Call for postgrad agreements

August 26, 2005

Universities should agree pre-course contracts with postgraduates to ensure both sides have realistic expectations, the new general secretary-elect of the National Postgraduate Committee has said.

Simon Felton, postgraduate students' officer at Birmingham University's Guild of Students (Bugs), will take up the paid post on October 1.

Mr Felton stood against the current general secretary, Jim Ewing, at the NPC annual general meeting at Strathclyde University. He won by nine votes to seven. Despite the small number of votes, he said he felt he had a mandate.

Mr Felton, who has not been an NPC activist, said his decision to stand was based on his experience of tackling welfare and representation issues through the Bugs post, which he took up a year ago.

He pledged to build on the "great work" done to make the NPC a campaigning organisation taken seriously by the Government and institutions.

"I think Jim Ewing did a wonderful job and I hope to continue his work in pushing the NPC nationally," he said.

He said that while many institutions had a large number of postgraduates, they did not always take account of the different needs of postgraduates and undergraduates.

"In particular, postgraduate research students face problems with supervisor issues," he said.

A recent Times Higher poll showed that a majority of postgraduates were happy with their supervision, but Mr Felton believes that too many still have concerns.

During a workshop run by the Missenden Centre, NPC conference delegates voiced support for formal discussions between supervisors and students at the outset of a course.

Mr Felton said he wanted to extend his experience in seeking a better deal for postgraduates through working with other organisations, such as the National Union of Students.

The two bodies oppose top-up fees, which could have a knock-on effect on postgraduates, he said. There have been widespread fears that in future many students will shun postgraduate courses because of the debt levels they have incurred through undergraduate top-up fees.

Scotland has rejected top-up fees and James Love, pro vice-principal of Strathclyde University, told the conference that he believed Scotland would in future seek to attract more postgraduates because of the country's demographic downturn.

"As the number of 17 to 20-year-olds falls, are we going to fish in the English, Welsh and Northern Irish undergraduate pool?" he asked. "It is much more likely that we will seek to expand at postgraduate level."

He said that postgraduates are already benefiting from the innovative Synergy research partnership between Strathclyde and Glasgow universities.

The partnership offers PhD scholarships funded by both institutions, with students having two supervisors and access to facilities of both universities.

Mr Felton expects to complete a masters course in urban regeneration research and policy next month. He said a postgraduate qualification was essential for his future career. He funded his studies with a bank loan.

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