Postgraduates strike back

June 16, 1995

Postgraduates are becoming more demanding. They are fed up with poor supervision; they are waking up to the fact that they have intellectual property rights; they are becoming more ingenious about financing the extras, such as trips to foreign conferences, that help a budding career (page xxxi).

This toughening is happening for two reasons. First, postgraduates are overcoming their traditional isolation and documenting problems they have in common across the country: the National Postgraduate Committee is becoming better known, along with the seminars it holds; mutual grumbles are swapped on the Internet's postgraduate mailbase; the Journal for Graduate Education, set up by postgraduates and celebrating its first birthday next month, is publicising good practice that would otherwise be confined to one university Second, postgraduates are pushing against a wall that is ready to give . As universities succumb to the market outlook, they have to regard their PhD students as customers. Increasingly, competition has forced them to make explicit what they are offering to undergraduate students. This trend is now spreading to postgraduates.

New universities, needing to sell their research services hard, are devising imaginative changes to postgraduates' experience, such as training supervisors. This is giving postgraduates confidence to ask why, if they are paying to do a PhD, they should hand over the intellectual property rights (page ii). It is giving them the confidence to tape their supervisions (page xxxii).

It is a truism that postgraduates are the workhorses of university research. Articles in this week's Research Opportunities also show what a diverse bunch they are, finding time to set up arguments about the social responsibility of scientists, (page ii) the philosophy of cyberspace (page i) and whether different disciplines have interesting things to say to each other (page iii).

Each summer, with undergraduate teaching over, THES gives priority to the research community. Today's listings mark the beginning of the service. It will get going fully in July when the heads of the research councils have been invited to write signed leaders charting the major research opportunities in their areas of responsibility. THES reporters will be visiting research teams and units funded by the councils and we will be highlighting particularly research by postgraduates.

As they do their research, postgraduates are often lonely. They also feel vulnerable in their positions at the bottom of the career ladder. But banding together to make their reasonable demands about pay and conditions, they are starting to have some effect.

There will be more to do. As higher education adapts further to mass access, it is a safe bet that postgraduate study will become more popular. The growth of the British graduate school will be one of the major developments in higher education in the next few years.

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