A job with no perks?

Jenny Shaw, Head of Higher Education Engagement at Unite, looks at some contentious aspects of postgraduate life in the UK

Postgraduate life is not an especially well-understood experience. Perhaps an indication of this is postgraduates themselves often describe their life in terms of what it is not.

“It’s like having a job, but absolutely no perks,” said one, in research carried out by NUS Services for Unite Students.

Another said: “When you go to work, you work 8am to 5pm you have your weekends free. Even at some times in the weekends you have to work in your study, so it is not… it’s not something… I don’t know how to explain it.”

This failure of students to effectively capture their postgraduate experience was a common theme of our research.

It is as though there is no recognised postgraduate experience – no ‘shorthand’ for that time. Contrast this to the ubiquitous undergraduate narrative.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Postgraduate study is, after all, a broad church. But the lack of any kind of narrative is startling.

‘Not integrated’

More broadly, our survey revealed concerns about the way in which postgraduates feel they are valued and the extent to which they form a welcome part of university life.

One summed it up saying: “Universities just wring you dry of every penny you have. I don’t feel that I have any relationship with my university. I go there and I leave.”

Of the 810 postgraduate students surveyed, 35% did not feel integrated with other students at their university.

This is depressing news to those who fear the first cohort to graduate under the new fees regime will have neither the money nor desire to go on to postgraduate study.

Curiously, however, one aspect of the same research suggests the future of postgraduate study might be one of unexpectedly rude health.

Some 20% of 1,750 undergraduates we questioned said they planned to go on to postgraduate study. This is significantly ahead of the 14% who currently do. Further, UK students are just as keen as internationals and might point to students wanting to differentiate themselves in a highly competitive job market.

Nonetheless, this research suggests an unseen postgraduate crisis of identity, and of belonging.

Students Matter was published by Unite Students on 12 June.

The full report can be found here: https://www.unite-group.co.uk/universities/research/students-matter-2014?pageid=1344861918049


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