between staff and students and may feel as if they belong to neither. It is important for universities to know who their postgraduates are and to ensure that they are well represented," he said.
Dr Brown praised postgraduate sabbaticals and encouraged delegates to enhance postgraduate representation at their own institutions, saying:
"Find the postgraduates at your university. Make sure they get the representation they need. Make sure you and they get help and support from the institution."