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By website-comment on 17.11.2023

The Postgraduate Question

We are often taught by postgraduate students in seminars in our first year at the University of Kent, and thinking them somewhat intellectually above us, we can be forgiven for forgetting that postgraduates are students like us, with the same concerns and interests as undergraduates.

Postgraduates are the forgotten students; shadows that before now have been ignored by the student Union, overlooked by our representatives. The Student Written Submission this year, a document written by the student union which highlights improvements that could be made with the educational aspect of the University and Union, sums up this situation with the feeling from a postgraduate that “amongst the postgraduate community…students are not sufficiently represented.”

With the building of the Virginia Woolf College as the postgraduate college, a new dawn has been signalled for the re-engagement for the University and Union with postgraduate students.

The Postgraduate Officer, Jason Simpkins, explains to me that until this year, with its renewed hope amongst postgraduate students, he “saw nothing to indicate concern over the division of undergraduate and postgraduate students.” By this he means that no concern was shown on behalf of the University or Union to the increasing divergence of the two types of students over the last few years.

An example he cites is that “postgraduate course reps and those serving on university committees were not being attended to by the Union.” Many postgraduate representatives, sitting on University committees, are often overlooked by and not credited as representatives by the Union as they don’t go through the same process of election as undergraduates. This is simply because the ‘postgraduate representative system is not as established as the undergraduate model’ (Student Written Submission). Additionally the Postgraduate Student Engagement Strategy, (July 2008) backs up the lack of postgraduate representation in the Union as ‘in 2007/08 there were just 18 Postgraduate course reps known to Kent Union, half of these attended training.’ Jason Simpkins also states a “resistance from Union members in bolstering postgraduate representation.”

The postgraduate community has always seen itself as somewhat isolated, and has been crying out for something to bridge the gap between it and everyone else.

However, with the completion of a “dedicated postgraduate college comes a major postgraduate presence that can’t be ignored by the Union.” In fact the new Dean of the Graduate School is keen that it has adequate representation, through a Site Committee, and that they sit on the relevant union meetings.

However, it’s not simply representation that’s been an ongoing problem with postgraduates, but also that many postgraduates have “managed to slump away from university social life and prefer not to be involved in the university at all.” With the new college they are attached to campus and so “they will be more adamant that their distinctive needs be attended to by the Union and the University.” Again the Postgraduate Engagement Strategy states that the ‘Institutional Audit found that there are few inter-discipline events and this is something that students are unhappy about.’

It is therefore hoped that now postgraduates have a home on campus, they will be more likely to engage with their University and Kent Union, through things such as “involvement with societies” even if they are still “indifferent” to the source. This is especially true since, according to the Strategy, as a high number of postgraduate students show interest in cross-cultural activities. In order to promote postgraduate activities the Union has recognised the need for ‘dedicated staff support to liaise with the graduate school to promote extracurricular activities, support the PG Officer(s), committee, society and representatives.’

With a renewed and revitalised vision, Postgraduates like Jason hope that this will be the year when interest in postgraduate representation will peak. Jason hopes to “form a network of postgraduates who will be interested in fulfilling the Postgraduate Officer role and in the future maintaining this network.”

The Virginia Woolf College is “a step in the right direction” for postgraduate students but Jason warns that “as with all students, the Union may still go unrecognised in whatever it provides.”

However, with the co-option of the Virginia Woolf president and the new Woolf site committee set up, and more recognised post graduate course reps (about 90) than ever before, let us hope that it will be a new age in representation for Kent’s forgotten students.


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